UPCOMING EVENT: TOYOTA SERIES - 2020 - Lake Eufaula

A tale of two Aarons

A tale of two Aarons
Pro Aaron Hastings finished the opening round on Lake Travis in ninth place.

It could be said that Aaron Hastings is a study in contrasts. Born a winner, he has also borne his share of hard times. When his boat and truck were stolen at his first major-league event, he happened to have his cell phone and wallet on him, though they were usually in the truck. When he fished a miserable 2006 season on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, he started 2007 with a win.

He is a big-league fisherman, but with a regular job. He says he has always been lucky, then turns around and says he never stops learning. He will burn an oil field's worth of gas on the first two days of practice, but only burn a single tank during a four-day tournament. He became something of a media sensation when he lost his truck and boat, but did not even know it because he did not have Internet access.

For Hastings, it seems a lot of his experience has been two steps forward and three steps back. But when he beat local favorite and living legend Clark Wendlandt on the Texas pro's home lake at the FLW Tour season opener, Maryland's Aaron Hastings may have begun walking forward all the way.

An unlikely fishing star

Part of Aaron Hasting's $125,000 catch.Unlike many of today's fishing heavyweights, Hastings neither came from money nor a fishing family. He is a self-made man to the core, having found his fishing passion at an early age.

"I don't really know why I fish," he admits. "I always had an interest in it, but my family didn't really fish. My dad would catfish occasionally, but he's scared to death of the water."

Hastings did have a neighbor who was involved in a local bass club, and he took a 16-year-old Hastings to his first-ever bass tournament - a tournament he went on to win.

"I was one of those little boys where if you took six of us and lined us up on a bank, I'd be catching them when everybody else wasn't," he said. "I've always had that luck factor, and that sparked my interest early on."

Pro leader Aaron Hastings heads out for the final day of competition on Lake Travis.Hastings' first tournament and subsequent first tournament win came quite by accident.

"I was sitting in my mom's house at 10 o'clock at night," he said. "My neighbor was in a bass club, and he had a tournament the next day. He called me up and said, `My partner is sick; would you like to come along and see if you like fishing a bass tournament?'

"I didn't know what I was getting into - all I knew is what I'd experienced pond-fishing and reading magazines. I won that tournament - that very first tournament - and I was hooked 110 percent."

Scrubbing his way to the top

Giving things 110 percent could be Hastings' maxim. Once he locks into something, he is in it all the way. With his interest irretrievably sparked by a tournament victory, Hastings set out to conquer bigger and better tournaments, a decision that came with a price.

"My dad owned a contracting company," he said. "When I was really young, my parents divorced, and he always thought I would take over. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps. I really enjoyed the work, but I wanted to fish, and it never left me any time in the day to fish, so my mom and I started a cleaning business."

Pro leader Aaron Hastings speaks with the media after Saturday's weigh-in.That business still exists today, allowing Hastings to clean other people's businesses at night while he is fishing during the day. He may have to sacrifice some sleep to live a dual dream, but the cleaning business provides financial security that Hastings expects will last whether his fishing career stays hot or not.

"My parents told me, `You'll always have work if you do something nobody wants to do,' and nobody likes to clean," Hastings said. "Since the (FLW Tour) win, I've had eight different people say, `You can quit your job now.' I say, `I could win a million dollars - I could win the FLW Tour Championship - and I guarantee you I wouldn't quit my job.'

"I remember what pays my bills now and what paid my bills 10 years ago. Fishing is so feast or famine. It's not consistent enough. There are only a handful of guys that make a substantial living in fishing. I'd never give (my job) up."

Indeed, Hastings said he drove for two days from Lake Travis in Texas to his home in Maryland, and as soon as he got home, he was mopping floors and cleaning toilets.

Ups and downs

In the early days, when Hastings was spending his nights cleaning offices, he fished but says he did not jump right into a fishing career, though it was always his ultimate goal. He started at the local club level, fishing there for a couple of years before moving up to The Bass Federation events. From there, he moved on to BASS events, fishing invitationals and eventually qualifying for the Bassmaster Tour. It was his first event on the tour that his truck and boat were stolen.

Aaron Hastings of Middletown, Md., leads the EverStart Northeastern wtih 20 pounds, 3 ounces."I already had all the entry fees paid for the whole year," he said. "I was going to be traveling for two months, and I was prepared to travel for that much time. When I had that stuff stolen, I was clean down in Florida, 1,300 miles from home, and I didn't have anything. I usually keep my wallet in my truck, but fortunately I had my briefcase, my cell phone and my wallet to try and get going. That really was a disaster."

Hastings was forced to borrow boats, sometimes going as far as to call tournament directors and back out of tournaments, only to find a boat to borrow at the last minute. He would call the tournament director back, and if they had not filled his spot, off he went. But the financial devastation of the loss caught up with him, and Hastings was forced to leave the tournament trails and return to Maryland.

"I backed out of fishing for a couple of years," he said. "When I got back into it, I wanted to give FLW a shot. I fished the Stren Series and won Angler of the Year in the Northern Division in 2005. That qualified me to fish the FLW Tour."

His Stren Series Angler of the Year success did not immediately translate into top finishes in the stiff competition of the FLW Tour. However, it was not the competition that got Hastings down that first Unofficially, Aaron Hastings of Middletown, Md., won the Northeast Division pro yearly standings title by finishing in 30th place at Lake Champlain.year. It was his own tactics.

"Last year, mentally, I did awful," he said. "I tried to win the tournament on the first day. I tried to swing for the fences on the first day, and that put me so far behind that I had to swing even harder the next day. I did it every tournament."

In six events on the 2006 FLW Tour, Hastings never finished better than 79th. He blames it on trying to catch fish that he caught five or six days before the tournament even started. By day one, those fish had moved, and Hastings was forced to run around the lake spot-fishing, a tactic that seems to rarely work.

"There are 200 guys out there who can catch them, and if it takes you 30 spots to catch your five fish, well, you might only get to 15 of those spots the first day because there are people sitting on them," he said.

Learning to slow down

Running and gunning, though, corresponds nicely with Hastings' overall personality. Describing himself as someone who never sits still, it takes self-discipline for him to slow his fishing down.

But that is exactly what he made up his mind to do in 2007, and as Hastings will be the first to tell you, when his mind is made up to do something, he is going for it all the way.

Aaron Hastings of Middletown, Md., leads the Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake Travis with five bass weighing 9 pounds, 15 ounces after day three.Interestingly, it was the same neighbor who took Hastings to his first bass tournament that gave him the advice that led to his victory at the 2007 FLW Tour season-opener on Lake Travis.

"We did a lot of fishing here at home this winter, and he said, `You know, you're a heck of a good fisherman, but the one thing you need to do is slow down,'" Hastings said. "I didn't hear him the first time he told me that. A couple of days later, I was organizing my tackle, and I thought about that again. I thought, `That sounds so simple, but that's exactly what I need to do.'

"With my mentality, I go 110 percent all the time. I never stop. For me to slow down, that's a very difficult thing for me to do. I started looking back on the tournaments I've won, and every single one of them, I was not necessarily fishing with a slow bait, but I was meticulously covering water, inch by inch, and catching everything in front of me."

It worked out well for Hastings that Lake Travis presented the perfect opportunity to execute his new slow-down plan. It is a small lake to begin with, and at tournament time, it was 35 feet low - not exactly prime conditions for spot-fishing, Hastings' weakness.

But true to form, Travis was not always smooth sailing for Hastings. He arrived in plenty of time for a good practice and even cruised the lake for a couple of days, his preferred method of early practice. Bryan Thrift watches as pro winner Aaron Hastings places a fish on the scale.But on the third day, he caught the flu, and by the fourth and fifth day of practice, he could barely get out of bed.

"I was in bed for two days, and it was killing me, because I thought I was only going to have half a day of practice left," he said. "I actually had a day and a half, but I was pushing it more than I should have those two days. I was sick, and the weather got worse and worse."

Indeed, when Hastings left the water before he got sick, the Austin, Texas, area was enjoying temperatures in the 70s. When he next got on the water, temperatures had fallen to the 30s. True to his dichotomous style, even though he got the flu, it may have helped him win the tournament.

"The temperatures in the 30s were what we had the whole time we were fishing the tournament," he said, meaning the fish he caught when things were warmer were gone. "Being sick did help me realize right away the fish had moved and I had to find them again."

Starting a fire

Hastings' $125,000 victory over Wendlandt, Dave Lefebre and other top anglers was sweet vindication Raising a trophy high over his head, perseverance finally pays off for Aaron Hastings.after all the struggles he has faced on his way to the top. While it is always nice to be congratulated, Hastings has far more affection for the people who believed in him not only when he was winning big tournaments but also when the going was tough.

"People started telling me that there were a lot of people offering me different baits to help me out when all my stuff got stolen," he said. "I'm not one of those people who wants to be remembered as the guy who got his boat stolen. That's not me. I definitely do not want pity. Kinami Baits came to me and said, `We really feel bad for what happened to you.' They didn't know me. They called me at home and asked if I would be interested in a product sponsorship to help me out. I have those sponsors to this day. I don't forget stuff. I don't forget if you believe in me when I'm not doing so well. Everybody wants to pat you on the back when you win, but it's the other guys that I'll never forget."

Hastings' win on Lake Travis has started a fire in him that he believes will only build on itself. He says any time he has found success, it has tended to duplicate itself, like his 2005 points-winning season in the Stren Series. He also knows himself well enough to know that his first year is typically a struggle - a learning curve. With that behind him, it was no surprise, then, that he started his second year on the FLW Tour with a victory.

"Now I've done it, and I want to do it again," he said. "I have an addictive personality, and winning can become very addictive. Hopefully, from here on out, I'm going to be just fine."

The real Aaron Hastings

One thing is for certain - some things never change. Hastings may be the toast of the FLW Tour at the moment and $125,000 richer, but he is still cleaning toilets, and he is still taking care of the things that matter. In fact, the first thing he did with his winning check was pay off his mother's house, and that is not something he is walking around bragging about. When the subject was broached, he said he had Pro Aaron Hastings shows off his first-place check for $125,000.no idea that people even knew about that.

"I did not come from any kind of wealth," he said. "Everything I've got, I worked hard for. My mom is one of those people who always said, `You can do it.' My dad is just starting to come around and see that I might know what I'm doing here. My mom is (in her early 60s), and she still goes out there and works all the time. She works two jobs."

Recently, when Hastings was out of town, he got a phone call that his mom was suffering from high blood pressure. He says he made up his mind then and there that if he were to ever come into any money, he was going to pay off her house.

"I wanted to take that burden away from her," he said. "Who would not, at that age, like to have their house paid off? She deserves that. I didn't tell her I was doing it. I just went to the bank. She invited me to breakfast the next day, and I laid the payoff on her plate. She thought it was business and said, `I don't want to deal with that yet.' When she saw it, she cried for probably a day and a half. If I don't win another dollar fishing, right there, it was worth it - worth every single year and dollar fishing to see that reaction on my mother's face. My mom's done so much for me support-wise that it's the least that I could do."

Things like that are what Hastings should be known for - not as the guy who once lost a truck and boat and a lifetime's worth of tackle. The real Aaron Hastings is not negative, is not beaten down and is nothing short of a hard worker.

"No matter what happens I'll never give up," he said. "No matter who's behind me and who's in front of me, I'll never be intimidated. That's my whole philosophy of life. You can knock me over, and I will stand up every single time."

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