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Aaron Martens Claims Second Toyota AOY Crown and North Carolina's Hank Cherry Takes Rookie Of The Year Title
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Aaron Martens is no stranger to professional bass fishing success. The six-time B.A.S.S. winner was the 2005 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, the 2012 Toyota Trucks All-Star Week champion, and he's finished second in a record four Bassmaster Classics. But when he accepted the trophy for the 2013 Toyota Angler of the Year award, Martens called it the highlight of his career.
"I think this one was even better than the 2005 AOY because I had such a bad start and turned things around," he said. "I never lost focus or got distracted."
Martens claimed his second AOY title in dramatic fashion. He started the season with a dismal 85th-place finish at the Sabine River Challenge presented by STARK Cultural Venues. Thoughts of AOY seemed unrealistic.
"At that point, I was just focused on making the Bassmaster Classic," he said. "I didn't think I had a chance at Angler of the Year. It was the fourth straight season that I started slowly, but things went great after that. My worst finish in the next seven events was 24th, and I made the top 12 five times."
Going into the Elite finale — the Plano Championship Chase on Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River — Martens trailed Oklahoma's Edwin Evers by 30 points, and few gave him much of a chance at the title. Evers' worst finish all year had been 30th place, and if he could match that, he'd take his first AOY crown.
But the schools of bass Evers had located during practice sessions disappeared, and he was left scrambling. A small limit on the first day put him in 75th place while Martens settled into third. Evers rebounded on the second day and moved up to 54th place, but he missed the cut to fish the third round, and with it lost control of the race. Meanwhile, Martens had another banner day and moved up to second. If he could finish the tournament 23rd or better, he'd lock up the AOY title.
On Day 3 — his 41st birthday — Martens posted another big catch and ended the round in third place, well inside the final cut to the Top 12 anglers. His second AOY crown was secure, and last year's champion, Brent Chapman, handed him the trophy. Martens became just the 10th angler in B.A.S.S. history to win multiple titles, joining such greats as Roland Martin, Bill Dance and Kevin VanDam.
In the end, the 2013 AOY title should be remembered as one Martens won, not one that Evers lost. The Oklahoma pro put together a historic season, but Martens' torrid pace in the final five tournaments was just too much to withstand. His five consecutive Top 12 finishes are only one less than the record set by Skeet Reese in 2006-07. Martens will have a chance to tie that mark in the 2014 season opener.
Already one of the most successful B.A.S.S. pros in the modern era, Martens has collected more than $2 million in B.A.S.S. winnings alone, including the $100,000 paycheck for winning Toyota Angler of the Year last week. He has won six Bassmaster events and finished second on a dozen occasions.
The Top 8 finishers in the Toyota Angler of the Year race automatically qualify to compete in the Bassmaster Elite Series postseason event, the Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship.
1. Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala., with 652 points
2. Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., with 640 points
3. Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., with 624 points
4. Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., with 619 points
5. Keith Combs, Huntington, Texas, with 608 points
6. Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, with 599 points
7. John Crews, Salem, Va., with 578 points
8. Chris Zaldain, San Jose, Calif., with 562 points
The All-Star competition will feature 14 Elite Series pros and will take place Sept. 27-29 on Michigan's Muskegon Lake with the finale on White Lake. Joining the Top 8 are Cliff Place of Petal, Miss., winner of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, and Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., who won Rookie of the Year for 2013.
The pros who did not qualify for one of those 10 spots are vying for fans' votes in the Toyota All-Star Fan Favorite Angler Sweepstakes at Bassmaster.com/vote. Voting online continues through Sept. 6.
Fans also have a chance to win just for voting, no matter which pros get in. Every person who casts a vote at Bassmaster.com/vote between now and Sept. 6 is entered into a sweepstakes. Fourteen names will be drawn, and the Toyota Fan finalists will then each be virtually paired with one of the All-Star Week competitors. The fan who is paired with the winner of the event will take home a 2014 Toyota Tundra truck.
2013 Bassmaster Elite Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha
North Carolina's Hank Cherry Takes Rookie Of The Year Title
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Nobody touches Hank Cherry's favorite hat. It's old and ragged — frayed and fragrant with odors of fish, dog slobber and sweat — but it's always, always in the North Carolina pro's blue and black Livingston Lures-wrapped Skeeter.
That good luck touchstone seems to be working for Cherry, who wrapped up his first Bassmaster Elite Series season with the 2013 Rookie of the Year award. Accumulating 507 points for the season put Cherry in 14th place in the Toyota Angler of the Year race. He secured a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and finished 40 points ahead of his closest rookie competitor, Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., who finished 30th in AOY points.
"We both had really good years," Cherry said. "If it had been the other way around, I would have been happy for him."
Despite the well wishes he has for Pirch, Cherry has had his eye on the ROY trophy, and more, for some time.
"My goal at the beginning of the year was to win Rookie of the Year," Cherry said. "All of those guys in the rookie class are big names, and I felt like I needed to win to help boost my resume."
That resume drew the attention of at least one new major sponsor, Evan Williams Bourbon, which was attracted to him after his impressive third place in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, followed by fourth in the Bassmaster Elite Series West Point Lake Battle. Overall during his Rookie year, Cherry placed in the money in six of the eight events on the Elite Series tour for 2013, a noteworthy feat even for a seasoned Elite pro.
"Rubbing elbows with the talented pros fishing the Elite Series has been surreal in many ways," Cherry said. He's been grateful for time spent with fellow Elite pros and friends like Gerald Swindle, Terry Scroggins and Britt Myers.
"There are lots of places we go where I have zero experience, so I'm lucky I can talk fishing with them," Cherry said. "Being part of the Elite Series is real humbling. Special is a lackluster word. It's been everything I imagined. I've watched most of these guys on TV, and I'm going to dinner with them and talking fishing with them — it's pretty unreal."
According to Cherry, this has been his "road to redemption" year. A third place at the Classic was not his objective. In addition to the Rookie of the Year title, he planned to win Angler of the Year and the Bassmaster Classic in 2013.
"I feel like I let myself and a lot of people down when I didn't win the Classic," Cherry said. "This year, it's a different lake, but it's still a three-day tournament, cold water, clear water and there may be a jerkbait bite going on. If all those come together in a perfect storm, I'm going to be tough to beat, I'm just excited to get back."
While weather factors and the bass bite can't be predicted, one thing is certain. Cherry will have the lucky hat with him on Lake Guntersville because, "It never leaves the boat."
When he's home, Cherry enjoys taking his 3 1/2-year-old son, Christian, fishing, a sport he learned from his great grandmother and his father.
"When I got old enough to cast, I took a lot of trips to Lake Wiley," Cherry said. "One day, I caught two 7-pounders on back-to-back casts, and I was hooked after that."
That early start led to tournament fishing , in which he excelled.
"One day, I sat down with my wife to talk about fishing (Bassmaster) Opens," said Cherry, who was working as a liquor brand manager for a distributing company. "We looked at the schedules, and they were decent and not too expensive. I said, 'Let's give it a couple of years and see what happens.'"
After two years of fishing the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens Series, Cherry prepared for the October 2012 Smith Lake Opens tournament, the third and final event of his second season.
"When I left for Smith Lake, I said, 'If I qualify, this is it. If not, I come home.' Then I won by 1 ounce," Cherry said.
Not only did he earn enough points to qualify for the Elite Series, but the win also ensured a berth in the Classic.
He's open about his faith, which tells him he's chosen the right path, not only for himself but for his wife, Jaclyn, his baby daughter, Bella Grace, and his son.
"It wasn't too long ago that I was baptized," Cherry said. "It put me at peace. I've learned there's a time and place for everything, and everything is possible in God's time. I'm true to my family and true to my faith. You choose your own path. God gives us all the groundwork. It's up to us to make sure we walk the right path and choose the right direction."
With his designation as ROY, Cherry earned an instant-in for Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship. The competition, which will showcase the talents of 14 Elite anglers, will take place Sept. 27-29 on Michigan's Muskegon Lake.
The postseason is one last Bassmaster tournament for the year, but for Cherry, his leap of faith in becoming a bass fishing pro is always on his mind.
"Every day, I wake and tell myself, it's happening," Cherry said. "I'm doing it."
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