By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Aaron Martens had 18 anglers between him and the top of the standings sheet when the final round of the Lake Champlain Bassmaster Elite Series got under way on Sunday. But from a weight perspective, he knew that his deficit wasn't all that great.
"My wife told me that morning, 'Hey, you can still win this thing,''' he said. "I knew I needed 23 pounds to have a really legitimate chance."
He got that – and 5 ounces more. What was easily the heaviest stringer of the tournament vaulted him to victory at the weather-shortened event that had 51 anglers competing on the final day instead of the usual 12.
It was an epic comeback that, due to the unusual circumstances caused by the cancellation of the opening round, might never be repeated. In any case, it was Martens' fifth full-field win on the circuit, putting him into a four-way tie for the second-most ever (Kevin VanDam has nine).
His three mixed bags containing both largemouths and smallmouths combined to weigh 58-12. He edged out runner-up Seth Feider by 14 ounces.
Here are some of the details.
The weather along the New York-Vermont border during the 3 practice days was mostly cold, windy and rainy.
"Those are my least-favorite conditions for practice," Martens said. "The fish were still biting pretty good, but I wish we'd had the conditions we had for the tournament (during) practice. You can learn a lot more, a lot quicker.
"Most of the time when it's windy at the lake is white-capping, it's hard to get a good look at everything you want to see with your eyeballs."
He found a big flat in the Inland Sea that seemed to be holding a lot of fish. He used a spinnerbait and a Duo Realis 120SP jerkbait to gauge their abundance, size and specific locations.
He also threw a dropshot around, and it was that technique that would end up enticing each of the 15 fish he took to the stage during the event.
"I caught them really good out deep, but I didn't want to hit them too hard," he said. "The (30-foot range) had a lot of fish and I was catching 18- to 19-pound bags in practice, but the biggest bags were around 14 feet.
"I figured if I stayed out I could catch a bunch and eventually get to 20 pounds."
> Day 1: 5, 18-08
> Day 2: 5, 16-15
> Day 3: 5, 23-05
> Total = 15, 58-12
In hindsight, Martens said he didn't spend enough time in the shallower depths on the first 2 days – only about one-third of each day. He weighed in four largemouths and a smallmouth on day 1, then all smallmouths on day 2.
He hit the shallower stuff much harder on the final day and it paid off in a big way.
"I piddled around on the morning of day 3," he said. "I went to a new area and didn't catch anything and I ended up wasting an hour and 15 minutes."
At that point he opted to make the 12-mile run to his flat in the Inland Sea, where he was certain he could amass another high-teens bag.
"I caught a 3-pound largie right away and that told me the smallies weren't there. I noticed that birds were still flying around in there and I'd see the occasional boil up shallower. It wasn't a big schooling thing or anything like that, but it was sporadic on different parts of the flat."
He gradually worked his way toward the bank, making long casts in all directions with the dropshot. He kept getting his bait tangled up in the grass (there was a lot of it, and several varieties), so he increased the distance between his hook and weight.
When he reached 16 feet of water he felt a solid pressure bite and boated a 4 1/4-pounder. Two or three casts after that, he caught another one that was close to 4.
"It seemed like the fish were roaming," he said. "I'd cast this way and cast that way, and it went on for an hour and a half to 2 hours like that, and then I stopped getting bit."
It was about 12:30 and he had about 20 pounds in his livewell – a good bag, but not nearly enough to carry him past the entire plethora of competitors in front of him. he came to a thick grass clump and free-spooled his bait down into a hole and hooked another 4-pounder. As he pulled it away from the vegetation, he saw a much larger fish right behind it.
"My knees got weak when I saw that one," he said. "I let the boat drift off and got the 4-pounder in, but it didn't get rid of my smallest one."
He returned to the clump and pitched to the outside of it in case the monster was hanging on the edge, and that throw produced a 4 1/2-pounder. That one helped, but he was certain it wasn't the one he'd seen just minutes earlier.
He put a fresh worm on and got lined up with the center of the clump, and then dropped the bait back into the hole where the 4-pounder had come from.
"I felt like I was bed-fishing for a 10-pounder," he said. "That big one had come up like a torpedo and I knew it was catchable. The whole time, my knees were shaking."
It seemed like quite awhile before he felt the bite. He set the hook and tried to pull the fish away from the bottom, but it would have none of that for the time being.
"I put the trolling motor on 10 and started following it. It eventually did a big tail-walk right next to the boat and I was thinking oh my gosh, I've got a chance to win!
"I looked to see how well it was hooked and I could see the point had come through its mouth and the worm was up the line. I said, 'I've got this fish.' It was a really mellow, comfortable feeling after that."
He made his final cull with that 6-02 bruiser, and it was an upgrade of more than 2 pounds. The second pound ended up being unnecessary.
Winning Gear Notes
> Dropshot gear: 6'11" medium-heavy Enigma HPT rod, Shimano Stella 2500 spinning reel, 12-pound Sunline Siglon PEx8 braided line, 8-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon leader (15 to 20'), No. 1 Gamakatsu G-Finesse Heavy Cover hook), 4 1/2" Texas-rigged Roboworm Fat (Aaron's magic red flake, 1/4-ounce tungsten dropshot weight (cylindrical).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "I was really fortunate to find that group of fish – they were large. The Inland Sea is full of flats and a lot of guys overlooked that one. There was really nothing special about it – it was just a straight bank."
> Performance edge – "That hook is special – it's really strong and it's the best hook on the market. I'm very impressed with it. I only lost one fish that would've helped me in 2 weeks."
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