PITTSBURGH - Aaron Martens, a 32-year-old fishing pro from Leeds, Ala., put together a second consistent catch yesterday to lead a 47-angler field in what was "elimination day " in the 35th Bassmaster Classic here.
The tournament, the most prestigious event in competitive bass fishing, winds up today on nearly 90 miles of the Allegheny, Monogahela and Ohio rivers.
The waters are loaded with bass but their size has been running small and fish activity has been erratic. So daily limits of five bass, each at least 12 inches long, have been hard to come by.
Only four limits and 96 bass overall were turned in Friday and two limits and 74 bass overall yesterday. The 170 fish weighed in so far have tipped the scales at just 181 pounds, 1 ounce.
It all adds up to a tough and closely contested event, one in which no fewer than 16 anglers weighed in no fish yesterday at all, including six who entered no fish either day. One of the no-fish slots yesterday was occupied by first-day leader Jimmy Mize, of Ben Lomond, Ark., who tumbled to 12th place.
So one larger fish could make all the difference.
Only the top 25 will vie for the $200,000 first place cash prize and coveted Classic trophy to be awarded tonight.
Martens, the governing BASS organization's 2005 angler of the year, was tied for second place on opening day Friday with pro Stacy King, of Reeds Spring, Mo. Each had five fish weighing five pounds.
But Martens added four bass weighing four pounds yesterday while King stumbled with a no-fish day, falling all the way to 16th place.
King, however, survived to fish the final today in the $700,000 Classic, unlike 22 anglers who are going home or turning into spectators with consolation checks of $7,000 each. The latter includes four-time Classic winner Rick Clunn, the 2004 Classic champ and first international winner, Japanese-born Takahiro Omori, and 1983 Classic winner Larry Nixon.
If Martens is to hold his lead in a close field, he will have to fend off a pair of superstar fishermen and Classic champions who are right on his tail, however.
Mike Iaconelli, of Runnemede, N.J., was in second place after two days with eight fish totaling 8 pounds, 3 ounces. Kevin VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Mich., was third with six fish totaling 8 pounds, 2 ounces.
Just an ounce outside VanDam's total in fourth was Jeff Reynolds, of Platter, Okla., with seven fish at 8 pounds, 1 ounce. Reynolds turned in the big bass of the day at 1 pound, 15 ounces, to win $1,000.
"If we had a little more current we'd be catching bigger fish,'' said VanDam, who throughout the event has affirmed the quality of the fishery while accepting its challenges. "There are some great fish out there,'' he said at one point. He called yesterday "a tough day. Those smallmouth were awfully squirmy out there.''
The Michigan pro added that finesse tactics seemed more effective than power tactics, given that the fish were not aggressive.
Like the bulk of the field VanDam has been fishing the "Mon,'' as the Monogahela is called. Spectator boats and camera boats crowded close to the fishing lanes, but Van Dam defended their presence and noted that most fans are courteous and thoughtful. "That's what it's all about. They're the reason I'm here. That's why I've got these sponsors on my shirt.''
Later in the day the noise and wakes of recreational watercraft further complicated the angling. But most of the pros acknowledged that it was part of doing business in a public venue.
Martens said he had "lots of heartbreakers today'' while finesse fishing along bridge piers. He likes using light lines, lightweight hooks, small crankbaits and small spinnerbaits.
"I just had a bad day. It was frustrating,'' Martens said, noting he lost at least 30 fish. He has two second-place Classic finishes.
The fourth-place Reynolds, 31, is in the relatively early stage in his pro career. "The Classic means everything, especially for an angler like me, just starting out.''
Iaconelli, who was uncharacteristically quiet and initially just pointed to his "Never Give Up'' belt buckle, said that the final day will turn on current.
"It's how you are going to win this tournament, reading current. Skeet and I are real good at reading currents.''He was referring to seventh-place California pro Skeet Reese, who has eight fish weighing 7 pounds, 8 ounces and thus is just one good fish away from the top.40.43834 -79.99746