Three-time Angler of the Year Aaron Martens passes away

Aaron Martens and his family after his Elites Series win on Lake Champlain in 2017.

Aaron Martens, a three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year and three-time winner of the prestigious U.S. Open, passed away today after a 19-month battle with brain cancer. He was 49 years old.

Martens initially honed his fishing skills on famed trophy factory Castaic Lake in southern California, fishing tournaments with his mother, Carol. After a storied career on numerous regional circuits, he qualified for the Bassmaster Top 150 tour through the Bassmaster Western Opens, and subsequently fished on various iterations of that tour, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, from 1999 through 2018. Along the way he qualified for and competed in 20 Bassmaster Classics, finishing in the top 10 on nine occasions, including four runner-up finishes. At the 2005 Bassmaster Classic in Pittsburgh, he had the winning fish on several times and ultimately fell short of Kevin VanDam’s winning weight by a mere 6 ounces. The following year at Lay Lake he again finished second to VanDam, albeit by a larger margin.

Editor’s note: View photos of Aaron’s legendary career

Martens won nine Bassmaster tournaments, three of them on different waters in his home state of California, as well as in Alabama, Illinois, Arizona, Maryland and New York. At the final win in 2017 on Lake Champlain, he was in 19th place heading into the final day of competition, but he amassed a monstrous catch to leapfrog the other 18 anglers. It is a mark that will likely never be matched or topped in Elite Series competition, since final day fields were then usually limited to 12 anglers and now consist of 10 qualifiers. During his more than two decades at B.A.S.S. he won more than $3 million.

In addition to competing with B.A.S.S., Martens also fished the FLW Tour from 2001 through 2006 and qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup three times. In 2003 he won a tour event on Wheeler Lake, and the following year he won at Champlain. He later fished the Major League Fishing made-for-television events, and left B.A.S.S. to compete on the Bass Pro Tour circuit in 2019. 

Despite the fact that several of his most notable achievements came using power fishing techniques, and he bristled at being pigeonholed as a finesse fisherman, many of Martens’ most meaningful innovations came using light line techniques. At the 2004 Classic on Lake Wylie, in which he finished second to Takahiro Omori’s last-minute charge, he brought several obscure lures from the 1970s back to life , including Scroungers and “horsey heads” (underspins), both of which became integral parts of most serious bass anglers’ arsenals. He is perhaps best known for his prowess with and reliance upon the drop-shot technique, which he had a strong hand in popularizing. Indeed, he taught it to many of his fellow tour pros.

While Martens moved from his native California to Alabama partway through his career to ease the road strain on his traveling family, he remained closely affiliated with the Golden State and its innovations. He tirelessly worked to refine both finesse and big bait techniques and was noted for his tackle-tinkering and perfectionism. He was also a conduit between Japanese innovators and the U.S. bass scene, and at times was sponsored by various Japanese companies including Megabass, Duo Realis, Sunline and Shimano.

The self-titled “Furious Hog Snatcher” was also an avid runner, backpacker and camper.

He is survived by his wife, Lesley; his children, Jordan and Spencer; and his mother, Carol.

Bassmaster will share funeral details and memorial donation options when they are available.