Aaron Martens

B.A.S.S. pro angler Aaron Martens of Leeds has an emotional look back on how the Bassmaster Classic has eluded him for 20 years. He has finished in second place four times.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — This week, 52 professional bass anglers suited up for the 49th Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River in Knoxville. The anglers are the top bass anglers in the world. Each angler earned their spot to compete on the world’s biggest stage for fishing.

The majority of the anglers qualified through the B.A.S.S. Elite tour from last season. Other anglers qualified through the Open Series and others through the Federation Nation. The Elite field sends the top 36 anglers from the points standings compiled throughout the season.

However, for a majority of the Elite tour anglers, this could be their last chance at a Classic title. Back in October, 60 Elite anglers jumped ship and landed with the new Bass Pro Tour with Major League Fishing. The move was reasoned a business decision by most anglers. Several FLW Tour anglers also switched to the BPT.

For decades the Classic was the pinnacle of tournament angling. Under the B.A.S.S. tournament umbrella, every angler’s goal is to make it to the Classic. Along with the $300,000 cash prize, there is the potential of more return from endorsements and sponsorships. The champ will be crowned today.

One angler has had some emotions flooding over him this week in what could be his last chance at a Classic trophy. Aaron Martens, of Leeds, is fishing his 20th Classic and he has never won it. While he has three Angler of the Year (AOY) titles, the Classic has eluded him.

“I would really like to win this one, especially for my family,” Martens said. “I have been close several times, but let it slip away.”

Martens finished in second place in four previous Classics. In 2005 at Pittsburgh, he had the winning fish at the boat. The fish hit the gunnel on the way in and slid back into the lake. Martens said he wanted to cry but didn’t. He lost that Classic to Kevin VanDam.

Only two anglers have four Classic titles, VanDam and Rick Clunn. VanDam is probably fishing his last Classic as well since he has moved over to the BPT. Clunn has remained with Elite and at 72 years old won this season’s first event on St. Johns River in Florida.

Other Classic champions from Alabama fishing this week in what could be their last Classic include Chris Lane, Boyd Duckett and two-time champion Jordan Lee. Randy Howell, the 2014 Classic champ, is not fishing this week.

“I know some of the other anglers are thinking this might be their last one too,” said Martens. “Everyone will be fishing hard this week and we can’t let emotions interfere with fishing.”

It won’t be an easy ride home for some anglers knowing this is the last time they will walk across the Classic stage. However, these are professionals and they will continue to fish their best no matter which tour they choose.

But for Martens and other anglers there will always be an empty spot on the mantle.

Charles Johnson is the Star’s outdoor editor. You can reach Charles at charjohn@cableone.net