LAGRANGE, Ga. — With 24 pounds, 14 ounces of largemouth bass weighed over two days and a Bassmaster Elite Series event lead in hand, Aaron Martens had good reason to feel he had a handle on West Point Lake bass.
He felt no such thing. Even as he moved up from fourth place into first on Friday at the West Point Lake Battle, Martens said he was mystified.
“On this place, I’m not sure about anything,” Martens said. “It is one of those lakes that humbles the best of the best, and when you don’t think it will happen, it happens. It’s hard here, so hard.”
From Leeds, Ala., Martens — a six-time Bassmaster winner, including the 2012 Elite Series postseason event — led the Battle by 1 ounce over Greg Vinson of Wetumpka, Ala. Vinson’s 24-13 two-day total kept him in second place, the same finish he had on Day 1.
Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., was third with 23-3, trailing Martens by 1-11 — the size of one small spotted bass on West Point Lake, and perhaps the size of the fifth fish Biffle failed to bring to the scales for the second day in a row.
One ounce behind Biffle was Day 1 leader Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas. Combs weighed 7-4 Friday, a big fall from his first-day weight of 15-14, but good enough for fourth place. Fifth place was taken by Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., with 22-10.
Martens said his day was “nerve-wracking.”
“I moved a lot today, running-and-gunning, fished a lot of different spots, fished fast, fished slow,” he said. “I did everything I could.”
He said he caught bass on five different baits Friday “just fishing” for post-spawners, a contrast to the bedding-bass bite he was on the first day, when he weighed 13-5 for fourth place.
Yet he tried for big bedders. His first stop of the morning was an area with spawning beds, and he caught a 2 1/2-pounder on his first cast. But after that, the beds yielded only small bucks of about 2 pounds.
He said he’d try the same area again Saturday to see if larger, game-changer females moved onto the beds again. But he’ll also go for the post-spawners that helped him to his second-day lead as his best bet to win.
“But I might not catch a fish there again the rest of the week. It may have been a fluke deal. Maybe the wind was blowing just right, and I may have caught most of the good ones out of the school, I don’t know,” he said.
Vinson’s 9-3 weight of Friday was a marked difference from his Day 1 bag of 15-10, even though he worked the same pattern both days.
“I didn’t feel like the places where I caught them yesterday were going to replenish, so I’m really happy I caught a solid limit today running new water,” Vinson said Friday. “I didn’t get the big bite today.”
Vinson again weighed in all largemouth for his five-fish limit. He caught 10 keeper bass Friday, but no hoped-for big bass was among them.
“I kept thinking I would get it,” he said.
Biffle moved up from seventh place to claim third. Happy with his day, he still looked back with regret on two days of being one shy of a limit.
His day started slowly.
“It probably was 9:30, 10 o’clock when I caught the first one,” he said. “I was pretty happy because I knew that meant I was fishing tomorrow.”
Biffle meant he felt assured he’d make the Top 50 cut for Saturday’s competition. As it turned out, he was nowhere near falling out with 23-3. The 50th-place cut settled in at 14-3. Kelly Jordan of Palestine, Texas, took that last spot.
Friday’s largest bass, a 6-6, was brought in by Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C. The bass helped push him from 20th place on Day 1 into sixth place on Day 2. The 6-6, however, did not knock out the 6-12 largemouth weighed Thursday by Biffle as the Battle’s best bass so far. After four days, the largest fish will land the Battle’s Carhartt Big Bass bonus of $1,000 plus $500 if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing.
Martens won the $500 Livingston Leader Award presented by Livingston Lures to the pro in first place after two days.
For the event’s Berkley Heavyweight award of $500, Combs’ Day 1 bag of 15-14 remained the top contender. The largest bag of Day 2 was 14-6 by Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., who jumped from 40th into seventh place from with 22-2 over two days.
The pros are after a first prize of $100,000 and an instant-in for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. They’re also are earning points toward a Classic qualification. The top pro in points at the end of the eight-event regular season will win the coveted Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
The four-day event continues Saturday, when 50 pros who survived Friday’s cut will return to West Point Lake . The pros will launch at 6:40 a.m. each day from Pyne Road Park (4481 Roanoke Road, LaGrange, GA 30240). Beginning at 3:15 p.m., weigh-ins will be at the same location.
Fans are invited to the launch and weigh-in, as well as to the Bassmaster Elite Series Expo, which features products and activities by Elite Series sponsors; free demo rides in Nitro, Skeeter and Triton bass rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines; Dixie Dock Dogs, a dog-jumping competition; and much more. See Bassmaster.com for a full list of Expo features.
At Pyne Road Park next to the weigh-in site, the Expo opens at noon. All Bassmaster events are free and open to the public.
Bassmaster.com will continue to provide all-day coverage of the event. Online features include live video of the weigh-ins, real-time leaderboards, blogs and catch reports from the water, video reports, daily results.
The West Point Lake Battle will air on ESPN at 8-9 a.m. ET May 12 on The Bassmasters TV show.