For the first fourteen years of his professional fishing career, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Arey had never won big bass honors in an official tournament. The easy-going North Carolina native missed big bass by ounces a few times and caught some giant fish during practice throughout the years, but any awards for catching the biggest bass of a tournament during actual competition had always eluded him.
But this stat is now firmly in Arey’s review mirror. Arey is on a roll when it comes to catching giant largemouth, securing big bass awards in the last two Elite Series tournaments he’s fished. He caught an eight-pound one-ounce beast on day one at Lake Seminole that netted him the Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize of $1,000, and then followed that up with a seven-pound eleven-ounce behemoth that was the overall big bass of the Lake Murray event last week.
Pocketing the Team Toyota pro another $3,000 bonus and positioning him as a red-hot big bass aficionado as he prepares to begin competition for the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite on Santee Cooper, a fishery famous for its giant bass.
It makes you wonder, what’s changed? Has Arey joined the big bait bandwagon, spending his days chucking giant glide baits, foot long swimbaits, or oversized plastics to catch these huge fish?
“I haven’t changed a single thing,” the always humble Arey laughed. “It’s just kind of rolled my way the last two events, I guess. I’m definitely not out there slinging big baits more than usual. I caught the big one at Seminole off a bed with a Lunkerhunt Finesse Craw on a ¼-ounce Texas Rig, and the Murray bass ate a big pencil popper off a main lake point.
“I got pretty lucky on that fish to be honest. There were fish blowing up all over this point and I literally had a two-pounder jump over my topwater and miss it a second before the big one grabbed it. I’d guess there were 50 or 60 fish feeding on that point and the 7-11 had to be the biggest one. Usually, the big ones miss your bait and the small fish get it, so that was a pleasant surprise.”
There you have it; Arey gives zero credit to secret baits, special techniques, or superstitions for his newfound success with giant bass. He is probably being a little too modest, but Arey acknowledges the timing of the 2023 schedule for his recent big bass accomplishments.
Arey doesn’t hesitate to admit his tournament fishing style is built around consistently cashing checks, as opposed to being a hero-or-zero type of fisherman.
“Outside of the Classic, each year I fish to make checks and then see where the dust settles,” Arey said. “Shallow water power-fishing is definitely my biggest strength, so I guess it makes sense for me to get on a big bass roll when we have a schedule that lines up great fisheries with the months of March and April. I’d give timing and fishing my comfort zone as much credit as anything.”
Arey and his fellow Elite Series competitors will have ample chances of crossing paths with giant bass in skinny water once again on Santee Cooper Lakes. While practice dock-talk dictates that most of the bass in Lake Moultie and Marion are on the tail-end of the spawn, Santee Cooper is still a shallow-water angler’s paradise.
Whether Arey can keep his big bass streak alive or not, there is sure to be a parade of giant fish that comes across the Bassmaster stage at the John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility this weekend.
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