NEW ORLEANS -- Aaron Martens classified his runner-up finish in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic as "the easiest second place I've ever had."
It wasn't easy by any means, but after four near misses in 12 bites at the apple, Martens has the unfortunate distinction of being classified as an eternal runner-up. That's not an entirely fair reputation to hang on him. While it's true, it fails to acknowledge his skills as a superior technician and his status as a two-time Elite Series winner.
In his last second-place finish, in 2005 to perpetual nemesis Kevin VanDam, Martens was seen losing fish and losing his composure. When a fish bounced off the side of his boat, he crumpled into a heap at the bottom of his Triton. That's the difference between winning and "losing," he said, "just a quarter of a second."
But this week, he performed nearly flawlessly, and was beaten largely because KVD just got more and bigger bites from the same area.
"I have no stress, no remorse," Martens said. "I'm actually very happy that I got second."
In his previous three runner-ups, Martens had gradually narrowed the gap between himself and the winner. When Jay Yelas won at Lay Lake in 2002, Martens ended up 6-4 behind. When Takahiro Omori won in 2004 at Lake Wylie, Martens was 2-12 behind him. When KVD broke his heart in 2005 in Pittsburgh, the difference was a mere 6 ounces. This time, VanDam widened the gap significantly, to a ridiculous 10-11.
Asked about VanDam, Martens could only shake his head. "I know I'm more hungry than he is, but he's just an animal. I almost wish he wasn't here, but I like him too much."
For his part, VanDam, the purported animal, showed some signs of softening. He said that after last year's Classic win he muted his on-stage celebration to ease the pain of close friend Jeff Kriet. Still, he doesn't let up one bit on the water, and the results speak for themselves.
Martens finds himself in good company of non-Classic winners -- Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Gary Klein and Jimmy Houston -- but to paraphrase Groucho Marx, that's one club that'll have you that you don't want to join.
He'll almost certainly be back next year and the year after that -- he's too good to miss any more than occasionally -- and he seems certain that one day the stars will align such that he'll put his newfound comfort with second place to rest.