LA CROSSE, Wis. — When Brandon Palaniuk was disqualified from the Bassmaster Elite Series Diet Mountain Dew Mississippi River Rumble presented by Power-Pole, there were a lot of people who expressed sympathy for the young pro, who had a significant lead after two days of fishing here.
Aaron Martens was among those anglers.
“I feel bad for him, I really do,” Martens said.
But the reality is that Palaniuk’s misfortune put Martens into the catbird seat in this tournament here in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. After leaving the weigh-in on Friday with a solid second-place standing, Martens found himself in first place when action began on the Mississippi River on Saturday.
He took full advantage of the opportunity.
Martens followed two excellent days of fishing with a 16-pound, 5-ounce bag on Saturday that kept him in the lead of this Elite Series event. The lead is tenuous, however, as Tommy Biffle is only a scant seven ounces behind heading into Sunday’s final day of competition.
Martens, as successful as he has been on this circuit, is no stranger to some disappointment of his own. He’s finished second in the Bassmaster Classic more than he’d care to remember, probably, and even in this tournament last year, he found himself seven ounces behind eventual tournament winner Todd Faircloth after Day Three was complete. A huge hatch of mayflies disrupted his bite in 2012 and Martens couldn’t surge from behind to win the title.
He has different plans this year.
“There’s no pressure,” he told the healthy crowd of spectators after weighing in on Saturday. “I feel good.”
Rightfully so, because Saturday was not an especially easy day to fish these waters.
When the anglers launched at 6:20 a.m., the weather already was threatening. Though Martens only made a run up river about a 1 1/2 miles, by the time he arrived, the sky was growing dark and rain was looming. After boating a few keepers, the skies opened on Martens, to the point that the 15 spectator boats who were with him quickly dispersed.
Martens remained focused through a tremendous electrical storm and when the skies began to clear after 8 a.m., he hooked into a 4-15 fish that turned out to be the Carhartt Big Bass of the day.
He said persistence was key to his focus on Saturday. After all, he stayed parked within an area no more than 50 acres until almost noon, when he finally decided to move a bit down river.
“There’s a lot of fish in that little area,” he said. “I caught fewer today than I did the first couple of days, but I like the spot. I feel confident with it. If I wasn’t catching them, I might make the gamble to go somewhere else. But I just have to keep fishing it as hard as I can.”
The space Martens is fishing sets up well for the drop-shotting that he does so well. He said it wasn’t a hard choice to go with the locale – a place he happened upon in practice.
“There were about 100 bass on my graph. There are some big ones there and there are some left.”
Biffle is right on his tail, however, so Martens knows he’ll have to keep bagging big fish to claim the $100,000 check that goes to the winner, not to mention the valuable Toyota Angler of the Year points that will come with a victory.
“I feel good,” Martens said. “But with Biffle catching like that, if he keeps that up, I’ll have to keep up too. I may fish something different if I have to, but I’m pretty happy with what I have right now.”