Aaron Martens heard the chuckles from the crowd when he explained the primary pattern he used during the Bassmaster Elite at Lake Havasu presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels.
But as crazy as it sounded, he was serious.
Martens made a short run up the Colorado River each day and fished thick patches of shoreline vegetation where big largemouth bass were feeding on blackbirds. Flipping a bait designed to mimic their prey, he caught enough bass the first three days to enter Sunday’s championship round in fourth place.
Then during the championship round, he caught five bass that weighed 19-5 and took home the $100,000 first-place prize with a four-day total of 68-9.
He used a drop shot rig some during the week, too. But after the final weigh-in, the buzz was about the birds.
“I do that all the time,” Martens said. “I don’t know why people don’t believe me when I say it. The birds fall out of the nest, and the bass eat them. Birds are definitely part of their diet.”
Martens used a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce weight and a 4/0 Heavy Cover Gamakatsu hook rigged with a green pumpkin punch skirt and one of two plastic trailers. His choice of trailer was determined by which weight he was using — a large Rage Craw for the 1/2-ounce rig and a Speed Craw for the 3/4-ounce setup.
He paid special attention to areas where lots of blackbirds were nesting.
“I probably shouldn’t even be talking about it, because I’ve known about it for 25 years,” said Martens, who said several fish spit up black feathers in his livewell during the tournament. “I’ve caught them in California and had them spit up full-grown blackbirds. Birds are definitely part of their diet.
“Maybe it’s such a good pattern because so many people don’t believe it.”
Though the pattern led to a victory, Martens said there were times when it was frustrating to execute.
The thickness of the tules that line the riverbanks, combined with the high winds that blew during much of the tournament, caused him lots of problems with tangles and forced him to change baits frequently. Once he hooked a fish deep in the tules, landing it was an adventure.
The process was aided by a 7-foot, 6-inch extra-heavy flipping stick from the namesake series he helped design for Enigma. He also relied heavily on 30-pound Sunline SX1 braid.
“I had to use a 3/4-ounce weight instead of a 1/2-ounce today because I started pitching way back in the tules,” Martens said. “I would have loved to go even heavier, but I was afraid to. I had five or six bass drop the 3/4-ounce weight today, and I just didn’t think a 1 ounce would work.”
The come-from-behind victory was Martens’ seventh career win with B.A.S.S., and his first since 2012. It was particularly sweet, coming on the heels of his 13th career second-place finish at the Sacramento River last week.
“I told my wife after I got my 13th second that it was time for me to win a tournament,” Martens said. “I came here with 13 seconds and six wins. That math just really doesn’t add up.”
Martens’ jubilation came at the expense of Arizona angler Cliff Pirch.
Pirch entered the final round in first place, leading Texas angler Takahiro Omori by less than a pound. But the areas near the launch site at Lake Havasu State Park where Pirch had done so well all week finally went dry.
“I probably needed to leave and go somewhere else, but I decided against it,” Pirch said. “I made a move (Saturday). I went somewhere else, and Takahiro Omori caught 20 pounds there. Justin Lucas caught 18 pounds there. I decided to stay there today, and it just didn’t work out.”
Pirch finished second with 66-9, followed by Edwin Evers (65-0), Omori (64-9) and Elite Series rookie David Williams (62-14).
After making a big jump on Day 3 to qualify for Sunday’s final Top 12, Lake Havasu City resident Dean Rojas caught just 14-6 Sunday. He finished sixth with 61-7, just ahead of reigning Bassmaster Classic champion Casey Ashley (61-4).
However, Rojas, who has qualified for the final round in the last three of the four Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments this year, currently leads the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with 365 points (based on cumulative finishes in Elite tournaments), just 10 points of Lucas, winner of the Sacramento Elite, and Martens, who has 332 points.
Bonuses and Contingency Awards:
- The $1,000 award for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points leader will go to Dean Rojas.
- The Power-Pole Captain’s Cash will award $1,000 to David Williams.
- The Evan Williams Bourbon Heavyweight Award of $1,000 for the angler with the heaviest five-fish limit during the tournament goes to Edwin Evers for his 20-7 bag on Day 1.
- The Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for the angler leading on Day 2 goes to Clifford Pirch.
- The HUK Biggest Jump Award of $1,000 for the angler who made the largest jump in standings from Day 1 goes to Jonathon VanDam.
- The Bass Pro Shops Big Bass award of $750 for the heaviest bass weighed goes to Mike Kernan for the 6-7 bass caught on Day 1.
- The Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $3,000 for the highest placing eligible angler goes to Evers. The second highest placing angler, Williams, is awarded $2,000.
- The A.R.E. Truck Caps Top Angler Award of $1,000 will be awarded to Evers for being the highest placing angler using A.R.E. products.
- Takahiro Omori was awarded the Dick Cepek Tires Rolling Forward award for most placed climbed in AOY between the Sacramento River and Lake Havasu.
- The Rigid Industries Big Fish Light Jackpot will rollover to the next event with a total of $1,500. An angler must weigh in the heaviest five-fish limit of more than 25 pounds.