I recently wrote a column about days I’ve spent in the boat with various B.A.S.S. pros where I learned valuable lessons about the right way to compete (see “Bass fishing lessons for the ages”). This time around, I want to discuss the day that really launched my career as an outdoor writer. I was incredibly fortunate very early in my career to stumble onto a great angler on a meaningful day.
In the early 2000s, I helped a friend who created our local Federation’s website; he wanted to fill it with bass fishing content, and I volunteered to write an article a month to help out. As you might expect, the pay was meager – zero, to be exact.
After a while, he still didn’t have any money to pay me so I sought other ways to receive compensation. The first thing that came to mind was to request media credentials for the 2004 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Wylie. Someone at B.A.S.S. must not have been checking carefully because the online application came back “approved” and I was off to Charlotte, N.C., for my first event as a member of the working media.
I rode with Chad Brauer on the practice day. (Note to self: Don’t ride with anyone on practice day unless you’re getting paid to do so. They don’t accomplish much and typically do their best to avoid setting the hook.) On the first day of competition, I was given a choice of a dozen or so competitors. I narrowed it down to two: Aaron Martens and an older, veteran pro. I based my decision not so much on fishing style, but rather on the idea that the older pro would bristle at having a novice writer in his boat and would therefore be gruff with me. In hindsight, I was probably right. In hindsight, it was probably also the best move I could have made.
As you may remember, Martens burned about a thimbleful of gas that tournament and but for a last-minute balsa bait clinic from Takahiro Omori, he would have won. His chosen fishing location is important because it defies the idea that everyone in the Classic field can and will find the winning fish. Remember Beeswax Creek? How about Cataouatche? Those were wars of attrition – lots of competitors found the winning fish and camped on them. By contrast, even though most of the field passed over Aaron’s fish, or at the very least came within 100 yards of them, no one fished them like he did.
Sure, a few stopped at the bridge next to the ramp for a few casts in passing but only Martens really seemed to understand the area’s potential and how to unlock it. On top of that, he used baits that I’m pretty sure no other competitor had in their boats – horsey heads and hair jigs, in addition to a wide assortment of Left Coast finesse gear.