LAKE GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — They say redemption is a dish best served cold, but things have been getting frigid for Aaron Martens.
Consumed with a missed opportunity at a 2008 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Texas' Lake Falcon, Martens of Leeds, Ala., took one giant step toward exorcising some demons Saturday as he built his three-day total to 87 pounds, 9 ounces, enough for a commanding 6-plus pound lead at the Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge on fish-factory Lake Guntersville.
But Martens, the 2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, is not out of the woods yet as he has a host of challengers — Marty Stone of Fayetteville, N.C., is the closest with 80-13 — that will battle Sunday for the $100,000 top prize.
Furthermore, the event at Falcon, a "disaster" in Marten's mind, and this week are shaping up to be remarkably similar. Both absolute slugfests, Martens cultivated a big lead there, too, only to falter on the final day.
So, it would be extra sweet for Martens to score his fifth BASS victory in a similar situation.
"This would definitely make me feel better," said Martens, 36. "I still have some bad feelings surrounding that week at Falcon. I just can't shake that event. But I have a great opportunity to make it happen here."
Exhibiting consistency, Martens has posted daily totals in the 28- to 29-pound range each day of competition while others have ping-ponged around the leaderboard. And he is buoyed by a spot he found late Saturday that produced heavily.
Adapting to changing conditions, Martens has been able to expand on some productive spots he found in practice. He has also been looking for new water each day scouting for "off-the-wall" stuff that isn't hampered by local boat traffic.
Still, it has been three key spots, filled with grass and rock, that have proved to be most productive for Martens. One that he labels "ridiculous" will be where he starts Sunday. As the tournament has progressed, Guntersville has slightly slowed, and Martens lost some big bites in the morning. But a switch in bait color proved to turn on the bigger bass.
"Changing the color made a world of difference," said Martens, who declined to discuss specifics of his bait selection or color. "After that, it was like every cast. I figured out something and I know how to make them bite."
A solid tournament for Martens could signal bigger things to come. Heading into Guntersville, the West Coast product was ninth in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. A victory would move him up and put him in prime position to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason, which is set for Lake Jordan (Sept. 12-13) and the Alabama River (Sept. 17-18).
While Martens has been consistent, Stone hit his stride Saturday, vaulting into second place with a 30-pound, 1-ounce limit Saturday. However, Stone felt that he could have exhausted his area. It was Stone's intention to just advance to the final day but after a magical Saturday, he has put himself in contention.
"I just lit it up today," said Stone, 43. "This is the first 30-pound limit I have ever weighed in my career. It feels really good."
Stone said he would visit the same ultra-productive spot Sunday and if it fails to produce, he has some secondary areas to visit. After three consecutive years of failing to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, Stone, is looking to finish in the top 36 in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and cinch up a qualifying berth into the 2010 Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 19-21 on Lay Lake and Birmingham, Ala.
Just behind Stone in third was Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., with 80-2. The five-time BASS winner has been on a tear this year — save for a bomb at the Elite event on Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle — and is looking to claim his second BASS victory on Guntersville.
Slipping from second to fourth was Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., with 77-4. Climbing to fifth was Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., with 76-9.
Heading into Guntersville, Reese, the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champion, was second in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. With a strong showing in hand at Guntersville, Reese is looking to gain on AOY leader Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.
VanDam, in a relative disappointment, finished 20th and opened the door a little for Reese. Alton Jones, who was third in the AOY race, is right behind Reese in sixth at Guntersville. With just three regular-season events remaining, all three will be packed near the top after Sunday.
Also finishing safely in the top 12 and advancing to Sunday were Jami Fralick of Martin, S.D. (seventh) and Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas (11th).
The real star of the tournament thus far has been Guntersville. Anglers, in droves, have praised the famed fishery. Over the course of three days, Guntersville has yielded more than 5,000 pounds of bass and a number of anglers have reported landing more than 100 fish each day.
A BASS favorite, Guntersville has been the site of more than 20 previous BASS events, including the 1976 Bassmaster Classic, won by Elite Series pro Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo.
The last time the Elite Series visited the popular fishery, in 2007, VanDam outlasted the field to claim the trophy. His winning weight of 66 pounds, 3 ounces, was more than 7 pounds the better over St. Louis' Mark Tucker, who finished second with 59-1.
Fans are invited to attend the final day launch at 7 a.m. ET Sunday and 5 p.m. ET weigh-in at Lake Guntersville State Park, 4242 Aubrey Carr Scenic Dr., Guntersville. Sunday's activities include the live taping of Hooked Up, hosted by ESPN Outdoors personalities Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders. The show, which will air live at 4:25 p.m. ET on Bassmaster.com, will preview Sunday's final weigh-in.
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Southern Challenge on The Bassmasters, which airs Saturday, May 16, at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2.