Capping off the most dominant season in Bassmaster history, Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., was finally awarded the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) trophy Friday.
Martens locked down the AOY title in late August during the final day of competition at the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair, but it wasn’t etched into stone until Friday when he hoisted the trophy over his head with his family standing at his side.
“He’s had such an amazing year, and we’re very proud of him,” said Martens’ wife, Lesley. “I know what this sport means to him, and I think it’s safe to say a third AOY title completely erases his 13 second-place finishes.”
“It’s surreal to stand here and think about my season,” the three-time AOY winner said. “Taking home two wins and the Angler of the Year title is so satisfying, but it’s hard to put this feeling into words right now. You really can’t hope for more than that; it’s very humbling to compete against the best in the world and win.”
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., maintains the lead in weight for the second consecutive day of the championship on Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Friday, he brought in a limit of smallmouth bass for 18 pounds, 5 ounces for a two-day total of 39-12. He is holding steady in seventh place in AOY points.
The stories transpiring during the 2015 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship don’t stop with Martens and Hackney. Several anglers pining for a 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic berth are impacting the AOY points in a big way.
Todd Faircloth had another impressive day, bumping his two-day total to 33 pounds, 12 ounces by weighing 15-7 on Friday. He is currently sitting in 29th place in AOY standings, which is just inside the Classic qualification bubble. He has one more day to make the Classic berth official.
“I feel that if I can catch a limit of smallmouth on Sunday I will qualify for the Classic,” said Faircloth, who is in fourth place (by weight) after two days. “Smallmouth bass have burned me before, but they’re working for me lately and it’s been fun.
“I’ve been catching all my fish from 15 to 25 feet of water on a drop shot, which is similar to the pattern I used on Lake St. Clair,” he said, referring to the tournament he recently won.
Michael Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., came into the championship on the bubble of earning a 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic qualification. He had a dramatic Thursday morning by losing three hours of fishing time due to gear-related complications. He rebounded, however, and weighed enough fish to put him in a strong position to earn a Classic berth on Sunday.
“I arrived at my spot on time this morning, and I caught my two biggest fish right away,” Iaconelli explained. “After I had a limit in the livewell, I felt so much better. I was able to expand my area and better understand it.”
Iaconelli knows he hasn’t made the cut yet, but he feels that weighing 15 pounds of bass on Sundaywill put him high enough in the tournament standings to provide enough points to compete at the Classic next March on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., and Ish Monroe of Hughson, Calif., are holding down 40th and 41st place respectively, and the two anglers are separated by a single point. With 40th place being the current Bassmaster Classic cutoff, both anglers — among others — have only Sunday to catch the right fish in order to earn a 2016 Classic berth.
Competition will resume Sunday morning out of CenterPointe Marina at 6:30 a.m. CT. The final weigh-in will be held at the same location beginning at 3:15 p.m.
On Saturday, all 50 anglers will participate in Bassmaster University, which will take place during the day at CenterPointe Marina. Anglers, including former AOYs Kevin VanDam, Michael Iaconelli and Skeet Reese, will be available for meet-and-greets, bass-fishing advice and seminars. Local vendors and sponsors will also be on-hand to discuss products and services.
Also on Saturday as part of its Bassmaster Fan and Military Appreciation Day, B.A.S.S. will give a special commemorative Bassmaster cap to the first 250 military service members who come to the B.A.S.S. booth with a military identification card. All 50 Elite anglers will be on hand to sign autographs as well.
Activities planned throughout the weekend are free and open to the public. Companies like Mercury, Nitro, Skeeter, Triton and Yamaha will have booths at the expo and will offer demo rides. Toyota, Carhartt, Berkley, Humminbird, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Minn Kota, Power-Pole, Shimano, Rigid Industries and A.R.E. Accessories, Dick Cepek Tires, HUK Performance Clothing will also exhibit.
For more event information, including the Bassmaster University schedule, visit Bassmaster.com.
The local hosts for the event are the Sturgeon Bay Visitor Center and the Door County Visitor Bureau.