Matt Arey had no intentions of using the inflatable dingy tied-up near the nose of his boat amid a fog delay on Day 1 of the brand new 2021 Bassmaster Elite Series season at the St. Johns River. But if he thought it’d assure him of qualifying for his 14th straight pro angling championship, he just might tow it along.
You see, Arey is always prepared. Ready for the what-ifs, such as mechanical failures, barges delaying lock and dam pass throughs, fog delays, or simply stubborn largemouth failing to bite his primary or secondary pattern.
“I call myself a conservative fisherman. I don’t take high-risks, but instead develop back-up plans and patterns that assure me of cashing checks and making championships like the Bassmaster Classic,” explains the Team Toyota angler from North Carolina.
Part of his well-thought-out approach to professional tournament angling comes down to geographic distance. Sure, it may sound cool to make a heroic and often times necessary 40-mile run from the weigh-in ramp to catch fish, but the magic of Arey’s approach always involves finding catchable fish much closer too.
“For example, Prairie Creek Marina on Beaver Lake, Arkansas sits sort of in the middle of the lake. A guy can run 20 miles in either direction to catch fish – and I’ve done that – but the day I smoked a lower unit on submerged concrete was a day when I was really glad I had located some fish within sight of the marina. Rather than freak-out, I put my trolling motor down and caught enough to get a $10,000 check right there,” he recalls with a grin.
He also emphasizes the importance of secondary plans and locations on bodies of water where strong winds notoriously churn freshwater lakes into ocean-like waves at places like Okeechobee and Champlain.
“In a single day tournament close to home, you can get away with the swinging for the fences, one pattern mentality. But professional fishing has taught me you better have at least three patterns in three locations, including one near the weigh-in ramp, to cover all your bases and all the things that can go wrong in a multi-day event,” he says.
It’s a mindset that’s led to back-to-back Bassmaster Classic qualifications during his first two seasons on the Elite Series, and if history proves true, his calculated and conservative approach will lead to yet another end of the year championship, even if he’s forced to fish close to Palatka after a fog delay shrinks the competition day on Day 1 of a brand new season.