Aaron Martens had a cold. He hadn’t been able to kick it in time for the annual Ragnar Relay team race, but he ran anyway. He ran through the sniffles, stuffy head and runny nose.
“The guys who won the race had the same cold,” he said two days after the Miami-to-Key West relay team event. “That’s what makes us runners. We run even if we’re sick. If you can still walk, you can run.”
Same thing happened last fall. Martens had walking pneumonia, but he kept his commitment to run the Philadelphia Marathon.
Since taking up running about two years ago, Martens, 40, has earned the right to be called a runner. But that’s not, of course, how most people know him. They know him as a highly successful Bassmaster Elite Series pro. Training for a race provides the motivation to run, and he runs to stay healthy.
Right now, feeling very fit (despite the cold), he is moving fast toward the biggest event of the season: The Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa, Feb. 22-24, on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees out of Tulsa, Okla.
The Classic’s first prize is $500,000 and an instant entry for the next Classic. That provides security for a season. The prestige, media and fan attention, and new sponsorships can change a career.
Sure, Martens would embrace a winner’s package, but he’s already a star of the sport. He has a huge fan base, especially in Japan. He’s racked up $1.9 million in Bassmaster earnings alone. He owns six Bassmaster titles — including his most recent in the 2012 postseason: 2012 Toyota Trucks All-Star champ — and 10 Top 10 finishes. He was the 2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, too.
But he has not won a Classic. He has come close. Go back to those 10 Top-10 finishes: no less than four of the 10 were second-place finishes at a Bassmaster Classic (in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2011). The Bassmaster Classic Presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa will be his 14th crown attempt in almost as many years. (Martens did not qualify for the 2003 Classic, the only break in a string of qualifications since 1999.) If anyone is due for a Classic win, it would be Martens.
Yet, he gives no weight to four runner-up finishes. He does not obsess over statistics, about what happened in the past.
“I’m pretty good about forgetting,” he said.
Instead, he gets to work. Like most of the 52 other Classic qualifiers, Martens scouted Grand Lake before the early December cutoff.
“It was really cold. The fishing was okay, and it will be better in February,” he said. “I didn’t fish a lot. I looked a lot, picked it apart with the (sonar) graph. It’s always amazing how much you can learn doing that. It’s a good-size lake. There’s a lot to look over.”
He liked what he saw.
“I found some areas I’ll be excited to go back to,” he said. “Some areas I knew were good just by looking at them. I didn’t need to fish them.”
When Martens was scouting Grand, the air temperature highs hovered in the 40s. If those temps prevail in February, “the fishing will be good,” he predicted.
The tournament will be won on largemouth, he said. Anyone who lives there, or who has a lot of experience on the big lake, will have an advantage, he said. If Martens had to bet on Classic competitors other than himself, he would pick, among others, Elite Series pro Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., which is not far from Grand Lake.
“Edwin Evers has been doing really well the past couple of years. That lake is made for him. He could be really hard to beat,” Martens said.
Martens knows about getting the better of Evers. The two went head-to-head in the last round of the bracket competition in the postseason All-Star competition. Martens beat Evers.
Although he doesn’t have a big race before the Classic, he’ll continue to run so he’s in prime physical shape come February.
“I’m in the best shape of my life now. Life is better when you’re like that,” Martens said.
Has his fishing improved?
“Oh, yeah. Everything’s better.”