By Joel Shangle - June 27, 2018
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY, Florida – With the second Shotgun Round of the 2018 General Tire Major League Fishing World Championship looming (Saturday at 2 p.m. EDT on CBS), longtime MLF fans and new viewers alike will begin to find out the answer to a question that 25 other MLF Cup competitors have been asking the past two seasons: Can anyone slow Aaron Martens down?
Martens, a three-time Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year, came into the World Championship as the highest-ranked angler in Cup competition over the past two seasons: Martens racked up 100 points in four events in 2017 and 2018, outpacing Andy Montgomery (88) and Kevin VanDam (86).
Even more impressive, Martens’ average finish in those events was 4th (he was third in both Cup events in 2017, sixth in both events in 2018).
“Yeah, but I can’t ever seem to win one of these (events),” Martens lamented, pointing out that he’s fished in five Championship Rounds and has just two third-place finishes to show for it. “I really want one of those trophies. I saw Bobby (Lane’s) trophy from last year’s World Championship, I really want that trophy.”
To get his hands on the 2018 Johnny Morris Award, though, Martens will first have to contend with the following factors in Shotgun Round 2 on Garcia Reservoir:
The big-fish factor
It’s early in the six-round competition, but so far, Indian River Country hasn’t surrendered any of the oversized spawning largemouth that Florida is known for. Greg Hackney whacked a 6-pound, 7-ouncer in the first Shotgun Round on Garcia Reservoir, but there were only six fish over 4 pounds caught in the round, and the average size of the 98 fish recorded on SCORETRACKER that day was 2-3.
And while Garcia doesn’t have a reputation as a trophy-fish lake, the Trophy Catch program – Florida Fish & Wildlife’s volunteer “citizen science” catch-and-release trophy-reporting system – shows that four fish between 10 and 12-9 have been caught and released here, in addition to 37 fish weighing between 8 and 9-9.
“All it takes is one bite like that to change everything,” said Mike Iaconelli, one of the Shotgun Round 2 competitors.
The KVD factor
The second shotgun round field is stacked with 12 AOY awards and six Bassmaster Classic wins, but the biggest roadblock for Martens, Iaconelli, Skeet Reese, Mike McClelland and Bobby Lane is “The Man”.
He hasn’t enjoyed as much success fishing in Florida as Lane, but Kevin VanDam has proven to be an absolute juggernaut in the MLF format, making it to seven championships in 12 events (58 percent) and collecting several individual-round wins in the seven years since the first MLF event in 2012.
“All I can say is ‘Thank God we’re not fishing a smallmouth lake in the North’, but even that doesn’t matter: Kevin is just so good at figuring things out fast, it’s almost impossible to beat him consistently in this format,” said Lane.