By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Lots of pro anglers say – and many of them truly believe – that nearly everything must go right for them to win a tour-level event. The competition these days is so stiff that there's just no room for error and any type of slip-up will lead to settling for a placement other that 1st.
That's simply not the case for Aaron Martens these days. His final day at the Chesapeake Bay Bassmaster Elite Series was far short of perfect, yet he still prevailed by almost 8 pounds.
Martens' season to this point has unquestionably been one of the most dominant in the annals of the sport. His victory at the Chesapeake – a venue that had gotten dramatically stingier since it went off-limits a month earlier – was his second of the campaign and his sixth Top-15 finish in seven 2015 outings. He now holds a commanding lead in pursuit of his third Angler of the Year title with one regular-season derby to go.
He led from wire to wire in Maryland en route to his fifth career tour-level triumph (he has four on the Elite Series and one on the FLW Tour). He also caught the biggest fish and heaviest bag of the event on day 4 after struggling for most of the morning.
He averaged slightly more than 17 pounds a day on a fishery that completely confounded many of his fellow competitors, proving once again that he's a master of tidal waters and one of the best tough-bite anglers the game has ever seen. The $100,000 payday pushed his career B.A.S.S. earnings past the $2.5 million mark.
Here are some of the specifics.
Martens visited the Chesapeake twice prior to the off-limits cutoff – once last summer after the Delaware River derby and again this past June. He saw most of the layout on one or the other of those excursions, but didn't explore the Middle or Gun Powder rivers.
It was for that reason alone that he took a look at those two tributaries when the 3 days of official practice got under way at the beginning of last week. He was impressed with what he found in the Middle.
"I just liked the looks of it," he said, "and it had fish. I got bit in quite a few places and they were good-quality fish.
"In practice I fished everything in there – grass, docks and wood. (The fish) were on the hard stuff."
> Day 1: 5, 17-08
> Day 2: 5, 15-00
> Day 3: 5, 16-05
> Day 4: 5, 21-05
> Total = 20, 70-02
As expected, many in the 107-angler field headed for the renowned Susquehana Flats when the tournament got under way. Just a short run from the launch in the North East River, the area features dozens of square miles of grass (both milfoil and eel grass) and harbors a huge population of largemouths.
Martens rubbed elbows with his fellow competitors for awhile on day 1, but quickly grew weary of that scene and bolted for the Middle, which is approximately an hour south of the Flats. It was there that he compiled the majority of the bag that would give him a lead he wouldn't relinquish.
He came in 2 1/2 pounds lighter on day 2, but his approximately 3/4-pound advantage grew by an ounce. It ballooned to 5 pounds the following day when he caught just about what he'd averaged over the first 2 days and the four other competitors who'd started the day among the Top 5 failed to box limits.
The final day brought forth a measure of drama as fans following the action on BASSTrakk could see that Martens caught nothing for the first several hours while 2nd-place Bill Lowen quickly amassed a mid-teens sack that grew to the high teens as the day wore on. Martens, however, had anticipated such a scenario.
"I even told (wife) Lesley not to freak out if I didn't have anything at 11 o'clock," he said. "I knew when I got there that the tide (the tail end of the incoming and the initial stage of the outgoing) would be the worst I could possibly have.
Boat docks in the Middle River got the vast majority of Martens' attention during the Chesapeake Bay event.
"Low incoming could be good, but once it got about halfway out, that's when the fish really started getting fired up. That's when I'd start moving faster and I wouldn't pick up the jig as much – I'd throw mostly reaction baits. It was time to get to work."
He lost at least five quality bites before he put one in the boat, which he attributed to the fish not being fully ready to commit to the bait – a product of the tide having not yet reached its optimal stage. He eventually started landing them, though, and ended up with a stringer that was almost 3 pounds superior to any other caught during the event.
The bag was topped by a 7-02 specimen that took big-fish honors for the tournament by well over a pound. That fish and several others he took to the scale came from a marina that he'd saved for Sunday afternoon.
"I thought that place had the most fish, or at least the biggest ones," he said. "I'd never gotten close to it in the tournament before that. A lot of guys didn't fish it because they thought it was saltwater. It did have high salinity, but I've caught bass before from water that was a lot saltier than that.
"I had it to myself, and I made the most of it."
Martens focused most of his attention on the many docks in the Middle. When the tide was right, he threw a spinnerbait and a ChatterBait, and used a jig to pick up a few bites during off-peak periods.
He employed a dropshot rig for part of day 1 and sporadically throughout the remainder of the tournament. The ChatterBait produced his best fish on day 4.
"I really wanted to throw a crankbait, but there was just too much stuff (for a plug to get snagged on) where I was fishing."
Winning Gear Notes
> Spinnerbait gear: 7' medium-action Enigma Fishing rod, Shimano Metanium casting reel (8.5:1 ratio), 14-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, unnamed 1/4-ounce spinnerbait (green/blue pearl) with twin willow-leaf blades.
> ChatterBait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Enigma Fishing rod, same reel, 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper, 3/8-ounce Z-Man Chatterbait (green-pumpkin/blue), Strike King Blade Minnow trailer (blue gizzard).
> Jig gear: Same rod, reel and line as ChatterBait, unnamed 3/8-ounce football-head jig (green-pumpkin), Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Dropshot gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Enigma rod, same reel (7.4:1 ratio), 10-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper, unnamed 1/8- or 3/16-ounce weight, 1/0 Gamakatsu Finesse Heavy Cover hook, 4" Roboworm Fat (Aaron's magic).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Location was definitely key. Those fish were hard to catch, but I had them dialed in pretty good."
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