One All-Star M.I.A.

Only 11 of the 12 Elite Series pros qualified for the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week competition were on hand for the pre-tournament dinner. One was busy fishing far away.

WETUMPKA, Ala. – Only 11 of the 12 Bassmaster Elite Series pros qualified for the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week competition were on hand for the pre-tournament dinner at Our Place Café on Wednesday evening. Aaron Martens was busy Wednesday, winning the U.S. Open on Lake Mead, Nevada, over 1,500 miles west of here.

“He’s not going to get any practice,” Skeet Reese said. “I know he’s going to be driving like heck to get here from Las Vegas. But he’s coming here feeling really good.”

The two-day practice session on Lake Jordan begins Thursday, when Martens won’t have a chance to wet a fishing lure. But he’ll be here by Saturday morning, when the two-day event begins on Lake Jordan that will cut the field from 12 to eight.

“Obviously, he’s going to miss some practice,” Steve Kennedy said. “But you’ve only got to finish in the top eight. He deserves to be here.”

Sooner or later, Martens, who lives in Leeds, Ala., will be here.

To land one of those top eight positions before the tournament moves to the Alabama River at Montgomery, Martens will be competing against the top eight finishers in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year standings – Kevin VanDam, Edwin Evers, Gerald Swindle, Ott Defoe, Kennedy, Terry Scroggins, Casey Ashley and Davy Hite – plus three other anglers, like Martens, who were voted in by B.A.S.S. fans – Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli and Jeff Kriet.

Reese has the most to prove. In each of the last two years, All-Star Week was part of the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. Both times Reese was on the verge of winning the AOY title before stumbling here. Needless to say, this area of Alabama doesn’t hold fond memories in Reese’s mind.

“In some ways, I can’t help but look back at what could have been here,” said the Auburn, Calif., resident. “But it’s a lot different this year. I don’t have Angler of the Year on the line. But I still want to redeem myself for the last two years. And I want to win this for my fans that voted me in here.”

Kennedy, who lives in Auburn, Ala., doesn’t consider this home water by any means. But he’s familiar with the area.

“I’ve got a cabin on Lake Martin, which isn’t 35 miles from here,” Kennedy said. “I love catching those  Coosa River spots. The only thing I like catching more is Flint River shoal bass. Both have adapted to living in the river. They are strong fish.”

Kennedy thinks the weather may have set the table for a good week. He measured four inches of rain Wednesday morning at his Auburn, Ala., home.

“Potentially, it could be real good,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had some interesting weather in the last week or two. It has cooled off the water a little bit.

“It’s not your typical dog days of summer when you’re getting afternoon thunderstorms.”

Once the top eight is decided, the tournament will move to the Alabama River and a three-day match-play format that concludes July 31, with the winner taking home $100,000.