ZAPATA, Texas — All week on Falcon Lake, Aaron Martens and Byron Velvick had done the impossible: fished one of the most bass-choked stretches of water in the country, and done so with refreshing civility.
The results spoke for themselves. On Day One of the Lone Star Shootout presented by Longhorn, Martens crammed 42 pounds in his livewell in just five hours before battery trouble ended his day. Velvick slew 41 pounds, 11 ounces on Day Two.
Martens led through Day Three. Velvick never fell below fourth. Their co-anglers smashed fish at a record clip. The two California natives were first and third, respectively, heading into Day Four, fishing mostly close enough in Tiger Creek to see each other, and at times close enough to hold a conversation.
But on Day Four, with the tournament on the line, something broke down. Martens coughed up a 7-7 lead and fell to fourth overall with a 19-15 limit that was the second-smallest weighed on the final day, losing by 3-1 to Paul Elias. Meanwhile, Velvick sacked 30-3 to hang on to third, 9 ounces behind Elias.
The etiquette of sharing water is a complex dance. Elias, for one, won the tournament only after sparks flew between him and Ish Monroe over who had proper claim to a sweet spot.
On Day Four, it appears, Velvick's drive to win the tournament trumped Martens'. And afterward, Martens was kicking himself for ceding to Velvick a stretch of water that likely would have won the tournament for either angler had he fished alone.
"I should have went to that spot and camped on it," Martens said. "Just terrible, man. Sickening. But that's tournament fishing, I guess. Lessons learned. I'm too soft."
As the leader, Martens enjoyed the privilege of launching first, and arrived at the submerged point with enough time to make a single cast before Velvick pulled up on it. After about half an hour of fishing, Martens left.
Martens said he thought he could catch 25 pounds fishing other points he had found; the cloud cover had him excited to fish his other points. But while he caught several smaller fish on his secondary spots on Day Four, none were the quality he caught at the ridge he was sharing with Velvick.
Martens admitted that had Velvick not been there, he would have remained longer.
On-stage, before Martens weighed in, emcee Keith Alan asked Velvick about splitting such a productive spot with Martens.
"I hope he feels the same way I do," Velvick told the crowd. "The first day, we pulled up on the same spot. He was about a hundred yards on another spot, and we just started fishing."
Velvick said his fiancé, co-angler Mary Delgado, caught the fish in practice that tipped him to the quality of fish available on the stretch of bank, and to another spot "where Paul Elias was fishing all week."
Once Martens' fish were weighed, Velvick and Delgado made their way quickly to Velvick's truck.
"Like I said, I never pulled up on Aaron today, but I found those fish in practice with her," Velvick said. "If either one of us had had it to ourselves, we would have won. He was there, he was on 100 yards from it, I was on the other and we ended up killing the first day together."
Backstage, Martens estimated the distance at more like 40 yards when Velvick arrived in the morning.
"I could talk to him when he pulled up," Martens said, "Like, 'Byron, what are you doing, dude?' I was there first, but I made one cast. He was on the ridge, and I was on the point. I was going to work down that ridge, get that drop. He acted like I fished his way point."
Martens — who seemed to be in a bit of a daze, even for him — said it jarred him to see Velvick catch a couple of big fish as Martens worked a point some distance away. "I saw them splash," he said. "That hurt. That was right in the heart."
He said he told Velvick that, were roles reversed, and Velvick had the easier path to the $100,000 first-place check, that he would have granted him first crack at the water.
"He pressured me hard today," Martens said. "Real bad. I felt pressured all day. I thought I was going to go that spot anyways, but — I don't know. What do you do?"
As Martens talked, a man came up and told him congratulations.
"Thank you," Martens replied. Then, to himself: "Congratulations for what?"
He continued: "It's my fault. I should have stayed there. I should have thrown some elbows, too. It's my fault. My wife's going to kick my ass for it, too."