DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Aaron Martens began to pull himself out of his season slump Thursday by leading the Douglas Lake Challenge with 23 pounds, 14 ounces, an even 2 pounds ahead of Texan Matt Reed, his nearest challenger in the four-day Bassmaster Elite Series event.
“I’m out there catching nice fish for once,” said Martens, a five-time Bassmaster champion who this year sits in 79th place in points after three 2012 Elite events.
“It’s been an awful four tournaments in a row for me (three Elite events plus an Open tournament). My wife said last night, ‘Just go out and have fun.’”
His fun began about 7 a.m. Thursday, when he had 19 pounds of largemouth bass in the boat less than a half-hour after the day’s start. He began to cull to improve on 19. By the end of the day, the largest of his five biggest bass was a 5-pounder.
Reed held down second place with 21 pounds, 14 ounces. Third place was a tie at 21-1 between two South Carolinians: Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, and Britt Myers of Lake Wylie. Fifth was Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., with 17-15.
Martens credited his first-day success with breaking his own rule to never pre-practice. He managed two sessions on Douglas Lake before off-limits. The lake, in winter pool of 30 or more feet below full pool when he saw it, revealed to him dozens of potential spots he felt would produce during the Bassmaster Elite Series event, even though it wouldn’t happen until months later when the water level was higher.
“I can’t believe how much pre-practice helped me,” he said. “I knew if I was going to study any lake, this was the one, this was the one I could win on.”
Martens, like many in the 99-angler Elite field, targeted schooling largemouths in deeper water. The trick was not only finding the massive schools, but triggering a first bite to set off a feeding spree; it was all in the timing. But the exact formula was elusive.
“The schools wander around. They relate to an area, they don’t relate to any certain thing about the area — which I like. It’s like Castaic, where I grew up,” said Martens, a native Californian who moved several years ago to Leeds, Ala.
Reed of Madisonville, Texas, said he panicked early Thursday when the fish weren’t biting in the same way they had for him in practice earlier in the week. He ditched his deep-water pattern and fled to the bank, but then thought better of the hasty adjustment.
“I was there (on the bank) for 30 minutes, then thought, ‘No, this isn’t going to get it done, and turned around and put all my eggs in one basket,” he said.
Timing was everything for Reed.
“I’m seeing a ton of fish, but rarely do you get them to bite,” he said. “If you don’t get bit in the first 10 or 15 minutes, you might as well pack up and go look for another school. But you may come back to the same school later and it will bite.”
His 10 to 12 bites he did get were quality, he added.
Reed noted that most of the Elite field were keying on the same offshore schools.
“It’s hard to find a place to park,” he said, a comment on the shared water. “You have to run and look for a place you can get on.”
The Elite action continues Friday with the full field of 99 pros. Fans are invited to watch the 3:15 p.m. ET weigh-in at The Point Resort and Marina in Dandridge, or online at Bassmaster.com, which will feature live video of the weigh-ins and a real-time leaderboard beginning at 3:15 p.m. ET. Bassmaster.com also will continue to offer photo galleries, daily results and BASSCam videos.
Saturday, fans will be treated to a free concert by Bush Hawg on the Bassmaster stage immediately following the weigh-in.
Sunday’s finale will pit the Top 12 anglers after three days for the first place prize of $100,000 and a guaranteed berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.