It has been a privilege for me to be involved in the bass fishing world for over 30 years. I’m in a unique position being a lady angler, outdoor writer, and Aaron Martens’ mom, who has extended my interest and access into the world of competitive fishing. You can bet I’ve seen changes in fishing techniques and tackle, but the changes I’ve witnessed among the pro anglers are what I would like to write about.
We have seasoned, well-seasoned, and rookie anglers competing against each other in every tournament. As a human interest writer, the key is to maintain my enthusiasm for the sport and love for people. Real love is resisting the urge to judge or condemn people for their mistakes, and that’s not always easy because I’m still human! However, I hope you’ll find my thoughts engaging, thought-provoking, and inspiring.
Boys to Men
Pride and arrogance came to mind when I began reflecting on some of the changes I’ve seen in the Elite anglers. I’ve known many of these guys since they were boys and now they’re grown men. Pride before a fall is something I believe all of us experience one time or another. When a pro angler displays pride or arrogance, it’s usually caught on camera for millions to see.
Quite often, it’s a rookie because they haven’t had the experience of making negative headlines and the consequences that may follow. When a rookie spouts off or misbehaves, it might be his first and last impression on people and sponsors, and it can prove devastating. The consequences could be worse for a seasoned angler who you think would know better. Followers of the sport don’t see this happen very often.
In sharing some things with you, the people will remain anonymous even though they wouldn’t care if I shared their name; that’s because so many of them have recovered, matured, and learned to laugh at themselves. They are also highly successful, or they wouldn’t be fishing for a living today.
“I Would Never Do That”
How many times have you heard someone say, “I would never do that!” and they eventually did? Or, while driving a car or boat, yell, “That jerk just cut me off!” And then they accidentally cut someone off. How about watching a pro on a TV fishing show or the internet and saying things like, “I could net a fish better than that!” or “I never break fish off!” or “What a dummy fishing deep instead of shallow!”
To be honest, I’ve said and done it all. Did you happen to watch Aaron on the third morning of the St. Clair Elite event try to swing the first fish in the boat and see it come off? We all said, “Noooooooo Aaron!” because we were watching all the other guys on Bassmaster Live bend down and lift their fish out of the water. Aaron had waited so long for that first bite, and he thought it was a three-pounder, but it turned out to be a four-plus. He lived to regret losing that bass right through weigh-in that day. He missed the final cut by just a few ounces.
When pros make a mistake like that, they usually consider it a lesson learned and go on. They go on after a bout of anger, talking to themselves and maybe some tears. Note: Aaron just called me while I was writing this about him, confirmed everything I was thinking, and added he didn’t have one bass come off that week until that one.
He also said that there’s a good reason for everything. I was glad he recognized that and said it this time instead of me. This event would determine if a guy would make it to the top 50 to fish the AOY tournament and the Classic. Next year, it would also select the top 70 invited back to the Elites. Aaron and I could only imagine what many of his friends were going through, especially those who didn’t make it. Being compassionate is right up there with sportsmanship in my book.
Years ago, I recall a rookie saying he would win every tournament from now on because he had just won his first event. I remember cringing and hoping he could handle his future defeats that were bound to come. They did, and not only did he manage it, but he also won another event soon after that. Confidence is a good thing and a quality most champions have, but sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between pride and confidence.
If you wait to cast judgment, the people who have true confidence will display a good attitude when they lose or come up short. I’m pleased to say that the new crop of rookies has been very impressive this past season. Many have risen to the top as Elite Rookies, proving that most have fished all their lives and are incredibly talented and not rookies.
In addition, they have handled themselves well and displayed most of the virtues it takes to be a pro. If we see a well-seasoned angler lose it, he may just be feeling the pressure from the new and younger competition. This is a big subject because there’s a learning curve in becoming a well-seasoned Elite angler, and patience and forgiveness play a huge part on both sides. The best advice for all is the old saying if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Pride Can Be Entertaining:
Most of us love the format and the things we see on Major League Fishing. There’s tons of interaction among the anglers because they all know what their competitors are doing as it happens. For example, during a break, one guy talks smack to another because he’s way ahead in fish catches and weight in the first period. By the end of the third period, the other pro goes to the top, leaving the boaster, red-faced on the bottom of the scoreboard.
Speaking for myself, I find all that stuff very entertaining, and it’s one of the reasons MLF is so popular and seems like a bass-fishing soap opera sometimes. If you enjoy watching the pros interact, you will want to watch MLF on TV or online. The guys have strict rules to follow and a 2-minute penalty each time they break one. Most penalties are for how they handle the fish or if they break one off. They can’t do anything during their 2-minute penalties, and sometimes what they say or do is funny, like rolling around on the floor of the boat moaning. Sometimes they take that time to share fishing tips with us. Every fish caught is captured on camera with little censorship, so they are free to express themselves, and believe me, they do.
You need to keep in mind that they are all friends (I think) until they fish against each other in the same area. Most of these guys are seasoned anglers who can dish it out and take it, creating excellent entertainment.
You can separate them into two divisions, the serious and the entertainers. Ex: Greg Hackney can play the straight man as he did for Aaron on a recent cameo on MLF. Greg was drinking an energy drink and eating jerky and asked Aaron about the green stuff he was drinking. Aaron started sharing the endless ingredients ….2 bananas, a bag of spinach, yogurt, milk, three apples, hazelnuts, chia seeds, berries, and much more. Greg looked into the camera with a funny face and said he would stick to his jerky. I’ve watched Aaron whip up those drinks for us, and they taste great. It’s no wonder he is so healthy and has so much stamina. I haven’t noticed any of the other anglers promoting their health drinks, but the day is coming when it might just catch on like Aaron’s drop shot technique did years ago when he went back east and showed everyone how to do it.
If you’ve noticed, most of the anglers come across as very serious. But you have love guys like Gerald Swindle, who are always ready to entertain the crowd. Marty Robinson and Skeet will always dance for you, and Casey Ashley will sing. When Ike’s on camera, I hold my breath and cover my ears. He’s always the showman, and it’s no wonder why young guys like him. Zona and Dave Mercer are the constant entertainers and do a great job creating interest around each angler’s personality and talents when doing interviews. We could start an awards show for bass fishing. Think of the possibilities!
Get Over It!
It’s always been said that fishermen lie, but I’ve never believed that. They exaggerate because they are excited or are trying to impress someone. Right? Most anglers set high goals for themselves, work hard preparing, and get all pumped up for their tournaments. Most have learned how to deal with failure, but it’s shocking when a guy throws his rod down or threatens to break everything as a way to deal with disappointment. Hopefully, it won’t be on camera, although I saw it on MLF recently. Controlling one's temper and maintaining a level of dignity goes a long way and shows maturity. Displays of temper make everyone uncomfortable and are not tolerated in most circuits.
Sportsmanship has always been considered number one over making money or being famous. For that, I’m glad. Overall I believe most of our bass-fishing pros are top-notch and unique in their own ways. It’s a box of chocolates, and we never know what we’re going to get. Some are nutty, and others are softies, but that makes bass fishing tournaments so popular and unpredictable.
Speaking of unpredictable, on Aug. 30, 2017, Aaron came from 19th place to win at Lake Champlain in New York. No one had ever come from that far back to win in the Elites before. They didn’t even have a cameraman or camera boat on him. The win took everyone by surprise except his family, who knew it could happen. I even predicted it on Facebook that morning. I’m addicted to the mystery and adventure of this whole thing and already looking forward to the next event. I call it entertainment.