On second thought

About the author

Aaron Martens

Aaron Martens

Aaron Martens is the 2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and a four-time runner-up in the Bassmaster Classic. He's widely regarded as the best natural angler in the Elite Series.

We've had a few weeks off since the Mississippi River event, where I finished second. Since then, I've had some time to reflect on finishing second.

My goal for any tournament is never to finish in second place, but I seem to do it a lot — 14 times in Bassmaster tournaments alone, including four Bassmaster Classics. While I'm never fully happy with finishing in second place, I'm usually satisfied that I did well and put myself in position to win. Sometimes it's not for days, weeks or even years after the event, but eventually I realize that second place was a good finish. I think it would be different if I had never won an event, but I've won six times in Bassmaster events, once on the FLW Tour, and I've won the U.S. Open three times. 

Not all second place finishes are equal. While some do haunt me, most of them don't. The difference isn't the size of the tournament or the amount of money I could have won. The difference is how I ended up finishing second. In most of my second place finishes, I didn't lose the tournament, somebody else went out and won it. When you're fishing with 100 of the best anglers in the world, it's not easy to beat all 99 of them. Sometimes one of them just goes out and wins it, and there's nothing any of the rest of us can do. Perfect examples of this happening are the Mississippi River and West Point tournaments this year. I finished in second, but I fished very well. Tommy Biffle and Skeet Reese just went out and fished a little better.

There's very little about fishing that has anything to do with luck, but winning does take a little luck.

Actually, "luck" might not be the best word to use. "Everything needs to go right" is probably a better way to say it.

Preparation and paying attention to small details like sharp hooks and good knots help things "go right," but not everything is within our control as anglers. We're engaging with another living creature, and they can be hard to predict. Sometimes, they win the battle. One fish can get off the hook, and that can be the difference between winning and ending up second or even much further down the leaderboard. Call it luck or everything going right — either way, if you want to win with this group of anglers you better have it.

"Second place is the first loser" is a phrase attributed to the late Dale Earnhardt, the famous NASCAR driver. I hear that phrase a lot. I've even said it myself from time to time. But did you know that Earnhardt finished second 70 times in his career?

In golf, Jack Nicklaus is still the king of Major victories with 18, but he's also the king of second-place finishes in Majors with 19. Tennis great Jimmy Connors had 8 Grand Slam wins and 7 runner-ups to go with those wins.

In fishing, the great Roland Martin won 19 BASS events. He had exactly the same number of second-place finishes. Kevin VanDam has 12 "seconds" to go with 20 wins. Skeet Reese has seven wins and 11 seconds.

Do I lose sleep over my 12 second-place finishes and four Classic runner-ups? No, but sometimes I think about how close I've been.

For the most part, the second-place finishes are driving me to get better, fish harder and win more.

I hope to win more events. If I do, I'll probably mix in a few more second-place finishes along the way.

The best in any sport will finish in second place sometimes. By the time my career is over, I hope to be remembered for lots of wins rather than the near-misses. I have plenty of time left to make that happen, and the second-place finishes will help drive me.

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