By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
By the time practice for the Beaver Lake FLW Tour concluded, Matt Arey knew he was onto something good. At the time, he didn't know just how good.
"You pretty much have to have largemouths to win there, and I thought I could catch them consistently no matter what the weather did," he said. "I didn't know (the pattern's) full potential, though.
"I felt I could catch five keepers every day, but I knew I'd need to get a big bite here and there to do something special. I started getting those on the second day (of competition)."
He established himself as a contender on day2, took over the lead on day 3 and then closed out his first tour-level victory with a hefty sack on day 4. He became the second Shelby, N.C. resident to win a tour event in the past few weeks, following Bryan Thrift's triumph at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in March.
His two weekend bags averaged nearly 16 pounds apiece – an extremely stout number for Beaver. His 59-03 total eclipsed runner-up Andy Morgan by about a pound and a half.
Here's how he did it.
Arey and travel partner Mike McDonald (who captured the co-angler crown at Beaver) missed a half-day of practice due to their participation in a BFL back home at Lake Wylie on the Saturday before the tournament. They drove most of the night and stopped for a few hours of sleep at Tour pro Mark Rose's house in West Memphis, Ark.
One of the first things Arey noticed when he got on the lake that Sunday afternoon was that the water level was up. He was certain it wouldn't stay there, and that was a big factor in formulating his practice plan.
"I wanted to look for something that would be consistent under any kind of conditions," he said. "We were going into a warming trend, but the weather was unstable. I knew the fish hadn't spawned at all because it'd been such a cold winter."
From previous visits (he'd logged a pair of 5th-place finishes at Beaver), he knew of some areas that spawning largemouths favored. Nearby were some fairly steep, rocky banks that they used as a transition area.
"I knew they could move up and down real easy along there, and that would be important when the water started dropping," he said.
He caught a few fish on the Ozark lakes staple – a Storm Wiggle Wart – on the second day of practice. He's not a real cranking aficionado, however, primarily due to the relatively low hook-to-land ratio.
"I wanted to fish the same type of rocky stuff, but I wanted to figure out a different way to do it. I knew (the bass) were on the crawfish hard, especially with the giant shad-kill they'd had. Last year every pocket had a bunch of birds and bait, but this year they were like ghost towns. You'd see a few shad, but not near as many."
That line of thinking led to experimentation with a finesse jig, and it proved to be just the ticket. It enticed 19 of the 20 fish he brought to the scale during the event.
> Day 1: 5, 13-00
> Day 2: 5, 14-06
> Day 3: 5, 16-04
> Day 4: 5, 15-09
> Total = 20, 59-03
Arey compiled a 13-pound bag – good for 18th place – by 10 o'clock on wind-blown day 1 and fished only a small portion of his best water. All five of his weigh-in fish were between 2 1/4 and 2 3/4 pounds, but bigger specimens would show up in the coming days.
He got a 4 1/4-pound bite on day 2 en route to a 14 1/2-pound stringer that jumped him up to 3rd place on a calm day when overall weights fell off considerably. On day 3 he boxed two that were in the 3 3/4 to 4 class and had a 4 1/4 and a 3 on the final day.
"The timing of how I fished my spots was pretty similar each day," he said. "I was scared to change anything, as good as I was catching them.
"In the afternoons I'd try to duplicate it and I found some of the same type of rock transitions, but if you went too far down the lake, the water was a little too clear. They'd still bite a jig in the clear water, but not quite as strong. Up the (White) River it was too muddy and the fish on that flatter stuff were more susceptible to getting turned off by the falling water."
Arey spent his time in four primary areas. One was the heavily fished Prairie Creek, and the other three were pockets no more than 6 miles above the Highway 12 bridge.
"I did fish a few pockets down the lake, but they were within a few minutes of Prairie Creek," he said.
Arey's fish were using rocky shelves as transition areas.
Many of the fish he caught were holding on submerged shelves and the sound of his jig hopping along the hard substrate mimicked the "clicking" sound produced by crawfish.
"I experimented with different cadences in practice to see what they wanted, and I was actually hopping it pretty violently. I had some grab it while I was winding it, but I tried swimming it a little bit and they wouldn't eat it."
His bite-landing ratio with the jig wasn't perfect, but it was exceptionally high.
"That single hook is the best way to put them in the boat every time. With the treble hooks on a crankbait, it's 50/50 depending on how the fish eats it and what it does afterward, and those pre-spawn fish were super wild."
Winning Gear Notes
> Jig gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Kissel Krafts micro-guide rod, unnamed casting reel (7:1 gear ratio), 12- or 15-pound P-Line 100% fluorocarbon line, 7/16-ounce Obsession Lures ball-head jig (green-pumpkin or green-pumpkin/brown), Zoom Super Chunk Jr. or Wackem Crazy Baits twin-tail trailer (green-pumpkin).
> He also used 3/8- and 1/2-ounce jigheads at times, depending upon the intensity of the wind.
> His lone weigh-in fish that didn't bite the finesse jig took a wobble-head jig tipped by a Strike King Menace.
The Bottom Line
Main factor in his success – "Just getting on something different. Probably 90 percent of the field was throwing either a swimbait, a Wiggle Wart, a jerkbait or a shaky-head and finding that little jig deal gave me an edge. I don't know if anybody else was doing specifically what I was."
Performance edge – "I'd go with the Wackem twin-tail. The durability of the plastic is a big thing and the fact that my trailer wasn't getting torn up all day made a big difference in time. Time is money on the water."
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