The Sabine strikes again (or does it?)

Two years ago, Aaron Martens started the Bassmaster Elite Series season with an 85th place finish at the Sabine River. It obviously didn’t exterminate his chances of winning the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race, because when the season ended he took home the title, but it certainly put him behind the eight ball.

This year Aaron avoided that sort of start by finishing third at the season opener on the Sabine, and with the Elite Series campaign entering its home stretch, he finds himself in first place in the AOY race, ahead of prior leader Dean Rojas by 11 points. That margin is less than the 12 points that Martens beat Edwin Evers by in 2013. It’s also less than the 14 point difference between last year’s AOY, Greg Hackney, and his closest competitor.

Eleven points may sound like a lot, but it may be one bad day, or one bad decision, or even just one lost fish in the course of the season.

The Angler of the Year race is not truly a marathon nor is it a sprint. Rather, it’s a marathon composed of a series of stand-alone sprints.

When Martens beat Evers for the title in 2013, it must’ve particularly galled Edwin because he never really stumbled that year. The only time that he failed to make the money in the regular season was when he finished in 54th in the last event, on Lake St. Clair, just ounces away from getting a chance to redeem himself on Day 3. While we often talk of anglers who make last minute surges to win the title, or those who falter or “choke” to lose it at season’s end, in truth a great campaign can be undone on the first day of the year as easily as on the last day or any day in between for that matter. AMart may have avoided paying for his struggles at the Sabine, but few anglers are so lucky and so talented to be able to overcome such a stumble. Likewise, a 54th place finish at any point in the season would’ve harmed Evers just as much, but the fact that it came at the end was no doubt particularly painful.

The bottom line is that if you want to assure yourself a shot at the title, unless you’re Superman or Aaron Martens, you likely have to avoid the bombs, however you define that term.

Look at the top eight in the AOY standings right now:

1.  Aaron Martens

508

2.  Dean Rojas

497 (11 points back)

3.  Justin Lucas

461 (-47)

T4.  Edwin Evers

432 (-76)

T4.  Jacob Powroznik

432 (-76)

6.  Clifford Pirch

429 (-79)

7.  Brent Ehrler

424 (-84)

8.  Keith Combs

410 (-98)

 

Now remove each angler’s worst finish and recalibrate:

1.  Aaron Martens

473

2.  Dean Rojas

428 (-45)

3.  Edwin Evers

425 (-48)

4.  Justin Lucas

421 (-54)

T5.  Brent Ehrler

410 (-63)

T5.  Keith Combs

410 (-63)

7.  Jacob Powroznik

395 (-78)

8.  Clifford Pirch

390 (-83)

 

It doesn’t look all that different, does it? If anything, it would seem to benefit AMart, whose only finish outside of the Top 15 was a 66th place at Guntersville. It extends his lead over Rojas from 11 points to 45 points, simply because Rojas hasn’t yet missed the money. Beyond that, it’s the same group of anglers, just slightly reshuffled.

But look a little bit closer. Those guys who’ve had horrible bombs, like Keith Combs (103rd place at Havasu) and Brent Ehrler (87th at that pesky Sabine), would make up some serious ground. Combs would be a remarkable 35 points closer to AMart and Ehrler would be 21 points closer to the lead. I know that pro anglers – like cornerbacks and relief pitchers – are supposed to have short memories, but if those come close to the AOY title this year but ultimately end up a few points short, don’t tell me those bombs won’t haunt their days.

It might be even worse for Evers, who would experience a 28 point positive swing if he could somehow twitch his nose and erase his 94th place finish from the Sabine. Coming off an unprecedented two consecutive Elite Series wins, he’s no doubt riding a high right now. His wallet’s full and he’s got momentum, but he doesn’t have the lead in the AOY race.

I’m certainly not advocating a “drop” system whereby you remove an angler’s worst finish from the standings. B.A.S.S. had that in some seasons years ago, and it led to certain perverse incentives – an angler in a strong position could sit out an event far from home, and all of the fans want the best talent on the water at the best times. In a perfect world, I’d want even more events, with all of them counting, but for now we’ll have to do with 8+1.

But if you’re Edwin Evers, doing everything but setting up the Elite Series stage, emceeing the tournaments and giving the bass mouth-to-mouth, it has to be disheartening to see that despite his best efforts one week at the beginning of the season might prevent him from getting his first title. As it stands, there are two anglers between Evers and Martens, either of whom could end up claiming the title, but if you’re Edwin Evers, you have to set your sights on the man who conquered the Sabine two different ways, and that’s your AOY leader. The third place finish that Martens achieved there this year was impressive, but his 2013 performance, when he managed to overcome a Sabine stinker, was extraordinary.