Alabaman Matt Lee has been living a dream since qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic in July 2012. The collegiate angler has experienced months as a new bass fishing celebrity; complete with scheduled appearances, photo shoots and being featured on a Bassmaster magazine cover. Nearly lost in this dream come true is the reality that he’ll be vying for the win in this event against the world’s best bass anglers. The success and attention has been welcomed, but Lee is ready to get on the water and prove that he can compete with the pros.
The way in which Matt Lee qualified to fish the Classic could not have been written any better, or with any more suspense. First qualifying for the Bassmaster College Series finals, paired with his brother Jordan, they represented Auburn University’s fishing team. They did well enough as a team to make the finals before the format changed to a bracket style, head to head tournament. Somehow, the two brothers were the last two anglers standing and Matt narrowly won the event and chance to fish the Classic over his brother. It was a dramatic finish and a bittersweet win for Matt who had to leave his brother just short of reaching his own dream.
Lee admits that all the attention he’s received in recent months has been a surprise to him and very humbling too. He is thankful to B.A.S.S. and the fishing community in general for all of the support. One thing that’s always surprising to him is being recognized by other bass anglers. “I had a guy come up to me at the gas station and say he saw me on TV. It’s still hard to believe. It’s like I don’t know what to expect next,” shares Lee.
His friends also like to joke with him to keep him grounded, even though he doesn’t need it. “Some of my buddies will leave a message on my phone saying ‘Oh the Classic qualifier is too good to answer my call now’. It’s good to have a support system like that to keep me honest,” adds Lee.
B.A.S.S. has also been a big supported and promoter of both of the Lee brothers. With the rise in popularity of college fishing, B.A.S.S. has shown that they value the collegiate anglers as they are the future of the sport. “I am really fortunate that I am part of this at the right time…Even last year, collegiate qualifier Andrew Upshaw fished the Classic and there wasn’t as much attention…and a few years ago, all I would have received is a plaque for my finish, not a Classic berth,” explains Lee. Sensing how fortunate he is for being in the right place at the right time, Matt Lee has enjoyed the entire ride during the months leading up to the Classic.
With all of the media attention he has received since qualifying in July 2012, it’s been no surprise that Lee has been picked up by new sponsors. Matt and his brother are now part of the Pradco brands (Yum, Booyah, Bomber and more) and Matt is also on the 13 Fishing Pro Staff. In addition to these sponsors, he has the use of a Toyota Truck and Triton boat that he is able to use for a year. The boat and truck are wrapped in Auburn University colors and graphics and this is another attention-getter that Lee enjoys. “People will come up and take pictures of it all the time if they are fans of Auburn,” smiles Lee. The bass fishing community has really helped Matt for this event and having use of the boat and truck for the rest of the year will allow him to compete in the Bassmaster Central Opens with hopes of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series for 2014.
Months of Anticipation
Fishing an event of this magnitude for the first time would make just about anyone nervous and Matt Lee is no different. “It seems like it’s been so long since I qualified that now I just want to get it started. I get nervous in little spurts and I’m sure it will continue up until the Classic,” admits Lee. Overall though, Lee says he is not worried or scared and is ready to go fishing.
Odds for the Classic
The media and fans have not often earmarked Lee as a potential winner or even to do well, but Lee isn’t fazed. “I saw on Fantasy Fishing and on some of the ‘odds to win’ stories that nobody has really been picking me, but I still feel good. I’m just going to try to not overthink it and do my best,” says Lee.
Grand Lake Scouting Trips
Prior to the off-limits cutoff, Lee made two trips to Grand Lake. Each trip was for four or five days and showed him how to navigate the lake as well as the opportunity to locate some potential areas to fish during the event. He spent as much time as he could there because he is serious about doing well. “I’m not going to the event, just being happy to be there. I want to do well,” emphasized Lee. When asked about his chances to win, he believes it will come down to his final official practice days just prior to the event. “It will come down to whoever finds the best pattern during practice, and anyone in the field can win if they find the right fish. I am going to treat it like any other tournament and just go fishing,” stated Lee.
Lee’s predictions for the winning weight and top lures are in line with most of the local anglers. He feels that it will take up to 20 lbs a day to win and 16 or 17 a day to do well. “I am going into practice looking to get 20 lbs a day. There is so much water to run and I think it will be won on the points with jerkbaits and jigs,” adds the Alabama angler.
Qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic has changed Matt Lee’s life forever and he is grateful, humble and excited for the opportunity to represent collegiate anglers across the USA. The recognition he has received from the bass fishing community has been almost overwhelming at times and he is determined to not let his family and supporters down.