The Furious Hog Snatcher is back with a vengeance. Aaron Martens added to his legend by posting a record comeback that’s unlikely to be eclipsed.
The Natural, who hasn’t been close to winning in nearly two years, waited until Championship Sunday to unleash the biggest bag of event, rallying from 19th place with 23 pounds, 5 ounces to win the Bassmaster Elite at Champlain presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels.
After winning his ninth B.A.S.S. event — tying Shaw Grigsby in fourth on the active winners list — it was somewhat surreal he didn’t seem to notice. Day 2 leader Jacob Wheeler was brought up beside the hot seat sitter but didn’t have enough to top him.
Fans began cheering to emcee Dave Mercer’s proclamation: “A-Mart has got it done! The Furious Hog Snatcher returns right here on Lake Champlain.”
“Is that it?” asked Martens. “I thought there was another one. I was spacing out.”
While he may have zoned out, he zoned in on the water.
The biggest comeback in Elite history had been Jason Christie climbing from 11th at Bull Shoals in 2013. Martens only had to make up 3-1 on Wheeler, but he had to climb over 18 anglers. With Championship Sunday normally consisting of the Top 12, coming back from as far as 19th might not only never be broken, but the opportunity might never arise again.
It happened because wind canceled Thursday’s round, shortening the event to three days. The full field fished Friday and Saturday, and the top 51 went out Sunday to decide the winner.
“I thought about that today. I wonder how far somebody has won from?” said Martens, who, in fact, knew he was 19th. “That’s amazing.”
Well, yes, Aaron, yes you are.
A-MART’S END-AROUND PUTS CRIMP IN SHOW
The Bassmaster TV crew, whose greatest fear is not having a camera with the winner, went into scramble mode to chase Martens’ end-around victory. Usually, a camera is sent to a rising angler — like Jordan Lee at the Classic — to get footage for the show and content for Bassmaster.com.
Martens didn’t allow that opportunity.
“I underestimated them on purpose,” he said, pointing to Day 1 when BASSTrakk had him at 19-8 and he only weighed in 18-8.
Marshals on the anglers’ boats have phones and they enter the weight of each fish caught into BASSTrakk, which keeps a tally of the anglers’ total weight. Martens, who was high on his estimates Friday, said that’s why he fudged the numbers a bit Sunday.
“Today, I kept catching big fish,” he said. “I’m like, that’s a 4 and half, right. I’m all, ‘Put it in at 4-2.’ That first day, I guessed wrong.”
Martens’ best five Sunday were entered as 5-4, 4-5, 4-3, 3-12 and 3-3, giving him a grand BASSTrakk total of 20-11. He climbed as high as third in the unofficial standings and finished fourth there, 1-2 behind Seth Feider’s leading estimations. Martens’ BASSTrakk weight was 2-10 less than his actual big bag of the event, which put him over the top.
And that sent the B.A.S.S. media corps racing to get anything and everything on him. The situation also produced this odd exchange on stage with Mercer.
“I do have GoPro footage, so it will be on there,” said Martens, trying to make up for his trick play. “I didn’t see a camera boat today. I don’t blame you guys for not being there.”
“You lied about your weight,” Mercer gingerly shot back. “That may be part of the problem.”
“I didn’t want to be wrong, so I underestimated a little bit,” Martens said. “I kind of knew I did. I didn’t mean to. It was accidental.”
“We forgive you,” Mercer said. (Speak for yourself.)
“I didn’t know that was a 6-pounder,” said Martens, still trying to clear himself.
Giving Marshals inaccurate weights to enter into BASSTrakk has happened before and it will happen again. There have been a number of instances when a winner has short-changed themselves TV and web coverage by not reporting accurately.
An angler would surely want his family and fans to know where he stood and not worry needlessly that they might not make the cut, etc., and it’s a given their sponsors would like the added exposure on Bassmaster LIVE and the TV show.
Ever the TV producer/executive, B.A.S.S. co-owner Jerry McKinnis was informed at the Classic that Jordan Lee was quickly climbing up the standings. His first response was, “We don’t have a camera on him.”
Sure, some anglers might not want a camera boat hovering around them, but those camera-shy pros should consider the other side. Giving accurate assessments of their weights to Marshals for BASSTrakk is important.
WINNERS USUALLY DON’T WANT DO-OVERS
Martens lamented his two mistakes on stage with Mercer.
“I kind of wish I could do it over again, this whole tournament,” he said. “The first day I fished completely wrong.”
His 18-8 for 15th wasn’t too shabby, but after unlocking the big fish tactic on Sunday, he wished he’d done it all week. (Maybe then there would have been a camera with him.)
He said he had his Day 3 winning bait, Aaron’s Magic Roboworm in red, just sitting idle on his boat deck the first two days, even though he knew it would entice bigger fish to bite.
“I caught them all on that,” he said. “It’s funny. It sat there for two days staring at me. I never threw it until today. I did a pretty good job of catching them today.”
His other mistake was losing a 4-plus smallmouth on Day 2, when he weighed his smallest bag of 16-15.
THIRD PUTS PALANIUK IN PRIME POSITION
Brandon Palaniuk says he doesn’t look at the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings until the season is over, and it seems to be working rather well for him.
The Prodigy moved closer to his first major title by finishing third on Sunday, increasing his lead in the point standings to 40 over Jacob Wheeler and Casey Ashley, who are tied at 689.
It’s been an incredible season so far for the Rathdrum, Idaho, native. He has six Top 12 finishes, and if not for one bomb would be on track for the best average finish in the Elite Series.
Palaniuk began the season by finishing 12th on Cherokee Lake, then he managed only 8-4 a day in finishing 105th on Lake Okeechobee. An amazing run followed as he took fifth on Toledo Bend, 18th on Ross Barnett, won on Sam Rayburn, 12th at Lake Dardanelle, third at St. Lawrence and third Sunday at Lake Champlain.
That’s an average finish in 19.87. The best of any AOY winner was Martens in 2015, when he just needed to show up at the AOY Championship to gain his third title. Martens’ average finish was 13.375, and he had a 66th-place finish, the worst of any AOY winner.
It’s insane to think Palaniuk could eclipse that with his 105. It’s also remarkable that with just an average finish at Okeechobee, Palaniuk would be on track for the best ever Elite season. Say if he was 30th there, his average finish in the eight events would be 10.5. Take out that bomb entirely and his average finish would be an unthinkable 6.75.
The Elites next compete at the Advance Auto Park Bassmaster Elite at St. Clair. The last time there in 2015, Palaniuk finished second to Todd Faircloth. The top 50 in the points then move on to the Toyota AOY Championship on Mille Lacs, where last year Palaniuk finished 11th.
P.S.: Don’t tell him.
LONGEST CLASSIC STREAK IN JEOPARDY
The longest consecutive streak of qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic is in jeopardy. Mike Iaconelli, who started the Champlain event 40th in AOY points, finished 93rd and fell to 55th in the point race.
Ike has qualified for 18 Classics, 16 consecutive, and last missed the championship in 2001. He has to climb to finish among the top 50 then find more success on Mille Lacs to get inside the Classic cut, which again is expected to fall around 40th place.
Another pro with both Classic and AOY titles, Skeet Reese, also slipped in his quest for an 18th Classic qualification. Reese just missed the cut at Champlain and fell to 51st in the standings. The last Classic he missed was 2012 on the Red River, where he had won his Classic in 2009.
Dean Rojas, who was 56th in points before Champlain, actually moved up two spots to 54th, but his streak of nine consecutive Classics, among his 15 total, is also on the line.
Several anglers who were looking great to qualify fell at Champlain and left themselves some work. Randall Tharp dropped 14 spots to 49th while Josh Bertrand, who was 28th, fell back into the bubble area at 37th.
On the flip side, Kelley Jaye and Brandon Lester, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, gave themselves a big boost toward Classic qualification. Jaye climbed from 55th to 39th in the standings while Lester stands 36th after starting the event in 49th. Jaye is vying for his first Classic while Lester is seeking his third berth.
Matt Lee also got well within the Classic cut at 34th after taking 12th, his third Top 12 of the season. He had been 47th in the points race.
FEIDER GIVES DUE RESPECT TO MARTENS
You gotta love Seth Feider’s reaction to being bested by Martens. After he put together what looked like the winning sack with some big catches, including the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the event at 6-4, Martens stole the thunder.
Feider, who finished second just 14 ounces back, tweeted this:
The hashtags there at the end speak volumes.