By Todd Ceisner
(Editor's note: In observance of the Independence Day holiday on Friday, a new top story will not appear until Monday.)
It's been a while since BassFans saw a triple-digit finish in a B.A.S.S. event next to Aaron Martens' name. More than 12 years to be exact.
He says there's no cause for concern coming off a 127th-place finish at BASSFest last month. It was a non-points event and he went into it with a mindset similar to that of when he fishes a Classic he was trying to locate the fish to win at Lake Chickamauga. The lake ultimately fished much smaller than other TVA impoundments and he swung and missed, a real rarity these days for the reigning Angler of the Year.
With two events remaining and a realistic chance to defend his AOY title, Martens doesn't plan on making the triple-digit finish thing a habit anytime soon.
"That lake fishes weird," he said of Chickamauga. "It was a waypoint tournament. The majority of the field had found most of what I'd found and the guys that did good had multiple spots to themselves. It's hard to find stuff to have by yourself out there, but you had to have those spots to survive.
"Everything that was findable in a short time was packed. There was so much graph-able water there it's crazy. It was one of those cases where if you don't live there or had been there a lot before, you weren't going to find those key spots. I don't like lakes like that if I don't know them."
For now, Martens is trying to keep his mind off of fishing and recharge for the final two events leading into the Angler of the Year championship. He and his family are spending the 4th of July holiday with his parents in California. He relishes the down time to unplug from the fishing world for a bit and spend time with his kids.
"When I'm off, I completely forget about fishing, so it's good," he said. "When I get breaks like this the kids get all of my attention. I've been gone a lot this year so they need that, for sure."
Likes Hunter Role
After six events in 2013, Martens was third in the AOY chase, 49 points behind Edwin Evers, who took the points lead after the third event and remained on top until a big stumble at the season finale at Lake St. Clair. His 54th-place effort opened the door for Martens, who piled up seven straight Top-25 finishes, including four Top-6s and two 2nds, after a miserable start at the Sabine River.
This year, Martens finds himself in a familiar spot 3rd in points after six tournaments. The gap to leader Mark Davis isn't as daunting, though, as 22 points separates the three-time AOY from Martens, who's seeking to become just the sixth pro angler with a trio of AOY titles to his credit. With two events left before the 50-angler AOY championship event in Michigan, Martens know the pressure and intensity are only going to increase from here.
"It'd be awesome to get two in a row," he said. "Three would be good but two in a row would be even better. I'm going to have to catch them. It's going to be tight because I'm not too far ahead of the other guys behind me. It's always like this, though, a battle to the end.
"I feel good about where I'm at. I feel better than I did last year. I felt like I was so far out of it and I tried to do as good as I could. This year, I feel like I have a better chance."
Davis grabbed hold of the AOY race after the second event at Lake Seminole and hasn't relinquished it despite a stumble at Lake Dardanelle that saw his lead nearly evaporate as Greg Hackney pulled to within a point of him.
"Greg will definitely have something to say about that," Martens said when asked if he can catch Davis over the final three tournaments.
Since the start of the 2012 season (Classics included), only Todd Faircloth has posted more single-digit finishes (10) in Elite Series events than Martens, who has nine and says he likes not having the spotlight on him that comes with being the points leader during the season.
"I don't know if I'd rather be in the lead," he said. "I'd rather be a spot or two back, but close to first. It'd be cool to lead, but I've been there many times. It's probably better to stay back. It's less pressure, but I don't feel a whole lot of pressure anymore. I've been through too much."
A theme for much of the 2014 season has been the lasting effects of the long, drawn-out winter. It delayed the spawn in most parts of the country (remember Hank Cherry caught a 10-11 off a bed at Chickamauga) and forced pros to really focus on the current conditions rather than how they anticipated the tournament to go.
Martens doesn't think it helped or hindered him.
"This year's just been weird," he said. "It slowed me down in practice at a few tournaments where I had to stop and think and realize they were a few weeks behind. The water temps and fish mode have been different. It was like a big curveball which made everything trickier."
One event where he got spun out by the conditions was at Toledo Bend, where he missed his first check (53rd place) since the 2013 season opener.
"I thought the fish were ahead of where they actually were. That's what got me the most," he added. "I just went there and found fish offshore, but nothing compared to what was up shallow. Not the size either."
The final three events should be right in his wheelhouse. The Delaware River is likely to be a low-weight, tough-bite derby and Martens is well-versed in those types of events. Cayuga Lake offers largemouth and smallmouth opportunities while Bay de Noc, which will host the AOY championship, should be a Great Lakes smallmouth shootout.
After Chickamauga, Martens spent 3 days each at the Delaware and Cayuga, getting to know his way around and learning more about the fisheries.
"I'm glad I went," he said. "The Delaware is going to be interesting. There are a lot of bridges there and the tide swing is like 7 feet. I've fished the (California) Delta and it's like 5 or 6 feet there, but it's amazing how much that extra foot changes things.
"Cayuga has some fish in it, but it won't be a walk in the park."