A-MART IN THE GROOVE
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush
Dandridge, TN – Even before the 2012 Elite Series season started, Aaron Martens had the Douglas Lake Challenge circled on his calendar. For the first time in over five years, Martens made the decision to pre-practice on Douglas Lake two times prior to the official cut off period. In December and again in March, he made the five-hour drive from his home in Leeds, Alabama to Douglas Lake in Dandridge, Tennessee to scout the lake at winter pool.
The extra time on the water paid off on Thursday, as Martens crossed the Elite Series stage on the first day of competition with an impressive limit of largemouth weighing 23-14 to open up a lead of 2-pounds over 2nd Place finisher Matt Reed.
“I never pre-practice, but I can’t believe how much it helped me,” said Martens, who visited Douglas Lake in December and again right before the official cut-off. “I came here when the water was probably 30-feet lower, so I got to really study the lake and learn it.”
Martens said that even before the year started, he identified Douglas Lake as his best chance to win in 2012. “Once I found out how the lake fished, I was really excited,” he explained. “I knew that it was going to be the best chance that I’d have this year. I knew that if I was going to win one, this would be the lake that I needed to study up on and try to do it.
“This is a tournament where you can really use your graph,” he continued. “On most of the lakes that we fish, you don’t use your depth finder as much and it is all grass related. Douglas is all graph related, and the lake has depth and contours so you can actually find the fish.”
Even after identifying several solid schools of largemouth in practice, Martens said that it was a chore to try and keep up with the fish that are following massive schools of shad. “The school will be there one day and they might be 500 yards away the next day,” he said. “Even during the day today, I had to search a lot. The fish are relating to an area, but they’re not really relating to the bottom or a certain feature.”
The nomadic nature of the offshore bass is actually a trait that Martens likes, and he compared the behavior of Douglas’ bass to that of Castaic Lake in California. “I grew up fishing for bass that acted like that,” he explained.
With a 19-pound limit in the livewell by 7:00, Martens’ day just kept getting better. “The only weird thing was that I didn’t catch a smallmouth,” said Martens, who estimated that he caught over 30 smallmouth a day during his pre-practice trip to Douglas last December. “I think that I know where some are at, but it’s not worth going to,” he explained.
Despite leading the rest of the field by 2-pounds, Martens said that the conditions on Thursday, which featured sunny skies in the morning with light cloud cover, mild winds, and temperatures in the mid 80’s in the afternoon, weren’t ideal. “On Tuesday, I probably could have had about 28-pounds,” he explained. “It was kind of off today, actually.”
Fishing several areas with other anglers, Martens said that his biggest concern moving forward is being able to fish his best water. “I had to wait to get on a lot of the places that I’m fishing. When a boat would leave, I’d go fish it and catch fish behind other guys,” he concluded.
2nd Place: Matt Reed (21-14)
After a dismal 95th Place finish in the second Elite Series tournament of the season on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, Texas’ Matt Reed rebounded nicely at Bull Shoals with a solid 37th Place finish. Dangerously close to being out of the 2013 Classic picture before the year was even half over, it appears as though Reed kept the momentum rolling from Bull Shoals, and after ending Thursday at Douglas Lake in 2nd Place, has climbed all the way back to 46th in the TTAOY standings.
Reed said that if it hadn’t been for his ability to refocus and regain his composure on Thursday, his impressive 21-14 limit might never have happened. “In practice, I’ve been catching them early in the mornings, and it just didn’t happen for me today,” he explained. “I panicked and went to the bank for about 30-minutes before realizing that it wasn’t what I needed to be doing. I turned around, went back out, and put all my eggs in one basket.”
Reed estimated that over the course of the day he moved between three schools of fish and garnered a total of 10 to 12 bites. As was the case with many of the anglers in the field, graphing bass wasn’t a problem, but getting those fish to bite was a lesson in patience.
“I saw a ton of fish, but rarely did they bite,” Reed explained. “When you pull up on them, they either bite or they don’t. When they’re not biting, there’s nothing you can do to make them bite. If you don’t get bit within 15-minutes, you might as well pack up and go look for another school.”
Reed said that it was all matter of timing on Thursday. “You may pull up on a spot later in the day and they’re biting,” he explained. “The school that I started on this morning wasn’t even there. When I came back 45-minutes later, they were biting and I caught three keepers immediately.”
Like Martens, Reed said that boat traffic is one of his main concerns. “It’s hard to find a place to park,” he said with a smile. “There are limited areas where the bite is going on, and there are quite a few guys doing the same thing. A lot of the guys with the big sacks today are doing very similar things.”
3rd Place (Tie): Andy Montgomery (21-1)
“It definitely wasn’t easy out there,” said Andy Montgomery after bringing one of four limits breaking the 20-pound mark to the Douglas Lake scales on Thursday. “21-pounds may look like a lot, but I really struggled for most of the day, and I finally found a school of good ones and was able to save the day.”
Throughout practice, the South Carolina pro said that he got his better bites later in the day, so he knew that Thursday had the potential to turn into a nervous waiting game. “I just kept the confidence that if I kept rotating through my areas, I’d finally hit one where they were biting.”
Montgomery said that he located approximately 12 schools of bass during practice, but getting them to bite is a challenge. “My timing was right once today – the rest of the day it was pretty bad. I guess you could wait them out, but that could turn into a disaster. I don’t think that bait selection has anything to do with it; it just comes down to hitting one spot at the right time.” When he did get a bite, the young pro said that it often fired the entire school. “If you get one bite, sometimes it fired up the whole school and you’d catch quite a few in a hurry.”
Entering the week at Douglas, Montgomery said that he planned on fishing shallow and keying on the shad spawn. “That’s what I love to do this time of the year,” he explained. “I figured that I’d just crush them on a shad spawn, but I’m not even doing that. It may come into play later in the week, though.”
3rd Place (Tie): Britt Myers (21-1)
After recording a 2nd Place finish on Bull Shoals, Britt Myers is again in the hunt after the first day on Douglas Lake. With a limit weighing 21-1, Myers finished the day in a tie for 3rd Place with Andy Montgomery.
“I knew that if I could catch five fish, I’d probably have a decent bag,” said Myers after weighing-in. “I probably had seven or eight bites today, but I could weigh-in three fish tomorrow,” he said. “The style that I’m fishing is conducive to catching big fish. Hopefully I can keep weighing-in five fish a day.”
While the majority of the leaders are sharing water, Myers believes that several of his key spots are untouched by fellow competitors. “A couple of my good spots are hidden because they’re not on the charts,” he explained. “I didn’t even go to some of them today because I know that I’ll need some reserve spots when the going gets tough.”
Myers' day started slowly, and continued to improve as the day progressed. “My biggest fish of the day actually had a 12-inch shad in the back of her throat and she spit it up in the livewell,” he lamented. “It probably cost me another half-pound. If I put that shad on the bump board, it would have been a keeper.”
5th Place: Jeff Kriet (17-15)
Oklahoma’s Jeff Kriet is definitely on the short list of anglers who excel on deep, clear water fisheries with a finicky bite, and his 17-15 effort on Douglas solidified him on that list. Despite his solid effort, Kriet said that it was a frustrating day on Thursday.
“I’ve probably seen 50 schools of fish that are big fish that you just can’t catch,” he said. “If the conditions get right and they decide to fire, there are some big ones out there. I’ve only got about eight or nine schools of fish that I can catch.
“The thing that’s going on right now is that there are big clouds of big threadfin shad,” he continued. “There are a lot of big fish that are just out in the middle of the lake, and if it ever got right and those fish move into the right position where you could set up on them you could really catch them,” said Kriet.
Banking on being able to rotate through several schools of fish is Kriet’s game plan headed into day two on Douglas Lake.
“If you can bounce around enough on different schools you can get some of them to bite. I’m not even fishing until I actually see the fish on my graph, and am fishing a variety of depths from 15 to 30 feet deep. I probably ended up catching about 30 keepers today, and hated to have to burn that many fish but I figured someone else would catch them so I just went ahead and caught them,” Kriet concluded.
DAY 1 STANDINGS