Aaron Martens is an original, there’s no denying that.
Who else would apologize for winning a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title? But he did, right there on the weigh-in stage of the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair.
By finishing with a lead of more than 100 points, Martens stole drama from the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship. No one can catch him on Sturgeon Bay, Sept. 17-20.
“It’s over, huh?” he said after finishing sixth. “It’s kind of weird. I’m sorry I kind of messed it up.”
He did a lot of apologizing Sunday – for being late, for not granting his daughter’s birthday wish, for winning early. (See Steve Wright’s Snoozes to AOY title) Heck, seconds after celebrating his winning catch at The Chesapeake, he told Bill Lowen he was sorry to end his hopes of a first tournament win.
He was unapologetic about outworking everyone. Talent earned his moniker of “The Natural,” but 20-hour tournament days and becoming the fifth angler with more than three AOY crowns have transformed him into the "Ultimate Furious Hog Snatcher."
Mark Zona calls anglers for news, notes and nuggets to use on Bassmaster LIVE, saving night owl Martens for last, knowing he's usually awake. But he thought his 9:45 ring Saturday night was a bit late.
“It rang one time,” Zona said. “Hello. 'Hey, I’m working on the camper, working on my jackplate' … but evidently he didn’t wake up on time.”
Could be it finally caught up on him? Trip Weldon said he made repeated calls to Martens early Sunday, and when he called back, the only thing Weldon understood was he’s getting dressed. Can you imagine a befuddled Martens speaking on the phone?
On the water, Dave Mercer got Martens to talk about missing his alarm for LIVE. “I was groggy,” Martens said. “Usually when I hit the water, I’m 100 percent. I was probably 75 percent, even after I caught that 4-pounder.”
Martens said being late never happened before, but a viewer sent in another time Martens was caught napping, a 2006 FLW event on Lake Okeechobee.
On stage, Martens recalled “it happened once before about 20 years ago.”
Twenty, or maybe 9, but who’s counting? Martens has slept since then … but not much.
Mercer told Martens he can now sleep in as late as he wants, that he technically doesn’t need to fish at Sturgeon Bay.
We agree with Mercer’s summation: “Martens can do some amazing things, even in his sleep.”
Two in the well
The only thing winner Todd Faircloth missed at St. Clair was his family.
Faircloth and Martens were the only anglers whose bags increased in weight each day, and Faircloth was the sole competitor to weigh more than 20 pounds each day.
“I had an incredible day. I had an incredible week,” said Faircloth, who salvaged his season. “I hit a bad spell where I went five tournaments in a row without making a check.”
That’s very uncharacteristic of Faircloth, one of the steadiest sticks on tour. Two events ago, he was stuck in the 90s in AOY points. A 17th at Chesapeake moved him to 63rd, and he made the hyperjump to 40th after St. Clair. He’s tickled to have a shot at making the Classic, and even where he won Sunday.
“I won a tournament on a smallmouth lake!” he said. “Where’s the trophy?”
Faircloth wanted it quick because he knew he was going to choke up, and he did, as he thanked God and thought of wife, Angie, and children, Hudson, Harrison and Helen Claire.
“This is the first event I won my family hasn’t been here," he said. "I love you. See you in a week.”
Steve Bowman reported for LIVE on what Faircloth believed was his winning fish. It was mid-afternoon, and Bowman said the understated Faircloth showed delight.
“He actually let out a woohoo on that one. That’s about as Ike as he’s going to go,” Bowman said. “This was about a 5-pounder. He’s got about 20 now.”
Bowman said there wasn’t a slow part of Faircloth’s day, as he culled about every 30 minutes. Faircloth stayed within a specific area, targeting specific spots. He spent most of the morning on one particular stretch of a couple hundred yards.
“Then he ran a quarter mile, stopped and caught a 4 then a 5,” Bowman said. “We have not moved out of a half mile by half mile area.”
As high wind blew out much of the practice, it’s somewhat miraculous Faircloth found his key area in the final hours of his final practice.
Four on the floor
As Martens took some oomph out of the AOY Championship event, the Bassmasters crew contemplated the situation. With the top spot already decided, the phrase “Celebration of Man” was bantered about, but producer Mike McKinnis said there will be some pretty important stories to be told further down the standings.
As of now, the top 39 in the season-long points race are awarded berths to the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake. It might go up one or two spots depending on Opens qualifiers, but the chase will present drama.
Brandon Coulter is currently last man in with 404 points. Breathing down his neck, with only 1 point separating them, are the likes of Faircloth, Gerald Swindle, John Murray and Ott DeFoe. There will definitely be some popping for those on the Classic bubble.
There’s also a $5,000 gap between the top several spots, always an incentive, as is claiming a Bassmaster victory. Expect a competitive event, even if Martens sleeps through it.
That’s a limit
Besides Martens and Faircloth, the big winners from St. Clair were James Elam, Brett Hite, Jonathon VanDam and Chad Pipkens.
Elam jumped 23 spots in points, from 50th and last man into the AOY event, to 29th. Finishing 10th puts him solidly inside the Classic cut.
Hite’s ninth at St. Clair sent him from the outside, at 57th, to looking in, at 31st. Pipkens is right behind him in 32nd after starting the event in 59th.
VanDam was 66th before taking eighth Sunday, which moved him to 47th. Watch out for him at Sturgeon Bay, near his Elite victory in 2012 out of Green Bay.
- How about some jubilation for the Photo of the Day. Garrick Dixon captured the reaction of both Faircloth and Brandon Palaniuk during the deciding moment. Check out all the photos from St. Clair.
- Palaniuk later commented on the shot. “Been on both ends of this deal ...Won't lie ... hate losing...but big congrats to Todd Faircloth! He earned every ounce out there this week. Not sure why I look like I’m 4-foot tall in this pic.” It’s the angle, Brandon, accentuating your position behind him. Plus, Todd's pretty tall.
- Another who left the weigh-in disappointed was Keith Poche, who was on the verge of making the AOY Championship. “To make it, I need two guys to stumble, I don’t know who that’d be.” Fletcher Shryock went for broke and fell to 12th, but Poche never got another and took 11th. If he had taken 10th, he would have tied Mark Menendez with 381 points and taken the 50th and final spot.
- When these guys say points are sooo important, believe them. Poche finished with 380 points. Ish Monroe and Andy Montgomery also had 380, but Monroe took the tiebreaker and is the last man in.
- Pipkens, who won his Open out of St. Clair in 2014, made a great run despite Lake Erie "not fishing right" this week. He was even a bit surprised his third at Chespeake and fourth here moved the meter so much. “I was 92nd three events ago, and now I’m going to be in Classic contention.”