Martens wins first-ever FLW title in grand fashion

Pro Aaron Martens shows off his winning check after capturing the title on Wheeler Lake. Martens, who won his first-ever FLW Tour event, finished the finals with a two-day catch of 25 pounds, 10 ounces.

California native wins nail biter against local favorite Tim Horton

FLORENCE, Ala. - By his own admission, Aaron Martens of Castaic, Calif., had struggled mightily on the FLW Tour throughout most of the 2003 season. In fact, coming into the Wheeler Lake tournament, Martens found himself questioning his fishing ability for perhaps the very first time in his career. However, all that changed today. Using a catch of 12 pounds, 6 ounces in the finals, Martens made up enough ground to unseat day-three leader and crowd favorite Tim Horton to take home the Wheeler Lake title in dramatic fashion - winning a first-place prize of $200,000 by a mere 11 ounces.

Not surprisingly, Martens was nearly at a loss for words after overcoming a highly emotional, roller-coaster type of season.

(Photo by Gary Mortenson)" BORDER="1" ALIGN="right">"I really had a tough year and I just couldn't seem to get anything going all season," he said. "But everything turned out perfectly today. It's awesome. I've been so close the last five years (to winning a title), and I started to get to a point where I thought it was never going to happen. This is the greatest moment of my bass-fishing life."

Martens, who ultimately turned in a two-day catch of 25 pounds, 10 ounces to take home the very first FLW title of his career, said that things didn't start out too smoothly in today's final day of competition.

"I lost two 4-pounders today, two really good fish," said Martens. "And I didn't wind up catching very many fish. But I stayed patient out there. And everything kind of worked out. That's the thing with these kind of tournaments. All you need is one good one to make your whole season. It feels great."

Martens - who finished in second place at the FLW Wheeler Lake event in 2002 - successfully fished Kinami Flash baits around points with moving current to land the majority of his catch.

Horton comes up ounces shy of the title

Although Timmy Horton's two-day catch of 24 pounds, 15 ounces came up just short of victory, the native of Muscle Shoals, Ala., didn't appear to be all that heartbroken. After all, when you walk away with a second-place check worth $100,000 and a near standing ovation from the crowd, it kind of minimizes any pangs of regret.

To underscore that point, as soon as Horton weighed in his last fish and it was announced that Martens had won the title, both anglers locked in a heartfelt embrace. Horton, who wore a smile on his face throughout the weigh-in, also shot Martens a "thumbs up" for good measure.

"It's awesome. What a tournament," said Horton, who came into the finals holding a 2-pound, 9-ounce lead over his nearest competitor. "Look at these guys here. Aaron Martens is one of my heroes. It's just been a great week. To do this in front of my home crowd is fantastic. And the support I got from the crowd here makes everything worth it."

(Photo by Gary Mortenson)" BORDER="1" ALIGN="right">Horton said that he fished a black and blue Booyah jig on mussel beds in about 4 to 6 feet of water to land the majority of his catch. However, Horton seemed to know in the back of his mind that his stringer was lacking at least one key largemouth.

"I pretty much knew that I was going to need one more good fish to win the title and that's exactly how it worked out," said Horton, who was fishing in his first FLW top 10 and only second FLW Tour event since 1997. "I was really running around a lot out there. I also lost two fish today and knew it was probably going to come back to haunt me."

But overall, Horton said that he really didn't have any complaints.

"To win this kind of money for second place, it just shows you where our sport is headed," he said. "I've just had an awesome week."

Williams bolstered by huge rally in finals

After recording the biggest stringer of the day - a 17-pound, 4-ounce catch - Keith Williams of Conway, Ark., shot up from sixth place to third place overall in the finals to win a cash award of $50,000. However, despite his heroic efforts in the finals, Williams continued to dwell on what might have been.

"I had a good day, but I really had a chance to have a great day," said Williams, who turned in a two-day catch of 24 pounds, 7 ounces. "I just can't tell you how many fish I missed today. I had my chances."

However, the good news for Williams was that his strong performance during the 2003 FLW season qualified him for the all-important $1.5 million FLW Championship, slated for this September on the James River in Richmond, Va.

"I love fishing," he said. "I can't get enough of it. And I can't wait to go to the James River."

Williams targeted largemouth bass on mussel beds in anywhere from 8 to 11 feet of water.

VanDam nets seventh FLW top-10 finish

Fishing machine Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., used a two-day catch of 24 pounds, 1 ounce to grab fourth place overall and net a $35,000 payday.

"I knew I was going to need some big bites today, but I just didn't get them," said VanDam. "The conditions were really tough out there. I had to slow down a lot and I really like to fish fast. But I love this lake. I've had a lot of great tournaments on the Tennessee River (chain) and I can't wait to come back."

Perhaps more importantly, VanDam's finish also allowed him to qualify for the 2003 FLW Championship.

"It's something I really didn't think that I had a chance to make because I missed a tournament this year," he said. "But I'm really looking forward to it and a chance at that $500,000 first-place prize money."

Martin happy with performance

(Photo by Gary Mortenson)" BORDER="1" ALIGN="left">Using a two-day catch of 18 pounds, 13 ounces, Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., claimed fifth place and a check for $30,000. And like VanDam, Martin's performance also guaranteed him a spot in the FLW Championship.

"It was a great week," said Martin, son of fishing legend Roland Martin. "My goal all week was to qualify for the championship. And when I came here, I was on the outside looking in. So I'm really happy about the way things turned out. Now I have some momentum heading into the championship."

Best of the rest

Rounding out the top 10 finalists were Bill Chapman (sixth) of Salt Rock, W. Va., with a two-day catch of 18 pounds, 9 ounces; Chad Cook (seventh) of Summerville, S.C., with a catch of 15 pounds, 9 ounces; Dale Teaney (eighth) of Williamsburg, Ohio, with a catch of 15 pounds, 8 ounces; Dion Hibdon (ninth) of Stover, Mo., with a catch of 14 pounds, 5 ounces; and Tommy Biffle (10th) of Wagoner, Okla., with a catch of 12 pounds, 8 ounces.

FLW action resumes at the FLW Championship, slated for Sept. 10-13 on the James River in Richmond, Va.

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