The classic wraps up today with a celebration at Mellon Arena.
VINDICATOR STAFF REPORT
PITTSBURGH -- Renowned finesse fisherman Aaron Martens put the skills he honed on the clear water lakes of his native California to work on the Three Rivers and vaulted to the top of the leader board during Saturday's second round of the CITGO Bassmaster Classic.
Martens, now a resident of Alabama, seeks to become only the second man ever to win the BASS Angler of the Year and Bassmaster Classic title in the same year.
He earned one crown earlier this season and needs just one more day of success with the smallmouth bass of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers to add the second feather to his cap.
Martens caught four bass Saturday, one less than the limit, to bring his two-day total to 9 pounds 1 ounce.
He'll have to hold off strong challenges expected from second place Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey, who has a total of 8-03, and Kevin VanDam of Michigan, in third with 8-02. Just an ounce behind is Jeff Reynolds of Oklahoma, followed by Scott Rook of Arkansas with 7-15.
The field was cut to 25 anglers following Saturday's weigh-in and will fish for the Classic championship today. At stake is a $750,000 purse, including $200,000 and world champion status for the winner.
The Pittsburgh Classic is shaping up as one of the closest in the 35-year history of the world championship bass tournament.
The pressure is on for Martens and the rest of the leaders as they try to catch the wily bass that live in the Three Rivers area. Several anglers noted that the pressure of the Classic also seems to be getting to the bass themselves.
"The fish are feeling the pressure for sure," VanDam said. "They are very aware of the trolling motors and depth finder noise. I can see the activity level dissipate the longer I'm on a spot."
He was referring to the armada of spectator boats following every cast he makes.
"These fans are great here in Pittsburgh, but a lot of times they don't understand the next move we're going to make," VanDam said. "But that's fishing. I really want to say that we really appreciate the fact there here cheering for us."
Martens and Iaconelli said the spectators actually helped boost their spirits as they both experienced tough starts to their fishing days.
"I lost a ton of fish early, but when I'd catch a short one and they yelled and cheered, it helped pull me up," Martens said.
Even though he caught enough to move into first place, Martens was disappointed in his early performance Saturday. He's fishing a drop-shot rig for bass around bridge piers as well as a spinnerbait.
"I got a keeper quick, but then for some reason I couldn't keep the fish stuck," Martens said. "I tried different hooks, changed the leader length, and rigged the worm different. Finally, this afternoon, they started eating the bait better and I got three in the boat to save the day."
First round leader Jimmy Mize blanked Saturday, but still sits in 12th place, just three pounds behind the leader. He said his fishing spot, a grass bed far up the Monongahela River, attracted several other Classic anglers Saturday and the fish just didn't cooperate.
"I got little fish, but no keepers," Mize said. "It kind of gets frustrating when you've got a boat on each side of you."
Saturday's weigh-in also included a marriage proposal by Classic angler Andre Moore of Arizona. He called girlfriend Kim Bain up to the stage, where she accepted his proposal in front of more than 6,000 cheering fans in Mellon Arena. Bain, also a professional anglers, is a native of Australia.
These rivers have yielded a surprising number of bass, primarily smallmouths, to this year's Classic anglers, but 2005's winner just may break the record for lowest weight.
George Cochran set that record -- 15 pounds 5 ounces -- in 1987 on the Ohio River in Louisville, Ky.
Cochran is within striking distance of the lead in this year's Classic, sitting in eighth place with 7-06, less than two pounds behind Martens.
The winner will be determined after today's weigh-in, which starts at 4 p.m. at Mellon Arena. Fans also may attend a free outdoor sports show at the David Lawrence Convention Center.