Ask any Bassmaster Elite Series pro after official practice concluded and they wouldn’t hesitate to tell you the buzzword for the 2021 Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at the Tennessee River was “tough.” Practice reports were filled with concerns of cold, muddy water and few keepers to be found.
Judging by the unofficial weights on BassTrakk just a few hours into Thursday’s competition, it’s safe to say the Tennessee River is already fishing better than expected. But anglers weren’t sandbagging. Matt Arey has proven to be as honest as he is consistent, and confirmed conditions set this event up to be among the toughest of the year.
Arey is no stranger to performing well in tough derbies. The Team Toyota pro has a pair of tour-level wins on Beaver Lake to his record, a notoriously stingy fishery by any seasoned angler’s definition, and has earned a paycheck in a myriad of others. We caught up with Arey Wednesday evening to pick his brain on his process for approaching tough tournaments.
Stay in it mentally
When you expect only a handful of keeper bites throughout an entire day of fishing, the number one advantage anglers can give themselves is to stay positive and mentally engaged, according to Arey.
“You have to fish your last five minutes like the first five minutes in a tough tournament,” Arey said. “We’ve heard Swindle talk about the benefits of a Positive Mental Attitude for years, and it’s absolutely true. Prep for a grind mentality and don’t get caught up in worrying too much. Put your head down and go fishing.”
Staying comfortable on the water is one way Arey ensures he stays mentally engaged, especially when dealing with wet or cold weather. Arey said his AFTCO Hydronaut rainsuit has been worth its weight in gold this week in Tennessee.
Lean on confidence lures
“When individual bites are hard to come by, I pick a couple lures I have confidence in and keep them in my hands,” Arey admitted. “Until something with the weather or water conditions change, you aren’t doing yourself any good switching through 30 presentations in my opinion. I’ll be chunking a flat-sided crankbait and flipping jig 90% of the time this week.”
The Lunkerhunt pro has learned the hard way it’s easy to spin yourself out during difficult events and believes keeping it simple with lure selection helps with his first tip; staying mentally focused.
Don’t be afraid to change on the fly
Arey’s final piece of advice when the bite is brutal is to not get locked in to what you saw or didn’t see, in the days leading up to the tournament … especially in the spring.
“Things change so fast this time of year, and you have to be willing to change with them,” Arey explained. “One or two warm days can completely change the fish in the springtime. Keep an open mind and listen to the clues Mother Nature and the fish are giving you and you never know what can happen.”