By Todd Ceisner
The state of Texas has been good to the Lee family in 2017.
The images of Jordan Lee’s triumphant and historic final-day comeback to win the Lake Conroe Bassmaster Classic are still fresh in the minds of many BassFans.
Two weeks later, when the Elite Series schedule resumed at Toledo Bend along the Texas-Louisiana border, Matt Lee blew town with his first career top-12 finish.
And now they’re back in the Lone Star State for the Toyota Texas BASSFest at Sam Rayburn and Matt Lee is anxious to see if his previous success will carry over.
“I didn’t think it would take this long,” he said in the days following the Toledo Bend event. “This is the first tournament I expected to make a top 12. It’s almost embarrassing to talk about it. Last year, I just missed the deal at several events.”
While his younger brother has flourished in the Elite Series with just four missed cuts in 2-plus years on the circuit, Matt has struggled to string together consistent, solid finishes. Only once in his Elite Series career has he cashed checks in consecutive events.
This season has been a mixed bag with Toledo Bend serving as the highlight (so far), but his confidence seems unshaken.
“I miss the cut at Okeechobee by 13 ounces and I’m so determined to keep going,” Lee said. “I go to Toledo Bend and make a top 12. I think the more you fish, the more confidence you get and learn from it and keep at it. I’m fishing with a lot of confidence. I overthink it a lot, but I try to analyze everything. Some guys like Jo aren’t analytical at all.”
One area where Lee has admittedly struggled is trusting his own instincts. At Toledo Bend, he committed to a different approach and it worked.
“You look at Cliff Crochet,” Lee says. “He’s crushing it now because he’s fishing how he wants to fish. He’s not trying what everybody else is trying. It works out for them, but not for him.”
That’s the mindset he brought to Toledo Bend, the top-ranked bass lake in America, according to Bassmaster magazine.
“When I came here, I said, ‘I’m going to fish how I want to fish,’” Lee said. “I love a ChatterBait and I love pitching a dropshot around the spawn. I feel like I catch a lot of fish people miss. I decided I was going to fish how I wanted to fish.”
In the early stages of practice, he found an area with smaller lily pads, some hydrilla and stained water. He caught two big fish, but didn’t sense he was on “top-12 fish,” he said.
On a venue as vast as Toledo Bend, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. That’s why committing to an area was important for Lee.
“In practice, you fish 300 places a day,” he said. “In the tournament, you might just fish two. I try not to leave an area until I’ve caught everything that lives there. You can also go forever without a bite and you start to think what else to try, but sometimes have to stick with what you know.
“Where I had my biggest bites, I stuck it out and got a few big bites a day. If you’re catching 100 a day, who cares if they’re all 2-pounders. I learned every day that if you jump off a 4 and catch a 7-15 you’re going back there. That doesn’t happen by accident.”
While some anglers tried to comb the banks looking for fish cruising the shallows, Lee preferred to cast rather than look.
“I never went to the bank and started looking for them,” he said. “I’m 5-foot-6. I can’t see them as good (as others), plus I’d much rather catch them casting rather than looking. The big lesson for me was to do what you to do well, especially on a lake like this where you can. When first place is throwing a 10XD and second is throwing a Whopper Plopper, that tells me I can do what I want to do.”
The connection between the Lee brothers was no more evident than after Jordan clinched the Classic victory. Matt rushed up on stage along the third-base line at Minute Maid Park and the two hugged as though they hadn’t seen each other in 15 years.
Since Jordan’s big win, they’ve had fun when encountering fans who mistake Matt for Jordan.
“I can’t even count how many people have congratulated me on the Classic win,” Matt said. “I’ve had crappie fishermen ask to borrow some money and Jordan had just driven by.”
Their respective successes on the water won’t change how they interact, Matt says. They both constantly root and pull for each other.
“He’s the only person who tells me the whole truth,” Matt said. “When you’re staying with him it’s hard for him to tell me he’s getting bit on something. I know I better be throwing that.
“It’d be easier if he had the same history as I’ve had,” he added. “He’s the best I’ve fished with or known. It takes others to see it to understand that he’s special. I’m not knocking myself. I’m a good angler and expect to be as good as Jordan, but he’s straight crushed ‘em.”