Professional bass angler and motorhome owner Aaron Martens doesn’t need to exaggerate about his prowess with a rod and reel, and he has the trophies and titles to prove it.
By Lazelle Jones
NASCAR drivers do it. Golf pros, bull riders, and hot-air balloon enthusiasts do it, too. So it came as no surprise to find out that there are folks who travel across the United States to compete in bass-fishing tournaments for several months out of the year using a motor coach as their home away from home.
One such angler is Aaron Martens, who belongs to the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) and competes in the organization’s highest division, the CITGO Elite Series. In 2005 Aaron earned the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, making him the season champion among professional bass fishermen. In addition, Aaron finished second at the CITGO Bassmaster Classic last year, the Super Bowl of bass fishing, making it the third time in four years that he’s finished runner-up at this prestigious tournament.
Once the series season ended, Aaron, a California native, returned home to visit and fish with his family in the San Fernando Valley. When I caught up with them, the Martens family “” Aaron; his wife, Lesley; and their 2-year-old daughter, Jordan “” were on their way to Lake Mead near Las Vegas, Nevada, where Aaron competed in the WON (Western Outdoor News) Bass U.S. Open Tournament, an event he ended up winning. Before leaving, the couple took some time to talk about the professional bass-fishing circuit and how the motorhome lifestyle complements their needs as a family.
Millions of people in North America enjoy fishing. Most fish for the relaxation it brings, but as with other hobbies, it’s fostered a subculture of dedicated anglers who have made it a profession, competing in the many bass-fishing tournaments hosted each year across the United States. Aaron will compete in 15 BASS Elite Series, Major, and Classic professional tournaments in 2006, as well as other fishing competitions throughout the year.
For the pro bass fisherman, the rewards for catching prize-winning bass can be quite impressive. For example, by winning the WON Bass U.S. Open, Aaron collected more than $55,000 in cash; a new, fully loaded Mercury-powered Ranger bass boat and trailer; and a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Included in his cash winnings were a $2,500 bonus for having the heaviest single-day catch on two of the three tournament days and an additional $2,000 for catching the biggest bass on two of the three days.
But the stakes are often higher than that. For example, the winner of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Florida, February 24 through 26, will take home a first prize of $500,000, as well as sponsorship and media opportunities that can make the win even more lucrative.
In the Elite Series, composed of 100 of the world’s top professional anglers, each will compete for a $100,000 first-place prize at every event. More importantly, the total Elite angler purse is a whopping $7,404,650 for the series. The Elite Series pays down 50 places, with 50th place earning $10,000. Meanwhile, co-anglers will vie for a piece of a $1,269,400 series prize purse.
Additionally, anglers are in a points race in the series to be crowned CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year. CITGO and BASS will award a total of $600,000 to the top 50 anglers in the 2006 points standings. When Aaron wrapped up the Angler of the Year title at Table Rock Lake in Kimberling City, Missouri, in 2005, he brought to the scales a four-day total catch that weighed 50 pounds, 3 ounces, good enough for second place in the tournament. So, in addition to the $100,000 Angler of the Year award, he pocketed another $38,000 for his runner-up finish at the tournament. In addition to these prizes, pros such as Aaron also have high-visibility sponsors the likes of Triton, Mercury, Megabass, Robo Worm, Gamakatsu, Sunline, and JDC Marketing Group. All of the top-level BASS tournaments are televised on the ESPN2 cable channel.
Aaron explained that there is a good deal more to winning a tournament than simply throwing out your favorite lure and hoping the fish bite at it. He engages in strenuous practice for several days before each tournament begins. In fact, five days of practice were scheduled on Lake Mead before the three-day tournament. So, how does a professional fisherman practice for a tournament? The answer may surprise you.
Aaron spends his time studying the lake and all possible fishing locations. He tries different kinds of lures and studies the currents and the marine and plant life. He charts the weather forecasts and understands the planetary conditions (the phase of the moon can affect fish behavior). When you’re competing in one of these tournaments, you’re not permitted to talk with anyone about the fishing conditions, and that’s where the proper use of the practice period really pays big dividends.
BASS Conservation promotes a “catch and release” program, and the boats these pro bass fishermen use are equipped with special freshwater tanks that protect and keep the fish alive and well until the end of the day when they are weighed. Then the fish are released, unharmed, back into the lake so they can become someone else’s trophy on another day. Fishermen who bring in dead or injured fish are subject to penalties that deduct weight from their overall catch.
Competitors in a pro bass-fishing tournament are paired in each boat with a co-angler “” a term BASS uses for amateur “” and fish together the entire day. Each day of the tournament the pairings change. In essence, referees are not required in each bass boat as the two anglers monitor one another. Elite Series tournaments last four days, and the total weight of the catch for all days determines the winner.
To compete in the Elite Series as a professional, fishermen must be invited, and only 100 spots are guaranteed. But it’s not free to compete in the 11 series events. Competitors must pay a $5,000 entry fee each time; co-anglers $750.
Aaron has been a professional bass fisherman since he was 21; he was raised in the sport by his mother, Carol Martens, herself a professional angler. Now at the age of 33, he continues to live a life that so many of us can only dream of “” fishing all day and making money at it. But he’s not alone in his endeavor. With Lesley and Jordan traveling around the country with him, the value of owning and using a motorhome has paid big dividends.
Unlike NASCAR drivers and team owners who use their motor coaches in the hectic and crowded environment surrounding a race, Aaron and Lesley typically park their Fleetwood Discovery smack dab in the middle of “peace and quiet” at the edge of a lake. They position their coach so all that’s heard is the lapping of the waves against the shoreline at the lake where Aaron is competing. When they were expecting their daughter, they knew it was time to develop a more settled environment when they were away from home. Their motorhome fits the bill nicely. Two years old now and into everything, Jordan has total freedom inside the Discovery. Most campgrounds have playground facilities for children, so Lesley said that it’s a perfect setting all the way around.
On the days when they are not on the road, the Martenses make Leeds, Alabama, their base camp, traveling from there to tournaments across the country. Last year they logged 20,000 miles on their Discovery and spent 14 to 16 weeks as quasi full-timers. They travel from Florida to California and from Alabama to New York, with numerous stops in between.
Lesley does much of the driving and said she feels comfortable navigating their 39-foot-long type A diesel pusher down the interstate and into unfamiliar settings. Separately, one of the two also drives a pickup truck with a 21-foot-long bass boat and trailer. Lesley is proficient at performing the necessary hookups once a destination is reached.
As with so many who depend upon the motorhome lifestyle to support an interest, a vocation, a job, or just for the pure pleasure of traveling about and enjoying the country, the Martenses love their motorhome and the lifestyle it provides them while Aaron pursues his career.
If you are interested in watching Aaron compete in BASS-sanctioned tournaments, or want more information about professional bass fishing, watch “Bass Saturday” every Saturday from 7:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time on ESPN2. You also can visit www.bassmaster.com for tournament results, feature stories on the anglers, and all the latest news in professional bass fishing.
Attending A Pro Bass-Fishing Tournament
Unlike most other sporting events, professional fishing tournaments typically are held right where motorhomers are most comfortable “” in or near state parks or recreation areas. In fact, many competitors travel by RV and stay near the launch and weigh-in areas for the convenience of being on-site.
If you decide to go, you probably won’t see much fishing up close. During the tournament, anglers typically launch early in the morning to their favorite fishing spots on the lake. Once they’ve finished, they motor back to the launch area for weigh-ins, which take place mid-afternoon each day of the tournament. To create an air of excitement for the event, a large stage is built for the weigh-ins and seating is provided for spectators. An emcee introduces the anglers and announces the weights for each competitor, while ESPN cameras capture the action on and off the water.
To keep spectators occupied both before and during the competition, an outdoors expo is assembled at each tournament with sponsor booths, autograph sessions, and food vendors for attendees to enjoy.
For more information about camping availability at the tournament sites, search the Internet for the state parks, recreation areas, or lakes where the competitions are being held; or check your favorite campground directory or the FMCA Business Directory, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at www.fmca.com
2006 BASS Elite Series Schedule
March 9-12 Battle on the Border Lake Amistad Del Rio, Texas
March 16-19 Lone Star Shootout Sam Rayburn Reservoir Jasper, Texas
March 30-April 2 Santee-Cooper Showdown Santee-Cooper Manning, South Carolina
April 20-23 Southern Challenge Lake Guntersville Guntersville, Alabama
May 4-7 Pride of Augusta Clarks Hill Reservoir Columbia County, Georgia
June 1-4 Sooner Run Grand Lake Grove, Oklahoma
June 15-18 Bluegrass Brawl Kentucky Lake Kentucky Dam Village, Kentucky
July 6-9 Empire Chase Oneida Lake Syracuse, New York
July 13-16 Champion’s Choice Lake Champlain Plattsburg, New York
August 10-13 Capitol Clash Potomac River Charles County, Maryland
September 14-17 The Rock Table Rock Lake Kimberling City, Missouri
2006 Bassmaster Majors Schedule
May 18-21 Bassmaster Memorial Eagle Mountain Lake Fort Worth, Texas
July 27-30 Bassmaster American Lake Wylie Charlotte, North Carolina
August 24-27 Bassmaster Legends Arkansas River Little Rock, Arkansas
2006 Bassmaster Classic
February 24-26 Bassmaster Classic Lake Tohopekaliga Kissimmee, Florida