Imminent AOY

DETROIT, Mich. — Aaron Martens came to Lake St. Clair with a 69-point lead over his closest competitor in the Toyota Angler of the Year race. He’s going to leave with a nearly insurmountable margin of at least 96 points, maybe more.

“It’s hard to put it together in my mind that I’m that many points ahead,” said Martens, after advancing to his fifth Top 12 cut in the eight-tournament regular season. “That part is crazy.”

The Leeds, Ala., resident, nicknamed “The Natural,” won’t officially earn the third AOY title of his career until he competes in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Lake Michigan’s Sturgeon Bay Sept. 17-20. Martens won’t need to catch much at Sturgeon Bay – maybe just one bass in two days – no matter how the Top 12 standings wind up on Sunday. And he can’t imagine that becoming a problem at one of his favorite fisheries.

“I’ve got lots of spots on Sturgeon Bay,” Martens said. “That place is awesome.”

That would be an appropriate word to describe Martens’ 2015 season – awesome. He started it with a third-place finish at the Sabine River. Maybe that was a sign of things to come. Martens had rallied to win the 2013 AOY title after an 85th-place finish at the Sabine.

He had only one hiccup all season ­– a 66th-place finish at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville in the second tournament of the year.

“I was on them in practice,” he said. “That’s the only tournament I didn’t think on. I caught ‘em so good in practice that I got stuck on that.”

Martens wouldn’t finish lower than 15th the rest of the way. His accomplishments include victories at Lake Havasu and Chesapeake Bay.

“It’s getting better every day,” Martens said Saturday. “I’ve definitely been blessed this year.”

He’s been blessed in the amount of $271,500 at this point, before his final winnings are determined at Lake St. Clair. Martens has won more than $2.5 million in B.A.S.S. tournaments in his career.

In retrospect, maybe finishing second at the Sacramento River/California Delta in the third tournament of the season was the key. It marked Martens’ 13th runner-up finish in a major B.A.S.S. event. That includes four second-place finishes in the Bassmaster Classic.

The California native had his mother, Carol, in the audience at Sacramento. He told his wife, Lesley, that 13 would be his lucky number. Sure enough, Martens won the next week at Arizona’s Lake Havasu with Carol in the audience again.

That tournament ended May 10, and that was just the beginning of Martens’ near-flawless streak. This week in the Plano Bassmaster Elite at St. Clair has been just the latest example of Martens’ flawless performances.

On Day 1, he went to the mouth of Lake Huron, where all the big bags would be caught that day. He finished in 24th place with 18 pounds, 5 ounces.

On Day 2, with the Lake Huron bite dwindling, he came back down to Lake St. Clair and finished with 18-8, moving up to 16th place.

Saturday he stayed in St. Clair, burning only “about two gallons” of gas, fished near the Metropark weigh-in site, and caught his biggest bag of the tournament, 19-4, to take 11th place going into the final day.

Changing tactics and improving his total catch each day – that summarizes Martens’ season. While he is 8-4 behind leader Brandon Palaniuk, don’t sell short Martens’ chances to win this tournament.

“I might actually consider going to up to Saginaw (in Lake Huron) and try to catch 30 pounds,” said Martens, only half-joking. “It’s about 90, 95 miles.”

Martens said age and all those second-place finishes are the keys to his success this season. He turned 43 years old on August 24th.

“It toughens you up,” he said.

Martens’ passion for fishing has never wavered, even on these tournament days when he’s averaged getting four hours of sleep per night.

“I haven’t watched TV in almost two months,” he said.

As his bag from Saturday was totaled on the weigh-in scales, with several anglers yet to come across the stage, Martens said, “I hope I make (the Top 12). I still love fishing.”

After the season he’s had, there’s no doubt about that.