EUFAULA, Ala. — For the first two days of the DEWALT Bassmaster Elite at Lake Eufaula, the burning question has been, “Should I fish shallow or should I fish deep?”
At least for now, the answer seems to be, “Both.”
North Carolina pro Matt Arey caught five bass during Thursday’s second round that weighed 22 pounds, 15 ounces. Combined with his Wednesday catch of 20-6, he now has a two-day total of 43-5 and less than a 2-pound lead over his closest competition.
A combination of shallow and deep fishing has led to Arey’s success.
“I’ve started shallow both days, but I’m bouncing back and forth between the two,” he said. “That works for me. I’ve never really had a ‘strength,’ so to speak. When I started fishing professionally, I wanted to learn a little bit of everything.”
Of the 10 bass he has weighed in so far, Arey said seven came from shallow water and three came deep. Those three deeper fish bit for him Thursday, but his biggest bass during the second round — a 6-5 largemouth — came from shallow grass.
“I rolled into a spot and saw some bream instantly, and I saw this bass cruising,” Arey said. “I couldn’t tell how big it was because it was pretty far down the bank.
“But I threw my frog in there, and it got hung on a piece of grass.”
Things got better from there.
“The bass turned immediately when it heard the frog touch the water, and I twitched it really fast to get it out of that grass,” he said. “It grabbed the actual legs of the frog, pulled it down and then just sucked it right in.
“If I hadn’t been able to see the fish, I would have jerked when the frog first disappeared and probably missed it.”
Arey said it’s no real secret that his deeper fish are coming off the brushpiles that seem to dot Lake Eufaula by the thousands. But rising water — the lake is up more than 1 1/2 feet — and an abundance of shallow cover are making it hard right now to leave the shoreline.
He said he’ll likely continue bouncing back and forth for the remainder of the tournament.
“I don’t have much experience here,” he said. “But obviously, you look around the bank and you see a lot of good stuff. It can draw a man to the bank pretty easily — and with the water up like it is right now, it’s hard to resist.”
Another North Carolina pro, former Elite Series Rookie of the Year Jake Whitaker, caught 20-8 Thursday and now sits in second place with 41-10. Unlike Arey, Whitaker spent all of his time shallow Thursday — and he didn’t seem sure he’d have enough fish left to keep his momentum rolling.
“Today, I caught these fish in places where I didn’t even practice,” Whitaker said. “Three or four of the fish that I weighed in today came out of one creek. Yesterday it was the same way, but it was another creek.”
Whitaker said the creeks were similar because they were both a little deeper than surrounding tributaries.
“I’m really catching them from about a foot to 8 feet,” he said. “Brush and grass are key.
“I feel like I can find more stuff that looks like that. But I could honestly come in with nothing tomorrow and not be shocked.”
Reigning Bassmaster Angler of the Year Scott Canterbury — the Alabama angler who rooms with Arey — is in third place after catching 20-12 Wednesday and 20-13 Thursday for a total of 41-9.
Canterbury, who has vast experience on Lake Eufaula, came into the event planning to fish the lake’s famed offshore ledges. And while he’s spent much of his time offshore this week, he, too, was lured to the shallows during the latter stages of Thursday’s round.
“I haven’t been shallow during practice or during the tournament until the last hour today,” Canterbury said. “Since I know the shallow part of the lake, I spent most of practice just idling and looking offshore.
“But today, I saw a shallow place that just looked so good I thought I should try it. That’s where two of the fish I weighed in today came from — and that gives me some confidence about fishing shallow because I might have figured something out.”
Texas pro Chris Zaldain caught 17-7 and slipped from third place to 10th with 39-9. But he took the lead in the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week with a 7-5 largemouth.
After two days, it took 31-10 to make the Top 40 semifinal cut. Tennessee pro Brandon Card was the final angler to make the field.
Competition resumes Friday with the Top 40 remaining anglers taking off at 5:25 a.m. CST from Lakepoint State Park. The weigh-in will be back at the park at 2 p.m., with only the Top 10 advancing to Championship Saturday for a chance to win the $100,000 first-place prize.
Live coverage of the event will be available from 7-10 a.m. and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Bassmaster Live at Bassmaster.com with simulcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Check local listings for ESPN2 times.