"Bro, if you drink that beer you’ll get fatter. Not that you’re superfat, but, I mean you could lose a couple pounds. You should run. It’s good for you. Did I show you the new bait I’m working on?” That’s how Aaron Martens greeted me at an ICAST party a few years ago.
“Dude, it’s a light beer,” I replied.
“Yeah, but I bet you eat a lot of red meat. We should go fishing,” he returned.
His new bait was a scrounger-style lure, plus a new design for a shaky head that he’d been perfecting over the past decade. We scheduled a day on the water and met at a boat ramp on Alabama’s Logan Martin Lake a month later. I showed up with one spinning rod and a small cooler.
“Is that all you brought? I bet there’s beer in that cooler,” Martens said.
He was right.
I have fished Logan Martin for over a decade and have had some good days. However, watching Martens break down that body of water that day was like watching Rembrandt add the final highlights to the face of Jesus on “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” Each cast was with purpose, each decision to move or change presentations made with comfort. Every motion led to a positive reaction. Catching fish was just easy. More specifically, it was simply expected. We ended that day both sitting on the back deck of his boat, legs stretched toward the outboard, casting a shaky head at Pirate Island, sipping on one of the beers I brought.
“Bro, this beer is really good. I almost never drink a beer while I’m fishing. That’s a bite,” and he set the hook.
About 18 months after that day, I found out that Martens had a seizure while fun fishing with friends. Doctors found two large tumors on his brain, which they removed. But, the cancer was of the most malicious brand and came back.
If you haven’t seen “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” the painting I mentioned earlier, I recommend you at least Google it. It depicts a boat full of panicked disciples as waves crash over the bow, while Jesus calmly prays (as described in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark). That scene is a good representation of what I witnessed when Aaron’s cancer returned. All who loved him fell into a fit of worry. But, Martens was a man of faith and remained steadfast in his belief that there would be light in the shadows he was facing.
I talked to him after his second surgery to remove a tumor near his brain stem.
“I was scared, but prayed a lot. And then I had an overwhelming peace, you know. That’s when God helps the most, when you are out of options.”
And one of the last things Aaron said to me: “I just want to be a good example, no matter the outcome.”
We lost him on November 4. Martens was 49 and left behind his wife Lesley, their children Jordan and Spencer and his mom Carol.
Aaron also left behind a legacy of love, inspiration, aspiration and joy. A legion of anglers are better because of him; a host of fathers, husbands and believers became stronger by watching the way in which he walked (or oftentimes ran) through his time on earth.
I recently went to Logan Martin and brought with me one rod and a small cooler. I sat on the back deck and cast a shaky head toward Pirate Island. Like so many others that loved Aaron, I missed him. Being here reminded me of our day together. And then, I got a bite.
“Thanks, bro,” I whispered to the heavens, for not just being a good example, but for being the best of them.