SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — Matt Arey said coming into the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville that if he could just make it to Monday, he’d have a genuine chance to win.
He not only made it, but he will lead the remaining Top 10 anglers into Monday’s final round with a three-day weight of 62 pounds, 13 ounces — a total that includes the 18-13 he weighed in during Sunday’s semifinal round.
“With tomorrow being Monday, we’re going to be able to really run around and get in a rotation without a lot of pressure,” said Arey, who held onto the lead for a second straight day. “With just 10 of our competitors out there and it being the first of the week, it could be really good.”
Arey has made no secret of the fact that he’s fishing Lake Guntersville’s famed river ledges — mostly with a jig and a crankbait.
He said the generation schedule from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which calls for much heavier current Monday than the lake has seen the past two days, could lead to some big sacks being weighed in.
“A lot of the stuff where I’ve been catching them is in creeks down south, and I don’t think it’s affected that much by current,” Arey said. “But I do have some main-channel schools that I haven’t done much good on — and if they start ripping that current, I may check out some of those.”
Regardless of the conditions, after catching 22-10, 21-6 and 18-13 the first three days, Arey knows he can’t afford to slip with only a slim lead heading into the final day.
“Somebody’s likely to bring in 26 or 27 pounds tomorrow with the way things are going,” he said. “Everything should be right tomorrow, and I need to make the most of it.”
Closest to Arey in the standings is Texas pro Chris Zaldain, who has a three-day mark of 60-10 — just 2-3 out of the lead.
Zaldain has been targeting shallow grass with a spoon that only seems to be attractive to larger bass. He caught his total weight of 23-10 before 11 a.m.
“Today when I went up shallow on my spot, I noticed that the bass weren’t just cruising the way they do in the springtime,” Zaldain said. “They were zipping through there — and because of that, I started ripping that bait through there to draw those reaction strikes.
“They do not want anything slow. It has to be moving.”
Alabama pro Matt Herren will enter Championship Monday in third place with a three-day total of 59-2. Like Zaldain, Herren has been shying away from the Guntersville ledges in favor of shallow grass.
“When it comes to the place where I’ve been catching most of my fish, I’ve been fortunate,” Herren said. “I’ve been able to move around a little bit and let that spot rest. I probably haven’t fished it two hours a day, total.
“Tomorrow, I’m gonna lean on it and see what’s there.”
Herren said there are also some deep areas he’d like to try, but the boat traffic on the lake has kept him from it this week. He’s hoping those areas will be clear Monday, partly because he believes he’ll need at least one truly giant bass to have a chance to win.
“I need to catch a 7-pounder to go with all of those 3 1/2- and 4-pounders I’ve been catching,” Herren said. “I can do it. I caught a 9-pounder in practice out of one hole and then lost another big one the first day of the tournament out of the same hole.
“Maybe that’s where my 7-pounder comes from tomorrow.”
Only one 7-pounder has been weighed in so far, and that was a 7-0 caught by Florida pro Bernie Schultz during Friday’s opening round. That fish still leads the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week.
Lee Livesay climbed from 13th Saturday to fourth in the standings today on the strength of a 22-6 limit, but Brandon Lester dropped from second to fifth after boating only 14-13 today, his lightest catch of the week.
The tournament will conclude Monday with the Top 10 remaining pros taking off from Goose Pond Colony at 6 a.m. CT. The weigh-in will be held back at Goose Pond at 2:15 p.m., with the winning angler earning a coveted blue Elite Series trophy and a $100,000 paycheck.