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It’s easy to love Matt Lee

August 24, 2018 12:00:00 AM EDT

I knew the first time I borrowed Matt Lee’s bathroom inside the college rental home he shared with a handful of other anglers on Auburn’s campus that I was dealing with a special dude.

 Oh sure, there were empty pizza boxes on the kitchen counter, bass fishing posters stuck on the wall, and copies of Bassmaster Magazine tossed on the coffee table, but just beyond the upper level engineering text books in his bedroom, were Post-it notes stuck to his bathroom mirror. They contained Bible verses the 2013 Carhartt College Series Bassmaster Classic qualifier had written to remind himself how his young life should be best lived.

 That was nearly six years ago, and I’ve had the good fortune of working with Matt Lee ever since. So seeing him vault to the top of the Bassmaster Elite Series leaderboard here on the St. Lawrence River with a nearly 28 pound limit of record-setting smallmouth became special on a personal level.

 Frankly, the dude is easy to cheer for. He loves Jesus. Still makes notes of his Bible readings. Holds dual engineering degrees from Auburn. Wears Carhartt britches. Fishes with Quantum reels. Tows with a cool Toyota Tundra. And he love, loves, loves to pick on me. I mean straight-up makes fun of me, right to my face.

 The guy is a class act and a joy to work with. He always returns texts and emails. He grants fantastic, articulate interviews. Heck, he knows more about the science of social media than 83% of the marketing folks I know. Maybe 84%.

 Plus, he has a smoking hott new wife with an RN degree, who might be smarter than him. His in-laws think he invented the Internet, ranch dressing, and fantasy football. And amid his convictions, still lives a man willing to drink a 96-calorie beer and sing Kenny Chesney’s, “Flora-Bama” aloud in a really bad harmony.

 All that while constantly wearing an insulin pump strapped to his hip. “It’s really not a big deal when you think of the way worse problems other people have,” he’ll tell you about the pump.

 See why I love the guy? And I’m not the only one. Just ask bass fishing’s funniest man, 2-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Gerald Swindle about Matt Lee.

 “Let me tell you something about Matt – he may be the shortest Elite Series pro on tour, but along with Terry Scroggins, he may have the biggest heart out here too,” says Swindle. “And as an angler, Matt is underrated, overshadowed, and deadly. He’s a freakin genius when it comes to using his electronics,” warned Swindle en route to a boat launch port-a-john with a pocket full of Dude Wipes just before Day 2 blast off.

 Heck, even Matt Lee’s mother-in-law loves him. “If I’d have tried to find a better man to marry our daughter Abby, I’ll promise ya, I’d have messed the whole thing up,” grins Cindy Myrex, a real estate agent on gorgeous Smith Lake, Alabama. “Matt is very genuine. He puts God first in he and Abby’s new marriage. He’s fun no matter what we’re doing as a family. There’s no drama with Matt Lee. I tell Abby if she ever decides to leave him – I’m staying with Matt,” she laughs.

 But this week, everybody is together in Waddington. Cindy actually flew into Syracuse from Northern Alabama just in time to see her son-in-law soar to the top of the Day 1 leaderboard.

 Now all she can do is keep Abby from looking at BASSTrakk dozens of times each day, and take comfort knowing that a lot of people are cheering for Matt, who believes as much as all of us that his life is under the guidance of something way bigger than a smallmouth’s willingness to bite his drop shot rig.

 Just check his Post-it notes. 

 

  Alan McGuckin

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Posted By Lisa Adams

Matt Lee: Misplaced wallet and a lot of caffeine

April 26, 2018 12:00:00 AM EDT

Carhartt angler Matt Lee began the first day of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Grand Lake with scrambled eggs, low carb wheat toast, and black coffee in his 5th wheel RV, but soon realized on the dark drive to the Wolf Creek launch that he had misplaced his wallet, and had no way to stop at a convenient store for a bag of ice and the day’s supply of caffeine drinks.

 So at 5:37 a.m. he and fiancé Abby phoned a friend -- me.

 “Matt can’t find his wallet, we think it fell out of the grocery bag as we left the camper, and now we’re stuck in the boat launch line. So can we beg you to stop and buy us a black coffee, two sugar free Red Bulls, a bag of ice, and a honey bun with icing?”

 Of course, I obliged. First, because we take care of one another out here. And second, because I know Matt is a Type 1 diabetic who wears an insulin pump, and needs the proper blend of dietary fuel to make his body meet the demands of an energy-burning tournament day.

 

 Turns out the Honey Bun with icing was for Abby, but the caffeine was definitely for Matt. And ironically, Matt’s ride-along Marshall for the day is Susan Forbes, a dietician from nearby Neosho, MO hoping to garner some pointers for the Grand Challenge tournament she’s competing in next week.

 “He’s got a lot of quick energy and refined carbs, but not much fiber, so I don’t think we’ll have to worry about him having to use the restroom,” grinned Forbes.

 That’s good news. And so is the fact that Abby found Matt’s wallet upon returning to the RV after launch, as Matt made his way down lake to Duck Creek.

 “I didn’t have a real good practice, so I’m going to the one area where I feel like I can slow down, fish thoroughly, and catch some keepers,” says Lee.

 Hopefully, the Auburn grad with dual engineering degrees can continue his streak of Top 12 finishes this week. And one thing’s for certain, Abby will be waiting on the dock as he pulls into weigh-in, just as she does during every tournament day, with a sandwich he can eat immediately – and today, a once temporarily misplaced wallet too. 

  

  Alan McGuckin

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Posted By Lisa Adams

Matt Lee’s Jumbo Sized Drop Shot Lure

September 5, 2017 12:00:00 AM EDT

Matt Lee loves to fish a drop shot, but his decision to drop shot a 5” Strike King Z-Too on a straight shank hook for Lake St. Clair smallmouth, was the equivalent of his fiancé Abby choosing to serve 20-ounce rib eye steaks as a bridal shower appetizer. Essentially, Lee turned one of bass fishing’s dainty finesse techniques into a full-fledged food fest en route to yet another Top 12 finish on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour.

 “I’m a drop shot fanatic. I threw it on spawning beds at Okeechobee, at stumps on Ross Barnett, and at St. Clair for smallmouth. I pretty much never leave the dock without one tied on, it’s just a matter of tweaking the components a little to meet the conditions,” explains Lee.

 “My decision to use such a big bait on my drop shot at St. Clair was two-fold. First, the water was a little dingy, and I thought the bigger bait would be more visible. And secondly, I noticed that the smallmouth I hooked in practice were spitting-up 4” to 8” perch,” observed the Auburn grad.

 Lure and Lure Color choice

 If Lee knew the smallmouth were feeding on yellow and green colored perch, then why did he opt for a white, ice-colored, Z-Too?

 “I’m pretty certain they were feeding on alewife as well as the perch. And the thing is, I was never on a big school of smallmouth. I felt like I was hunting big, single fish that seemed super aggressive – so that bait was visible and offered a big meal to those lone wolves,” says Lee.

 “That Z-Too was too big for pesky perch to eat, and because it’s made of ElaZtech, it floats and never tears up. Plus, that particular lure almost shimmies like a swimbait.”

 Experimental hooks

 As much as Lee uses a drop shot, he’d never used such a big lure. So he experimented between a 1/0 and a 2/0 straight shank hook, as well as an occasional circle hook that’s more standard on a drop shot.

 “I was actually super-gluing the Z-Too on the hooks, and the one thing I figured-out, was that no matter what hook I used, by giving them an extra second to eat it, rather than set the hook too fast, was more critical than the exact hook I rigged with,” says Lee.

 Speed Freak

 While gear ratios get a lot of attention among baitcasting reels, their mechanical importance in spinning reels is too often overlooked, but not by top pros like Matt Lee and Jacob Powroznik.

 “Smallmouth move so quick that it’s critical to use a reel that can pick up a ton of slack line in a hurry, especially in one of those moments during the fight when they switch from going away from the boat, and run right at you, and you gotta get down on it like Kool & The Gang,” says Lee. “That’s why I love the Quantum Speed Freak. It picks up 3-feet of line with every turn of the handle, plus it’s got an awesome drag system for fighting those beasts.”

 Brotherly Love

 Matt shared his findings of the big lure’s success with younger brother Jordan, who was quick to heed Matt’s advice. Jordan had been fishing a smaller Strike King Dream Shot, but on Day 3 of the tournament, switched to the big Z-Too. His first fish of the day was a mammoth 6 pound 13 ounce bronze beast.

 The Lee Brothers eventually finished 4th and 5th and won a combined $30,500. Everybody went home happy, and ate well along the way, including St. Clair’s super-sized smallmouth. 

 

  Alan McGuckin

 

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Posted By Lisa Adams

How Matt Lee Chooses Drop Shot Weights

August 1, 2017 12:00:00 AM EDT

 

Former Carhartt Bassmaster College Bracket Champion Matt Lee racked up his very impressive third Top 12 finish of the Elite Series season at Lake Champlain. Lee’s fat limits were a blend of both smallmouth and largemouth, but his choice of lures centered on one primary technique – Drop Shotting.

 As you might expect – the holder of an engineering degree from Auburn takes a slightly analytical approach to choosing weights for his drop shots, and it’s a strategy that makes great sense for getting snagged less, feeling more bites, and catching more bass.

 “I use both tear drop and cylinder-shaped drop shot weights, but each is a tool best designed for a certain job, and the key is to know when to use each of the two styles,” says Lee.

 

Cylinders for weeds vs. Teardrops for rocks

 “When you’re fishing thick vegetation like I faced a lot of on Champlain, you’ve got to use a skinny cylinder-shaped weight, or you’re going to constantly be snagged in weeds,” explains Lee. “If you try to drag teardrop-shaped weight through those weeds, it’s nearly impossible to keep it clean, and you’re going to get really frustrated.”

 Conversely, Lee states that the rounder teardrop shaped weights tend to get through rocks a little better.

 Tungsten vs. Lead

 “The cylinder shaped weights I use in weeds are made of lead, and they’re much less expensive than tungsten, but when I’m fishing deeper where there’s no weed growth, and rocks typically come into play, I want the benefit of tungsten’s sensitivity to feel the rocks on the bottom – especially if I’m out there in 25 or 30-feet of water,” he explains.

 How heavy?

 Shape aside, anglers new to drop shotting often wonder how heavy their choice of weights should be, and Lee has a simple answer.

 “Use the lightest weight you possibly can, and still be able feel your drop shot,” says Lee. “But as a rule of thumb, if you’re fishing less than 15-feet deep, try starting with a 1/4 –ounce weight, and if you’re fishing those deep zones like 25 or 30 feet, it’s probably best to use a 3/8-ounce in most situations.”

 Rods, Reels, Line, Lure  

 Want to replicate Matt’s basic drop shot set-up? Try a 7’ 4” Quantum Tour KVD spinning rod, paired with a size 30 Quantum Speed Freak spinning reel that picks up an amazing 36” inches of line with every turn of the handle – which is especially helpful when fishing in deep water, or for catching up with torpedo-like Smallmouth when they bite.  He spools up with 10-pound braid tied to an 8-pound leader made of Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line.

 As for lures, his favorite choice is Strike King Dream Shot rigged on a #1 size Owner circle hook. Lee says brown/purple is hard to beat for a worm color. And remember, teardrop weights made of tungsten for rocks, and lead cylinder-shaped weights for weeds. A mix of ¼ ounce and 3/8 ounce should cover most all your needs. 

 

  Alan McGuckin

 

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Posted By Lisa Adams

 

 Life is good right now for Matt and Jordan Lee. They’ve both notched Top 12 finishes thus far in 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments, and they both recently proposed marriage to their long time girlfriends.  Jordan asked for Kristen’s hand after a fishing trip to Lake Lanier, and Matt presented his diamond to Abby on the shores of Lake Ontario.

This week they return to the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York to the scene of the Bassmaster Elite Series event where they both made the Top 50 cut during their rookie season in 2015.

 They graciously took time to share their memories and expectations along this gorgeous seaway that connects the Great Lake to the Atlantic Ocean.

 

 1.) What do you remember most about the 2015 event here?

 Matt: Fishing right next to Kevin VanDam. I was fishing a drop shot, and he was cranking away with like a Strike King Series 4, which made me second-guess myself a little bit.

Jordan: I remember struggling. I only caught 5 keepers the first day of competition, and 6 keepers on Day 2.

 2.) Your Quantum teammate Greg Hackney challenged for the win here in 2015 by focusing on largemouth, and Kevin VanDam said yesterday that largemouth should play an even bigger role this year. Can this tournament be won with largemouth on such a strong smallmouth fishery?

 Matt: No. There’s just way too many big, weighty, smallmouth swimming here.

Jordan: No. There’s no way.

 3.) Name 4 lures we’ll see used most here this week.

 Matt: Drop Shot, Tube, Soft stick bait like a Strike King Ocho, and a topwater.

Jordan: Drop Shot, Hair Jig, Tube, and a jerkbait.

  4.) What do you love most about Waddington, NY and the St. Lawrence River

 Matt: The weather -- the lack of humidity. And how big it is, which gives us plenty of room to fish around one another.

Jordan: The weather, smallmouth and the scenery with all the islands.

 5.) It took 17 pounds a day to make the Top 12 cut here in 2015 – how much weight do you think you’ll need this year each day to the make the final day cut?

 Matt: I think it will still take around 17 a day.

Jordan: Yep, I’ll agree with 17 a day. 

 

 

  Alan McGuckin

 

Posted By Lisa Adams

Matt Lee says Look for Blue Heron

April 27, 2016 9:34:00 AM EDT

Sophomore Bassmaster Elite Series pro Matt Lee feels at home on Lake Wheeler, Alabama. So much so that the 27-year-old will gratefully sleep in his own bed during the fourth tournament of the 2016 season, and make a daily 55 minute drive to top-notch Ingalls Harbor Boat Ramp in Decatur from his home at Lake Guntersville. More specifically, and very ironically – his home inside Blue Heron RV Resort at Lake Guntersville.

 Find the Blue Heron – Find the Bass: “This tournament is more about the shad spawning, than the bass spawning,” says Lee, who holds double engineering degrees from Birmingham Southern and Auburn. “And the easiest way to find out where the shad are spawning, is to look for blue herons on the shoreline.”

 “Even though we both have to catch fish to make a living, blue heron are better at locating them than we are,” grinned Lee, a former member of the Cullman High School baseball team that won an Alabama State Championship.

 “There are times when you’ll see 5, 10, 15 blue herons on one spot along the bank. When you see that early in the morning, you can bet they’re picking off shad that are up against the bank spawning, and you can also bet the bass are up there eating them too.”

 Shad Spawn Activity Ends Shortly After Sunrise: “Shad will spawn on a lot of things, from rocks to Styrofoam under floating docks – but that activity peaks at sunrise and ends soon after,” says Lee.

 “You’re gonna see all kinds of fish catches reported super early in the morning on Bassmaster.com – but you’re gonna see it slow way down after 10:00 a.m.. That’s because the shad will have stopped spawning – and the bass will stop eating so aggressively,” forecasts Lee.

 Best Lures to Cast Near Spawning Shad: “White spinnerbaits with willowleaf blades, a shallow shad colored squarebill crankbait, like the Strike King KVD 2.5, and a white swim jig would be my top three choices,” says Lee, who claims Boston Red Sox infielder, and fellow Cullman, Alabama native, Josh Rutledge as a best friend.

 Pick the Right Ratio of Reel: “I’m smart enough to take VanDam’s advice, and use his TourKVD 5.3:1 when I’m throwing the squarebill, but it’s really critical to use a faster ratio like a 7.3:1 Smoke when you’re fishing a swim jig, in order to keep it moving quickly just under the surface.”

 Current Lake Wheeler Water Temps and Elevation: Water temps are ranging from 70 to 76 degrees, but water levels are far lower than they were when Tommy Biffle won at Wheeler by pitching to flooded bushes in early April, 2009.

 “The water level was 4-feet higher here last month than it is now, and the really big deal is that it’s dropped nearly a foot since last week,” says Lee.

 “If the water levels were 1 to 2 feet higher, it would make a world of difference, but at their current levels, it doesn’t leave hardly any habitat flooded,” says Lee. “You can’t just go down the bank flippin’ bushes - which makes keying on the shad spawn an even more prominent pattern,” Lee emphasizes.

 Matt Lee’s Pick to Win, and Expected Weight: “I’ll say 16 pounds a day will put you in the Top 12, and Aaron Martens is due to show-out. He’s not having a typical “A-Mart” season, and we all know it’s only a matter of time before he has a great tournament,” concludes Lee.

Alan McGuckin

 

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Posted By Lisa Adams

Matt Lee Skunked Before Launch

December 20, 2015 4:36:21 PM EST

Bass anglers often refer to not catching anything as “getting skunked.” Unfortunately, Alabama rookie pro Matt Lee had already crossed paths with one of the smelly black and white mammals before ever making a cast on Day One of the Evan Williams Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in Waddington, NY.

“Jordan and I are staying about 30 minutes from launch, and I saw a small black creature run out in front of my Tundra on our way here this morning,” recounted Lee. “Sure enough, when I got to the ramp, people started telling me I had blood on the driver’s side of my boat, and even the windshield of my console – and man, you can still smell it,” said Lee, as he sat trying to tie on one last drop shot prior to takeoff.

“I mean c’mon, man, our dad is a veterinarian, and I’m out here running over skunks,” he joked. “Of course, if Jordan had been the one to hit it, it’d be no big deal, because his boat smells bad most of the time anyway,” added Lee in a tone of humorous brotherly love.

However, the difficulty of the fishing has been no laughing matter for the Lee brothers this week. “I’m guessing you’ll need to average 18 pounds a day to make the Top 12 cut on Sunday, but my practice has been a “D” if I had to give it a letter grade,” said the Auburn University grad who holds a degree in Engineering.

The front deck of Matt’s boat contained none of the more traditional baitcasting equipment familiar to his southerly bass fishing roots, and instead four Quantum Smoke spinning reels. “I rig four nearly identical just because the current is so strong here that it’s always drifting your weight into the rocks on the bottom that these fish relate to. You get snagged a lot, and break off a ton of drop shot weights,” explained Lee.

And as for the windshield on his console – well, it still smelled like a skunk just prior to his boat number being called for takeoff, promising a uniquely odorous ride down the St. Lawrence to begin Day One of competition.

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Quantum pro Matt Lee on high-speed flipping

December 11, 2015 5:40:12 PM EST

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Matt Lee on the Chesapeake Bay tournament

August 19, 2015 5:54:53 PM EDT

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Matt Lee and his Quantum KVD set up

August 19, 2015 5:43:00 PM EDT

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