LAKE GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. — With a three-day total of 87 pounds, 9 ounces, Aaron Martens took a stout 6- pound, 12-ounce lead into the final day of the Marine Formula STA-BIL Southern Challenge over Marty Stone.
A collapse akin to the Falcon Lake debacle in 2008, where he conceded a 7-pound, 7-ounce lead to the rest of the field on the final day, looms large, but Martens is only focused on the bass banquet that he has experienced this week.
"I'm not even thinking about it [leading]," Martens said. "I'm just excited to go fishing — this is an awesome lake. I could come out with 18 to 20 pounds, but I would be real surprised because there are so many fish in these spots."
Therein lies the problem for the rest of the field. Not only has Martens been surrounded by quality fish all week, but he also discovered an untouched spot on Day Three that surrendered two quality fish in 10 minutes.
"I made two casts and caught 11 pounds on that spot yesterday," Martens said. "I just want to get out on the water so I can go there and make a cast."
Martens' excitement was palpable at launch and he wasn't worried about the change in conditions that saw thunderstorms and cooler temperatures overnight.
"There are too many fish there for them to be affected by the weather," Martens said. "There are post-spawn fish and pre-spawn fish there — I'm catching so many fish. There are little subtleties in these spots where the big ones will be. You have to pick the spot apart and when you find the big ones, pay attention, they may be in an area only 10 feet long."
The confidence displayed by Martens at take-off might offer little hope to second-place Marty Stone, who entered the day in second place with that large margin to make up. Stone made a big charge Saturday with 30 pounds, 1 ounce, but was hesitant to say he could do it again.
"When you catch 30 pounds out of a spot — like I said yesterday, I burned my fish up," Stone said. "I'd love to be able to go out and catch 25 pounds and stay in the mix. Aaron is going to have to have a mental breakdown and I'll need 32 pounds to win this thing. Anything could happen on Guntersville except the fish not biting."
The only hope that Stone held on to at launch was that the weather change will affect the fish enough to mess up the rest of the field.
"We have a northeast wind today and had some thunderstorms last night and that can screw up the grass fish a little bit," Stone said. "It might take until the afternoon to settle down. The one place I'm fishing, I go through a lot of little ones and then catch a hammer. The big ones just show up."
Stone and the rest of the finalist will need a limit of five big ones to have a chance at running down Martens, who is well on his way to his first Elite Series victory since the California Delta in 2007.