LAS VEGAS — Standing at the bow of his shiny white boat, studying the shoreline of Lake Mead, Aaron Martens pondered a question about his past and then made it clear that, despite what people might think, he has "never been a momma's boy."
"Not at all," he says. "I'm like a free spirit, actually. I like people, but I like my alone time too."
Yet, not 100 yards away, standing at the bow of her shiny purple boat, was Carol Martens, studying the same shoreline, shooting her son an occasional glance.
"I'd really like to catch a fish in front of Aaron," she says, casting her lure shoreward.
That was Monday, the first day anglers could "pre-fish" the lake before the Nevada Bassmaster Western Invitational, which began Thursday and runs through Saturday.
Aaron and Carol Martens, from Castaic and West Hills, respectively, are among a field of 200 vying for a share of the $190,000 purse.
Although not the only mother and son to have competed in the same bass-fishing tournaments, they have been the most visible, the most dynamic and certainly the most successful.
They've been fishing together, often for days on end, since Aaron was 14. They began competitive bass fishing on team circuits in 1987, when Aaron was 16, and, as a team, won 11 "angler-of-the year" titles, before Aaron decided to turn pro.
Today, Aaron Martens, 28, a former gas station attendant, is one of the top bass fishermen in the country. He won $180,000 last year and says he made another $100,000 through sponsorships and endorsements.
In 1998, Seagrams Crown Royal, responding to the increasing popularity of bass fishing, formed the first corporate team and signed Martens. He subsequently qualified for and finished eighth in an elite field of 45 in the 2000 Bass Masters Classic on Lake Michigan out of Chicago.
He would have finished third in what is regarded as bass fishing's premier event, had he not arrived three minutes late during one of the weigh-ins, being penalized three pounds. It was a $9,500 mistake for Martens, but it also cost his sponsors the added exposure a higher placing would have brought.
They didn't mind too much, however, what with having such a special angler touting their wares. To become one of the elite few to consistently place so high on the tournament trail--Martens has six first-place and 12 top-10 finishes since 1997--an angler has to have qualities that set him or her apart from others.
"He's incredible. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it," says Warren Wyman, 26, a fellow pro and one of Martens' closest friends. "I've seen him fish the same structure as me, come over and get the bass right off the same tree I had already fished for like 15 minutes."
Martens' wife, Lesley, says her husband is "half bass." Martens doesn't deny any of this and, in fact, says he knew he had special talents as a fisherman when he was about 15.
"I think like [a fish]," he says. "With any animal, I'm like that. I'm very attuned to the outdoors. When I was growing up, I hiked thousands of miles, and I was always hiking through reservoirs and creek beds, lifting rocks and stuff. I guess it's instinctive. . . . "
Martens last year used his influence to help get his mother signed to Team Crown Royal.
That infuriated some in the cliquish bass-fishing community. They felt they were more deserving of such a lucrative sponsorship--which includes a boat, truck, traveling expenses and, in some cases, a salary--and some might have been, on paper.
But Carol Martens, in reality, was an obvious choice. Like her son, she has qualities that set her apart from other bass anglers, such as a vivacious personality and communications skills.
Carol Martens, who sells cosmetics in the real world, also is an outdoor writer, a speaker and part-time fishing guide, with a seemingly endless reserve of energy. Thus she has become not only a model spokesperson for the team but a visible role model for other women.
"This was his dream, not mine," she says of the youngest of her three sons. "Being a pro fisherman was never my goal. Aaron went pro and I thought, 'Well that does it for me. Now I have to go back to team tournaments and find somebody else to fish with.'
"I did that for a while, but then I realized how much fishing was in my blood. Aaron's dream became my dream, and then Crown Royal came along and said, 'We'll support you . . . ' I got the deal of a lifetime.
Last November at Lake Shasta, Aaron Martens added the California Bassmaster Western Invitational to his list of triumphs, with a 15-fish total of 32 pounds5 ounces.
Like most, he used a drop-shot rig, which has the lure suspended on the main line just above the sinker. But whereas others were moving their sinkers slowly across the bottom, Martens used a subtle motion, shaking his rig only slightly to give his cinnamon-blue RoboWorm some action, while leaving his sinker in one spot.