Martens finished the two-day opening round in ninth place and caught five bass Friday weighing 13 pounds, 4 ounces to enter the final round in the No. 2 position. His five bass Saturday weighing 12 pounds, 6 ounces gave him an 11-ounce margin of victory over second-place finisher Timmy Horton of Muscle Shoals.
With his nail-biting finish, Martens advanced 30 places in the points standings to rank 30th on the 2003 FLW Tour, good enough to earn him a ticket to the $1.5 million championship in September. The win capped off what he calls a “tough” year that brought two top-10 finishes, including the Wheeler Lake win, but three finishes of 48th or worse.
“I had a tough year this year; I just didn’t do well,” said Martens, a three-year veteran of the FLW Tour who finished second on Wheeler Lake in 2002. “I didn’t have enough practice. What’s so great about this sport is that you can have a horrible year and make up for it in one tournament. That’s what happened, and it’s made things so much better. I just dreamed of this, and it happened at a tournament where I could win $200,000. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Martens caught his limit Saturday fishing eddies around points. “I had a lot of pressure (Saturday), and I couldn’t really run around like I wanted to,” Martens said. “I lost two 4-pounders – one (Friday) and one (Saturday). I didn’t catch many fish (Saturday) – it was actually a slow day. I got bit at some strange times and just had to be really, really patient.”
Martens capitalized on a fleeting moment to catch the bass that ultimately won him the tournament. “A barge went by and stirred the water up,” he said. “It lasted about five casts, and then it was over. I’ve been so close, and I’ve been to this point quite a few times. When it finally happens, it’s unbelievable. I can’t explain it.”
Rounding out the top five pros are Horton (10 bass, 24 pounds, 15 ounces, $100,000); Keith Williams of Conway, Ark. (10 bass, 24 pounds, 7 ounces, $50,000); Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. (10 bass, 24 pounds, 1 ounce, $35,000); and Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla. (10 bass, 18 pounds, 13 ounces, $30,000).
Masafumi Kato of Ishikawa, Japan, earned $40,000 cash Friday as the winner of the Co-angler Division. He caught five bass weighing 9 pounds, 14 ounces to secure his first tournament victory.
Evinrude pro Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., captured the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title Thursday after finishing 68th in the Wheeler Lake event. As the Angler of the Year, Morehead will be featured on special-edition boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and will receive a $25,000 cash bonus plus a new Ranger boat.
Dale Teaney of Williamsburg, Ohio, earned a $500 gift card and a selection of Stanley tools as the winner of the Stanley Accuracy Cast Award, which goes to the angler who pitches a jig closest to a specified target.
As host site of the Forrest Wood Open, Wheeler Lake benefited from a $5,000 donation from FLW Outdoors and the FishAmerica Foundation that will be used to fund the 2004 and 2005 Joe Wheeler Youth Fishing Event. The project is part of the Alabama Department of Conservation community-fishing program and will provide a controlled area for community youth to fish for stocked channel catfish. The youth-fishing event is held annually at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville with approximately 1,000 pounds of catfish stocked for the event. FLW Outdoors, in conjunction with the FishAmerica Foundation, donates $5,000 to each FLW Tour host site and has helped raise more than $400,000 for fisheries enhancement since 2000.
One hundred and seventy-five pros and 175 co-anglers kicked off the tournament from Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville Wednesday and competed for two days for one of 10 final-round spots in their respective divisions. Wheeler Lake is one of three $1 million-plus tournaments on the 2003 Wal-Mart FLW Tour and is the last stop on the road to Richmond, Va., site of the historic $1.5 million FLW Tour world championship of bass fishing and outdoor show that will be held Sept. 10-13 on the James River. The winner of the championship will earn an unprecedented $500,000 cash, the largest guaranteed award in the history of competitive bass fishing. The top 48 pros and 48 co-anglers based on year-end points standings will advance to the championship, which will also feature a free country music concert, more than 150,000 square feet of exhibits and the FLW Outdoors Celebrity Challenge to benefit prostate cancer research at City of Hope in southern California. In 2003, the road to Richmond, Va., is paved with gold.
Coverage of the Wheeler Lake tournament will be featured on the “FLW Outdoors” television show, which is broadcast to 55 million subscribers on the Outdoor Life Network. The program features fishing legends Hank Parker and Larry Nixon alongside hosts Charlie Evans, Carlton Wing and Taylor Carr. Parker’s preview of the Wheeler Lake tournament will air Sunday at noon CST. Tournament highlights from Wheeler Lake will air June 28 and 29 followed by a tournament recap featuring Nixon July 5 and 6.
The FLW Tour features a pro/co-angler format in which the pro supplies the boat, fishes from the front deck against other pros and controls boat movement. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers. After two days the field is cut to the top 10 pros and 10 co-anglers who advance to day one of the final round Friday based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights are cleared for Friday’s competition, and co-anglers compete for one day to determine the winner. Pros continue competition Saturday, with final positions determined by Friday and Saturday’s combined weight. Every angler who receives weight credit in a tournament earns points, with 200 points awarded to the winner, 199 points for second, 198 for third, and so on. These points determine angler standings.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its six tournament trails. Wal-Mart has been the title sponsor of FLW Outdoors since 1997. For a complete list of FLW Outdoors sponsors and for more information about the premier products and services they offer, please visit FLWOutdoors.com.