CELEBRATION, Fla. — Regardless of the outcome of the 36th annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 24-26, on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., Aaron Martens will make BASS history.
If the Californian, who now lives in Alabama, wins the sport's biggest title, he would become just the second reigning CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year to win the Classic. Arkansas' Mark Davis performed that feat in 1995.
But Martens' appearance is in itself history-making. He is the only reigning Angler of the Year to fish two Bassmaster Classics, this as a result of BASS moving the Bassmaster Classic from summer to early spring to kick off the new CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series circuit in 2006.
"I hadn't thought about that," Martens said, laughing. "I guess if I win it they'll have to put an asterisk beside it since I got two shots at it." Given his history in fishing's Big Show, the 33-year-old pro would gladly accept a Classic championship — asterisk and all.
In his last three Classic appearances, Martens finished a frustrating second, a trend that earned him the nickname "The Bridesmaid" and one he hopes to reverse in Kissimmee next week. It was just seven months ago that he was runner-up to winner Kevin VanDam in Pittsburgh by a mere 6 ounces.
"I don't think much about (finishing second)," he said. "It's not all that bad. I'm still young. If I was like 45, I'd be really upset, I think. But luckily, I'm still young.
"I've learned some things in the process. It makes me a better professional, not quite getting it three times in a row. That will make it sweeter, of course, when I finally win it, but it also makes me more seasoned.
"It makes me feel like I can handle anything that happens. If I get second again, I'll probably laugh, totally, because it would be hilarious. But when the Elite Series starts and I'm in those pressure situations, it should be that much easier for me."
The reigning Angler of the Year is among the pre-Classic favorites based on his Classic track record, as well as two of his strengths as a fisherman — flipping and sight-fishing.
"I probably am (a favorite) because I got second three times the last three times I've entered the Classic," he admitted. "But I don't think that means anything. If it's a sight bite, I'll be shaking. My heart will be beating real hard and I'll be excited. That's what I did best on the West Coast.
"If the weather gets cold and we get some cold fronts, it's going to be a total flip bite. Completely."
Most fishing fans might not realize it, but during the big-bass bonanza on Lake Toho in 2001 when Dean Rojas set the BASS five-bass limit with 45 pounds, 2 ounces, Martens was the first angler weighing in that day with a record catch. He had 34-10 and finished in third with a total of 85-15.
"It's going to be a super tournament," Martens said. "I am really looking forward to it."
The 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic will be hosted by the Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Central Florida Sports Commission.