In 2003 there were many two-tour pros and the FLW Tour event held that June on Lake Wheeler is a good example of the crossover – indeed, three of the top four finishers and seven of the top seventeen from that event currently fish the Elite Series.
As has been the case in more recent derbies, there were lots of limits caught, but surprisingly the weights were relatively low – it took just over 10 pounds to get a check. Stars including Dave Lefebre, David Dudley, Steve Kennedy, Rick Clunn, Paul Elias, Guido Hibdon and Gary Klein didn’t even hit that mark.
In fact, the winner averaged just above 13 pounds a day.
Timmy Horton missed the winner’s circle by under a pound. This was back when FLW zeroed out the weights after Day Two – he actually had four pounds more than the winner over the first two days, and more total weight over the full four days. He took home a cool hundred grand for his trouble, but many fans (and anglers, too) felt he should have been awarded the first place prize.
Do you remember who won and what the fuss was about?
The Wheeler tournament was the sole FLW tour-level win for Aaron Martens in 39 attempts (including three championships), although through 2011 he continued to jackpot the occasional FLW Tour Open, so there’s a chance he’ll add another to his resume in the future.
Martens clearly would have liked to quietly take his $200,000 check to the bank, but as often happens in this sport there was controversy surrounding his win.
On the fourth day of competition, Martens was stopped by law enforcement for a routine license check. He couldn’t find his Alabama fishing license on his person, and he was fishing out of an FLW-provided boat, so it likely wasn’t held in any of the storage compartments. He frantically called his wife and asked her to check his own boat, but she couldn’t locate it, either, so he was issued a citation. Notably, he was not forced to return his limit of fish to the water or stop fishing.
When Martens returned to weigh in, he told FLW officials about the citation. They had no specific rule addressing the situation, so they allowed his winning catch to stand.
FLW issued the following statement: “Aaron Martens was cited for fishing with an expired Alabama license on the final day of the 2003 Forrest Wood Open on Wheeler Lake. This incident was not a violation of FLW Tour rules. While FLW Outdoors stresses that anglers obey all laws while on the water, it is ultimately each angler’s responsibility and the responsibility of local and state law enforcement to cite anglers who are in violation. That said, Aaron recalls purchasing an Alabama license from his local Wal-Mart (he recently purchased a home in Alabama) earlier in the year. Aaron has notified the state and they are actively working to verify the purchase of this license. This process could take 2 or more weeks, as records must be manually searched.”
The fallout among the message board posters and chattering class was immediate, with most of it skewing negative against Martens.
Martens issued an open letter via the FLW website which read, in part:
I hope that people will see this for what it is – an honest mistake and nothing more. I would never think to fish without a valid license. I purchased an Alabama license earlier in the year. But, unfortunately, I did not have it in my possession at the time, and I cannot locate it at present. I do recall the location where the license was originally purchased, and I am working with the Alabama Department of Natural Resources to verify my record of the purchase.
Despite several attempts at multiple Wal-Marts to located the triplicate copy of his purported license, it was never found.
In the offseason, FLW addressed the situation by adding language to their rules that stated that “All contestants must have in their possession a valid fishing license.”
Martens, who at the time of the win lived in Castaic, California, later moved to Alabama. His most recent tour level win, the 2009 Elite Series Southern Challenge, also came on the TVA chain, at neighboring Lake Guntersville.