"Not all second-place finishes are equal. While some do haunt me, most of them don't…In most of my second-place finishes, I didn't lose the tournament, somebody else went out and won it."
DETROIT — Saturday, August 24th, marks Aaron Martens' 41st birthday. And he is a deep breath away from blowing out the candles on his ultimate birthday cake — a Bassmaster Elite Series Toyota Angler of the Year title.
If that happens, it will mark a heartbreaking day for Edwin Evers, who entered the Plano Championship Chase on Lake St. Clair this week with a 30-point AOY lead. If possible, Evers should take consolation in the fact that Martens "went out and won" the title. Evers didn't lose it.
It will be difficult for Evers to view it that way, as it would mark his third runner-up finish in the AOY race. But no one in the professional bass fishing world knows heartbreak like Aaron Martens. The 14-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier has finished second in that event four times, including three times in a four-year period, from 2002 to 2005.
The column Martens wrote on bassmaster.com last week is almost clairvoyant. And that would be fitting for the pro angler some have nicknamed "Rain Man" for his obsession with the details of bass fishing.
Even spookier is the fact that he opened the eight-tournament Elite Series with an 85th-place finish at the Sabine River. Nobody wins the AOY title, which rewards consistency, with an opening bomb like that.
"Has anybody ever done that?" said Martens, after he weighed in 19 pounds, 9 ounces Friday to give him a second-place total of 41-7 for the tournament.
More importantly, Evers can't do anything about closing the AOY gap. After a season in which his worst finish was 30th place, Evers missed the two-day Top 50 cut by a mere 8 ounces. If it's any consolation – and it's probably not – Martens missed a Bassmaster Classic title by 6 ounces to Kevin VanDam in 2005 at Pittsburgh.
Evers was one of the first anglers to weigh-in Friday. He knew he had to make the Top 50 cut to keep his fate in his hands. And he knew that his 17-0 total Friday, almost a four-pound improvement on Thursday's weight, probably wasn't' going to get it done.
"I'll be shocked if that gets me in," Evers said. "I'm still scratching my head. I had a really good two days of practice on (Lake) St. Clair. I found three groups of fish that had 4-, 4 ½-pounders. I felt like I could catch 21 pounds. I don't know where they went."
Smallmouth bass are known for moving from one place to another. But they usually stay in the neighborhood. During the tournament, Evers never located the fish he'd found in practice. He wasn't going to second-guess himself for not making the long, rough ride to Lake Erie, like Martens did.
"I'm not regretting that," Evers said.
Martens still has to close this deal. That's not a given, considering his approximately 40-mile, one-way run in rough water to Lake Erie. But he spent a lot of practice time shooting for the moon here. He could suffer a mechanical breakdown and miss his check-in time Saturday. However, it's unlikely that he won't catch enough fish to win the AOY title. With Evers' points for the year determined, Martens has to finish at least in 25th place to secure the AOY title.
He has worked too hard for anything short of a fluke to drop that far in this event. He's fishing a big area on Erie where he's seen only one other Elite Series angler this week. But there are two local bass tournaments scheduled nearby on Saturday.
Martens has left himself lots of room to move around any other competition.
"I've got lots of spots," he said. "I graphed this area for eight hours (during practice)."
Again – nobody knows heartbreak like Aaron Martens. The year when he won his previous AOY title- in 2005 – "I came out of nowhere to win it," Martens said. "I caught a 9-pounder at Table Rock (Lake). There's only two 9-pounders in the lake."
When he's been on the verge of closing the deal, it seems like the unexpected occurs. So if anyone isn't counting their chickens before the eggs are hatched, it's Aaron Martens. But the candles are definitely lit on his birthday cake. He simply needs to blow them out.