February 11, 2012
By Ned Kehde
During the summer of 2011, we worked with Steve Quinn, In-Fisherman's senior editor, on an article about jigworms for the 2012 "Gear Guide."
A substantial part of the article pivoted around the shaky-head phenomenon. Some it centered upon the shaky-head observations and methods of Aaron Martens of Leeds, Alabama, who competes on the Bassmaster and FLW circuits, as well as several other tourneys such as the U.S. Open at Lake Mead, Nevada.
Across his 13 years as a professional tournament angler, he has garnered 56 top 10 finishes and his name has reigned at the top of the leader board seven times at Bassmaster and FLW events, amassing $2,314,375 in prize money. He earned the Bassmaster angler-of-the-year award in 2005. What's more, he won the prestigious U.S. Open in 2004, 2005 and 2011.
A lot of the bass he has caught since 2005 have been allured by a shaky head jig affixed to a worm.
In several e-mails he sent to us last summer, Martens told us about the history of his shaky head endeavors. He said that it began in 2003 when he created his first one, which was a 3/16-ouncer.
This homemade jig featured a Gamakatsu O'Shaughnessy hook, which Martens says does a better job of hooking and holding on to the bass than other hooks. Rather than sporting a ball or football head, Martens' jig featured a flat and oblong head with a single-barb collar. To form this head, he used a knife to whittle it into the particular shape and dimensions that he wanted.
Regarding the effectiveness of his shaky head jig, Martens said: "It's honestly good everywhere. I've whacked them on the shaky head from Lake Shasta to Lake Mead to St. Johns River to Lake Champlain. It's got an awesome action." In sum, he uses one at nearly every tournament that he fishes.
Wherever he is using it, Martens implements a variety of retrieves, trying to find the one that the bass prefer. Therefore, he swims it with an occasional bounce off the bottom. He dead sticks it. He strokes it, which is quickly lifting and dropping it, similar to retrieving a jigging spoon. He hops it. He often shakes it after each dead-stick pause, and shakes it erratically when he swims, strokes and hops it. Martens employs it on Sunline's seven-pound-test Sniper fluorocarbon line, probing depths from one to 30 feet of water.
For the past 26 months, William Davis of Davis Company of Sylacauga, Alabama, has been working with Martens to create a commercial rendition of his handcrafted or whittled shaky head jig. They had hoped to have it finished before In-Fisherman's "Gear Guide" went to the printer. But that hope failed to materialize. The reason for that was none of the prototypes met Martens' exacting demands. Finally, their many toils and prototypes have borne fruit. In an e-mail on Feb. 6, William Davis wrote that he was putting the finishing touches on it, and it should be on the market by Feb. 17.
To purchase them, anglers can consult Coosa Tackle Company, 160 East Winds Drive, Alpine, AL 35014; 1-256-344-0154; http://www.coosatackle.com or search for other tackle retailers on the Internet.
Initially, it will be made in 1/8- and 3/16-ounce sizes. It will sport five colors: black, green pumpkin, Aaron's magic, spot magic and oxblood. The hook is a 3/0 Gamakatsu O'Shaughnessy. William Davis says the jig possesses " a very unique snag-resistance, off-centered, balanced head with a recessed eye that will give it a different action."
An encore feature on Aaron Martens' methods at Table Rock Lake
In March 28, 2005, we spent a day watching Martens practice for the CITGO Bassmaster Pro Tour event at Table Rock Lake, Missouri. On that day, Martens said he wasn't and never had been enamored with the shaky-head motif. Instead, he preferred to utilize the drop-shot rig.
Perhaps one reason for his change of heart is that on April 3, 2005, which was the last day of the tournament, he won the Bassmaster Angler-of-the-Year award by wielding a shaky head jig. Enclosed below is the prepublication draft of that story, which appeared in In-Fisherman's 2006 "Bass Guide." We hope that this encore edition will give readers a few insights into Martens' angling prowess.
A Day on the Water with Aaron Martens
Back in In-Fisherman's formative years, the young Aaron Martens became afflicted with a chronic case of fishing fever.
Initially, his passion as a six-year-old orbited around trout fishing inCalifornia's High Sierra region, where he hiked and camped with his father. Then for a spell, he became enamored with catching mackerel and other saltwater species along the beaches of Malibu, California. Eventually, his angling zeal metamorphosed from a fascination with trout and saltwater denizens to crappie and largemouth bass, and his mother mollified his new piscatorial yearns by taking him to Casitas, Castaic and Pyramid lakes, where they began mastering the art and science of crappie and largemouth bass fishing.
By his early teenage years, Martens became enthralled with the idea of participating in bass tournaments and becoming a professional bass angler, which his mother actively nurtured by being his tournament partner during the 1980s and into the early 1990s. Together the Martens teamed to win an astonishing number of tournaments in California, Arizonaand Nevada.
As his youthful curiosity about the ways of the largemouth bass intensified, he fondly remembers regularly reading In-Fisherman magazine and being influenced by In-Fisherman's mantra of "fish+location+presentation=success."
Moreover, In-Fisherman's multispecies approach to angling, as well as its major emphasis on versatility, seems to have left an indelible mark on Martens' piscatorial psyche, allowing him to unabashedly employ such unorthodox lures as ice jigs and tiny crappie jigs for black bass. Some of his untraditional and versatile methods for pursuing bass were manifested at the 2002 Bassmaster Classic, where he finished in second place at Lay Lake, Alabama, by uniquely employing a white bucktail jig, and at the 2004 Bassmaster Classic, where he finished second at Lake Wylie, North Carolina, by using his homemade horse-head jig affixed with a No. 1 willow-leaf spinner and a four-inch Zoom Fluke.
Rick Clunn of Ava,Missouri is one of the world's greatest bass anglers, as well as Martens' idol, and Clunn says watching a topnotch angler practice for a tournament is a great venue for learning about the best lures, presentations and locations for catching black bass. Furthermore, folks who are familiar with the rigors of tournament fishing contend that there is no better place to witness Martens' prowess than at 52,300 surface acres of water and 857 miles of shoreline atTable Rock Lake, Missouri.
Normally Martens doesn't allow journalists or other anglers to witness his practice session, but at the CITGO Bassmaster Pro Tour event at Table Rock Lake, he made an exception to that rule, allowing In-Fisherman magazine to observe his every move and report about his lure choices, lure presentations, the locations he plied and his successes at inveigling his quarry on March 28, 2005.
At the first ghost light of dawn on this first day of practice, various thermometers around Table Rock hovered around 33 degrees. It was the third day after the full moon, and the lake's water level was steadily dropping. As the day unfolded, the sun shone brilliantly, and the wind was virtually nil; some area thermometers recorded temperatures in the low 60s. The lake's water temperature fluctuated from 47 to 51 degrees. The water clarity reached 10 feet at some locales, provoking Martens to note that a day devoid of wind and clouds at Table Rock's clear waters often makes bass fishing an exceedingly confounding endeavor. When anglers are confronted with such conditions, Martens says it's difficult to elicit enough bites to determine the whereabouts of the most fecund locations. Moreover, the dropping water level added another adverse element for Martens to ponder.
This was Martens' second experience at Table Rock. In 2004, he fished the same tournament, but it occurred a month earlier. From that experience, he knew that Table Rock contained a significant population of spotted and largemouth bass, as well as some noteworthy aggregations of smallmouth bass. And it is interesting to note that 60 percent of the contestants' catches at the 2005 tournament were spotted bass, 20 percent were largemouth and 20 percent were smallmouth.
As his first day of practice commenced, his plan was to thoroughly dissect several locales in hopes of determining what lures were the most fruitful and what kind of underwater terrains entertained the greatest populations of catchable bass. Then he would spend the final two days of practice trying to replicate what he found on day one at similar locations across many miles of Table Rock's topography, attempting to pinpoint the best locations. But he said that such tasks are often easier said that done — especially when an angler is confronted with a reservoir as massive as Table Rock.
From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Martens explored a multitude of lairs in Schooner and Mill creeks. He also spent an hour and 15 minutes quickly
probing a main-lake bluff, part of a cove near the mouth of the James River arm and two large, flat, gravelly main-lake points.
Martens' versatility was reflected by his tackle repertoire. He employed seven casting outfits and one spinning outfit. On these outfits, he used a crankbait, spinnerbait, jerkbait, spider jig, horse-head jig, drop-shot rig, topwater lure and Texas-rigged worm.
The Anatomy of Martens' Tackle and Lures
Casting outfits are Martens' favorite tools, and all of his casting rods sported Team Diawa Z 105 reels.
Throughout the day, Martens worked with several crankbaits, but he primarily used a vintage Storm Wiggle Wart in a crayfish hue. He used them on a seven-foot Megabass Tomohawk rod. Most of the crankbaits sported a pair of No. 4 red Gamakatsu round-bend treble hooks. A double uni-knot attached the crankbait to 10-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon.
He credited the Japanese anglers for teaching him about the value of using a double uni-knot with fluorocarbon, and from Martens' experience, the second best knot for fluorocarbon line is a double improved clinch knot, which he calls a San Diego knot. Martens observed that some anglers are reluctant to use fluorocarbon, complaining that it is a high-maintenance line. But Martens contends its sensitivity and virtual invisibleness can't be matched by monofilament, and he spooled Sunline Fluorocarbon onto all of his reels.
His Texas-rig was a 5 ½-inch Margarita Mutilator Shakin Zipper Roboworm on a 1/0 offset-shank Gamakatsu worm hook; it was attached to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon. The sinker was a brown 3/16-ounce lead slip sinker, opting for lead rather than tungsten because his tungsten sinkers snagged too readily in Table Rock's labyrinth of rocks. He employed it on a Megabass F4-610 XDTI Elseil casting rod. Occasionally, he substituted a ¼-ounce slip sinker and a Zoom Brush Hog in a couple different colors
His brownish-hue half-ounce spider jig and four-inch Yamamoto double-tailed grub in a green-pumpkin-with-black-flake shade was tied to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon on a F7-72X AM Megabass casting rod. The jig's rubber skirt was trimmed so that it was about an eighth of an inch longer than the bend of the jig's hook.
He attached his 3/8-ounce horse-head jig to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon, wielding it on a Megabass F4-610 XDTI Elseil casting rod. This homemade jig was molded around a 2/0 hook. It was adorned with a No. 1 willow-leaf spinner and a white four-inch Zoom Fluke. During the day, he periodically noted that this lure is primarily "a sunny-day bait," meaning that it is seldom entices bass on cloudy days.
Martens also wielded two drop-shot rigs. One rigged on a six-foot, four-inch Megabass F2 spinning rod, Daiwa Capricorn 2500 spinning reel and five-pound fluorocarbon. The other was fastened to a six-foot, 10-inch F4 Megabass casting rod, Team Daiwa Z 105 casting reel and eight-pound-test fluorocarbon. On the spinning rod, he used a 1/8-ounce, tungsten, tear-drop-shaped X-Metal drop-shot sinker, which was set two inches below a No. 1 Gamakatsu light-wire worm-bend hook. On the casting outfit, he used a 1/0 hook and 3/16-ounce sinker. His sinkers were painted with Pro-Tec powder paint to match the hues of his Roboworms, and the worms were threaded on the hooks with a Texas-rig motif.
His small-profile Lake Police tandem-blade spinnerbait with a grayish-white skirt and silver willow-leaf blades weighed a half-ounce, and he employed it on a Megabass seven-foot Tomahawk casting rod and 12-pound-test fluorocarbon.
His jerkbait was a Megabass X80 Trick Darter, which was worked on a Megabass six-foot, seven-inch Tomahawk casting rod and 8-pound-test fluorocarbon. For a topwater lure, Martens utilized a Megabass Dog-X Jr. on a Megabass six-foot, seven-inch Tomahawk casting rod and 10-pound-test fluorocarbon.
Martens' Perceptions on Colors of Lures
Part of Martens' genius emanates from his great attention to details. At Table Rock, he spent a considerable amount of time pondering and examining the color of the lures he used. He periodically studied them from various angles and light conditions, in the water and out of it, allowing the sun's rays to reflect on the lure's sides, belly and back. For instance, he did that at 11 a.m. as he changed his Texas-rig Roboworm to a hue called People's Worm, which consists of a cinnamon-and-lavender tint, and it is a color that Martens described as a good one for sunny days.
At 1 p.m., he even took the time to turn over rocks under the water in order to ascertain the color patterns of Table Rock's crayfish and to match those colors with the colors of his lures.
What is odd about Martens' attention to these details about color is that he is colorblind. His wife, Lesley, explained: "He can't see red like you and I can, but he can see it. He looks for the differences in shades rather than colors. He absolutely can't see pink; he thinks it looks like white. And he thinks that some shades of green are brown. My personal theory is that €¦ God more than made up for this deficiency by allowing him to see things in the water that most people can't see, making him especially adept in sight-fishing situations. It is difficult for Aaron to explain because he doesn't know any other way than the way he sees things. He can't compare it to how most people see."
Martens' Ponderings on Sound and Scent
Before he attached a crankbait to his line, he gently cupped a crankbait in each hand and shook them next to his ears, listening to and comparing the timbre created by each lure. He didn't articulate what constituted the best sound. But he did confess that his fascination with the art and science of crankbait fishing has grown substantially since he moved from Castaic, California to Leeds, Alabama in 2003, and that he has found that a crankbait's resonance can be a critical element.
Likewise, Martens has found that scent can be a salient factor. At Table Rock, he didn't religiously use it, but around noon, he sprayed a peanut-and-jelly-hue Zoom Brush Hog on his Texas rig with a crayfish scent by Slime-It Aerosol, and thereafter, Martens occasionally applied it to hisTexasand drop-shot rigs.
Martens' Presentation and Location Tactics
Martens is a man of many piscatorial thoughts about lure presentations; some of them are contradictory, counterintuitive and unconventional, and they reflect the essence much of his prowess. A few minutes before he executed his first cast, he uttered rather inaudibly, as if he were talking to himself, that it was picture-perfect drop-shot day, but his first cast and many of them thereafter were with a Wiggle Wart, and throughout his morning in Schooner, he wielded a drop-shot rig only occasionally.
His first cast was made about two-thirds of the way inside Schooner Creek, which was about 200 feet north of the first outcropping of the visible flooded timber and on the shady side of the creek. Martens noted that shade can be a vital element during a sunny day at Table Rock.
Six other competitors were practicing in Schooner, including David Fritts, the veteran and accomplished crankbait fisher from Lexington, North Carolina, and he was on the sunny side of the creek.
The other anglers' boats floated in 14 feet or more of water, and they cast their lures to the shoreline and retrieved them into deep water. Martens, however, positioned his boat in about 10 feet of water, making cast extremely long casts into deep water and retrieving into shallow water.
Martens noted that his inside-out presentation was developed by anglers who regularly plied the heavily fished lakes of southernCalifornia, and at Table Rock's heavily fished and clear waters, it was a nifty method, too. Perhaps one reason why it was effective was that the water level was dropping, and therefore, a significant portion of the Table Rock's bass were reluctant to venture into water shallower than eight feet.
At Table Rock's timber-congested waters, Martens exhibited his mastery at boat control and a caster. He regularly executing incredibly accurate casts of 100 or more feet with a Wiggle Wart. After completing a long cast, he kneeled on the bow of the boat and placed about two-thirds of his rod under water and methodically retrieved the Wiggle Wart past mazes of submerged cedar and hardwood trees. At times, the Wiggle Wart ricochet off the bottom in 13 feet of water, which is quite a feat for a Wiggle Wart and reflects another aspect of Martens' mastery. Part of that mastery, he says, revolves around using relatively lightweight fluorocarbon line.
His virtuosity quickly yielded a grand dividend: a six-pound spotted bass engulfed Martens' deftly retrieved Wiggle Wart as it slowly sashayed past a series of cedar trees in about 12 feet of water. Because the rod is under the water, Martens sets the hook with several quick revolutions of the reel handle. As he battles the fish, he slowly extracts the rod from the water, but by keeping his rod tip and line under the water during part of the battle, Martens might prevent the bass from jumping and expelling the lure.
After he landed that brute, he began using pointless hooks on the Wiggle Wart, and in short order, he enticed a three-pound bass to temporarily grab hold of it.
Thereupon, Martens began making several casts with the Wiggle Wart and then several with his Texas-rigged Roboworm. As he made his first cast with theTexas rig, he said, "Springtime bass can be in 20 feet water and situated around flooded trees on sunny days like this one."
He also observed that spotted bass fishing is more fruitful when it is sunny, and then they are susceptible to bright colors; he rendered a similar observation about smallmouth bass, but he noted that largemouth bass fishing is normally better when it is cloudy. But he explained that the fishing on this sunny day might be problematic because it rained on March 27, and before the rain, the Ozarks region had been cloud-covered for a rather long spell and pummeled by a series of cold fronts, which could make the bass tetchy.
When an angler is confronted by such conditions, Martens theorized that the best tactic is to fish slowly, and a worm is an ideal tool for such conditions.
Thus for much of the day, Marten slowly retrieved his Wiggle Wart through the gaps in the trees, and making alternating casts with a Texas-rigged worm, casting the worm slightly past a big hardwood tree or clump of trees the tree and slowly dragging it to and past the trees. As Martens dragged the worm, he constantly shook his rod as he slowly lifted the rod from the two o'clock to about the one o'clock position, which why he calls it shaking a worm.
One of Martens' unconventional methods is exhibited by the way he holds his casting rod while retrieving a worm. He holds it in his right hand, and his left hand is placed in front of the reel and his index finger is extended so that touches the line. To take up the slack line, Martens uses his left hand to spin the reel handle. When a bass engulfs the worm, the position of his hands are quickly reversed; his left hand holds the rod as he sets the hook and he reels with his right hand. The reason that he employs this peculiar technique is that he finds he can implement a more seductive shake-and-drag retrieve with his right hand and than he can with his left.
On one of his shake-and-drag retrieves around a hardwood tree and two small cedar trees in 13 feet of water on an under-water point and adjacent to a significant drop-off, Martens inveigled a 4 ½-pound largemouth bass.
During his examination of Schooner Creek, he landed two bass, and their combined weighed exceeded 10 pounds. After he landed those two bass, Martens elected not to hook and land three other fish that engulfed his lures in Schooner Creek.
Besides spending the preponderance of time using a crankbait and Texas-rigged worm, Martens also made a few presentations with a jerkbait and spider jig, but he failed to elicit a strike with those two lures. It was the last time that he touched the spider jig and jerkbait, saying that he didn't like the way they looked in the water.
In Schooner, he sporadically supplemented his Texas-rig presentation with that of the drop-shot rig and Roboworm on his casting outfit. His drop-shot presentations resembled the one he used with his Texas-rig, holding the rod in his right hand, dragging the rig by lifting and constantly shaking the rod from about to 2 o'clock to 1 o'clock.
At 11:19 a.m., Martens left Schooner and traveled to Mill Creek. Throughout his afternoon stint in Mill Creek, he primarily used a crankbait, Texas-rig worm and a drop-shot rig, plying the same sort of underwater terrain that he worked in Schooner Creek, working these lures parallel to the shoreline in 10 to 13 feet of water, as well executing his inside-out motif and probing water as deep as 20 feet. Mill Creek, however, contained the added dimension of boat docks.
Martens confessed that dock fishing isn't one of his strongest suits, but because of the lack of wind and the brightness of the afternoon sun, Martens speculated that some bass might be positioned in the shade created by the boat docks, as well as in the shade of a few massive hardwood trees. Therefore, he checked out many of those shady lairs during the afternoon.
At the docks, he plied his Texas-rig worm and drop-shot rig, executing a shaky retrieve around the corners, edges and inside the boat slips of the docks. He implemented the same retrieve through the shady lairs around the flooded hardwoods.
At 2:30 p.m., Martens opted to experiment with five-pound-test fluorocarbon and 1/8-ounce drop shot on a spinning outfit, conjecturing that his 3/16-ounce sinker might be too heavy. He failed, however, to allure a bass on the spinning tackle. But by continually experimenting with his drop-shot rig on casting tackle, he eventually caught a spotted bass from the shade of a dock, another from the shade of a hardwood tree and elected not the set the hook on a strike that he attained within the confines of a boat slip.
Besides his experimentations with a crankbait,Texas rig and drop shot around scores of pre-spawn lairs in that back half of Mill Creek, Martens occasionally tested a ½-ounce Lake Police spinnerbait, slowly retrieving it in 10 to 15 feet of water around flooded trees. At one point while he retrieved the spinnerbait, he talked about the virtues of fluorocarbon line, explaining how fluorocarbon line demonstratively telegraphs the rotation of the blades of the spinnerbait. The fluorocarbon feel is so profound that Martens can detect a bass making a futile or abort charge at the spinnerbait, which occurred twice on the first day of practice. But it wasn't until the second day of practice that the spinnerbait hooked 15 spotted bass along a wind-blown main-lake bluff, but after that his spinnerbait's effectiveness ebbed.
Around 4 o'clock, he left Mill Creek for more than an hour. During this time, Martens tested his horsehead jig around Joe Bald and on the flat, main-lake point at the entrance of Mill Creek. To work the horsehead jig, he stationed his boat in 25 to 36 feet of water. After he executed extremely long casts, the lure was allowed to settle to the bottom, and then he pointed the rod tip at the water and slowly turned the reel handle. During the retrieve, the lure traveled along the bottom, occasionally glancing off an object. Because this lure is prone to becoming snagged, he employs only at lairs that are devoid of flooded timber, brush piles and other snaggy environs. To Martens' chagrin, his horsehead jig failed to allure a bass, and he returned to Mill Creek.
In Mill Creek, Martens occasionally spied some shad and gulls feeding on shad throughout the afternoon. At one mid-afternoon sighting, he mentioned that anglers need either some wind or shad in order to effectively use a spinnerbait and crankbait, but he couldn't assess if there were enough shad to stimulate some bass into attacking one of those lures.
But at 5:40 p.m., several bass begin chasing shad on the surface above 20 feet of water, near a boat dock and amid some flooded timber along a rather steep shoreline inside Mill Creek. Martens reacted by casting and retrieving a clear Megabass Dog-X Jr. across the surface in the vicinity of the surfacing bass, and he elicited two strikes. After Martens failed to evoke another topwater strike, he enticed one bass to make a half-hearted pass at his spinnerbait, and he failed to hook that bass.
At day's end, Martens confessed that he hadn't determined if Table Rock's bass preferred to consume shad or crayfish. And other than the bass he found at a 100-square-yard segment in Schooner Creek, he hadn't found a locale that contained a meaningful number of catchable bass. Thus, he wondered if he had been fishing too shallow and too far inside the coves and feeder creeks, suspecting that some actively feeding bass could be located along some main-lake bluffs and other main-lake abodes in 15 to 30 feet of water. Yet after he pondered his failure to fetch a deep-water bite with his horse-head jig at two lairs along the main body, Martens confessed that Table Rock's puzzle was quite bewildering, and he anticipated that it would take him several days to decipher it.
What made this puzzle so confounding was that the preponderance of Table Rock's bass were on the cusp of making a significant pre-spawn move, but the unstable weather patterns and the falling lake level inhibited that imminent change. Therefore, Martens' suspected that the bass were in a virtual state of limbo, making their locations and feeding habits difficult to discern.
To make matters more complex, Martens sensed that the bass' traditional March fondness for jerkbaits and Wiggle Warts was petering out on Mar 28. What's more, the wind didn't blow constantly enough to make the flagging Wiggle Wart an effective lure day in, day out
Ultimately, Martens did a better job than 146 of his fellow competitors at deciphering the whereabouts of some of Table Rock's bass and their dietary hankerings. In fact, the fishing was so arduous that 27 anglers failed to catch a 15-inch bass on the tournament's first day.
During the first three days of the tournament, Martens caught the preponderance of his bass on a Wiggle Wart in Schooner Creek and Aunts Creek, and he caught them even though the conditions weren't ideal for a Wiggle Wart presentation. As he wielded the Wiggle Wart, he constantly pondered and searched for an alternative. But it wasn't until 11 a.m during the tournament's last day that he finally determined that the best presentation and location was a Texas-rigged 4 ½ -inch Straight Tail Roboworm on a 1/16-ounce Megabass jighead and retrieved shaky style on a spinning outfit across a flat, gravely main-lake point at the mouth of Schooner Creek. That breakthrough yielded Martens 20 bass, including nine keepers, in three hours.
Martens' four-day catch of 18 bass weighed 62 pounds, 14 ounces, including a nine-pounder that won big-bass honors. In addition, his last-ditch efforts with a finesse worm boosted his name to the second-place spot on the leaderboard and garnered him the coveted angler-of-the-year laurels.