SYRACUSE, N.Y. Over the first two days of the Bassmaster Memorial presented by Evan Williams Bourbon, Aaron Martens caught the fish he needed to advance to fish Onondaga Lake.
But because of two dead fish one on Thursday, and a second on Friday Martens won't fish this weekend. The two 4-ounce penalties he incurred for fish-care penalties cost him a spot among the final 12 anglers. He finished with a two-day total of 27 pounds, 10 ounces, just 4 ounces behind 12th-place Jeff Kriet.
"It cost me the cut," Martens said before the weigh-in had even concluded. "Dead fish. Maybe cost me a quarter-million dollars, you never know."
His mistake, he said, was to run both his livewells at the beginning of the day on automatic instead of manual. Nine hours was too long for the battery, he said, and a fish a day paid the ultimate price.
"I never do that," he said. He was taking advice he had heard at the anglers meeting. "It's my fault though," he said.
After finishing in 35th in the Memorial, in 45th at last week's Empire Chase on Lake Erie and in 89th the previous week on Lake Champlain, Gerald Swindle is frustrated enough to stick around New York for an extra week of practice.
The next Elite Series event, on the Potomac River in Maryland, doesn't begin until Aug. 9, but Swindle didn't see the sense in driving all the way back to Alabama and back to Maryland when he has work to do in the northeast.
"I feel like I need to work on my smallmouth fishing," he said. "If you've got a weakness, you need to be able to see it. I feel like I can catch them, but I can't catch the big ones."
He said he'll spend three days on Oneida working to target largemouth, then spend three days fishing Lake Erie, working on his smallmouth bite on the chance that the rough weather on that lake may hamper practice before the next tournament there.
"Maybe next year, if the wind blows, I'll know where they're going to be," he said. This will be the first time he has taken time between tour events to re-fish lakes.
The recognition of spark
Shaw Grigsby said on the morning of Day Two that the only thing about a storm that can spook a bass bite is thunder and lightning. He found out around 2:30 on Friday that it'll spook an angler just as easily.
That was when Grigsby began to notice an electrical charge underfoot as he shuffled around the deck of his boat. He got a shock when he touched his trolling motor, then watched his hook float upwards and unspool his line when he went to cast.
"That's a sign of when it's close," he said. "You can unspool a whole spinning reel, just open up and it'll take it right on up, gone."
With the charge popping under his feet and jabbing him like tacks, Grigsby recalled, "I said, 'That's it. We're getting ready to get hit.'"
He put on his life vest and sat at the steering wheel. And that's when all the electrical systems in his boat went kaput. His livewells, aerators and GPS unit, all dead. He restarted the systems, and when they came up live, "I said, 'I'm not stopping 'til I'm at the other side of the lake," he said.
"Pretty cool deal," Grigsby concluded. Asked how much weight he caught, he replied, "Junk. Eleven-something. I'm alive, that's the main thing."
"Today," Kevin VanDam told the weigh-in crowd, "was one of those days when the smallmouth paid me back."
A twitching smallmouth turned at the wrong angle as VanDam was unhooking the fish, and caught the inside middle knuckle of VanDam's right pinky finger with one of the treble hooks. Removing such a hook is usually a swift and relatively painless operation, accomplished by looping braid under the hook, pushing down on the hook and yanking it out.
In this case, though, the cameraman helping VanDam pull out the hook didn't pull hard enough the first time. And instead of the hook popping out, VanDam's hand was yanked upwards like a marionette's.
"These fish are wild when you hook them," VanDam said.
Ultimately, VanDam shrugged off the hooking he's had two fish on the same treble hook before, he said. The sharper pain was a series of missed opportunities for him in the northern waters where he was expected to dominate, or at least contend.
Instead, his 22nd-place finish caps a New York swing that also saw him finish 16th at Lake Erie and 27th on Champlain.
Good finishes for most anglers, but nowhere close to what VanDam was expected to accomplish on strong smallmouth fisheries. To boot, Skeet Reese recaptured the Angler of the Year points lead at Champlain and extended it on Erie.
"I didn't have a great run at it," he said of the past three tournaments. "Bad luck. I lost a lot of big smallmouth."
'Hard to come by'
Denny Brauer took the steepest tumble between Days One and Two, falling from ninth place to a tie for 49th after sacking a tournament-low 7-10 bag.
As a bass millionaire twice over, the oft-dubbed living legend could afford to rib himself on stage. "I had to cull some big ones to get down to that," Brauer told the weigh-in audience. "Them little ones are hard to come by."
His joking belied a day that wore on him. He said he headed for a spot where he thought he'd be able to sack a solid limit of largemouth knowing that on Day One "I'd hurt them pretty bad," he said. He hadn't figured just how bad. Late in the day, with only a couple of fish to his name, he ran new water, but never did figure out how to regain the bite that earned him almost twice as much bass on Day One.
Editor's note: Check in each day for live video of the weigh-in and the realtime leaderboard at 6 p.m. ET. There will be a special Hooked Up show at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, with tournament updates Sunday at 8 a.m., 10 a.m. and noon ET. The Hooked Up show begins at 5 p.m. Sunday and leads into the live final weigh-in.
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