Arey Builds On Strong Start, Takes Lead At Lake Guntersville Bassmaster Elite Event

Even after a solid start on Friday, North Carolina pro Matt Arey sounded less than confident heading out for Saturday’s second round of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville.

Guntersville, after all, is one of the most popular bass fishing lakes in the world — and since a Saturday in June usually means a crowded waterway, he was worried the areas he fished Friday would no longer be reachable.

His worries proved unnecessary, however, as he caught five bass that weighed 22 pounds, 10 ounces to take the lead with a two-day total of 44 pounds.

“There were a lot of boats out there for sure,” Arey said. “But it seemed like a lot of locals were staying off a lot of the obvious stuff, and I was really pleased with the way things played out.

“When I was running to my first spot, I probably saw 50 locals that were already out there before we blasted off. But you could tell they were fishermen — very respectful.”

Arey’s day didn’t start well at all. At 10:30 a.m., he only had two fish that he described as “two of the smallest 15-inchers in the lake.”

But since he’s fishing ledges in 15 to 20 feet of water — and those areas tend to be hit or miss throughout the day — he didn’t panic.

“Yesterday I had all of my weight by about 10:30, and today I couldn’t get a decent bite until after 10:30,” Arey said. “Then from 10:30 until about 1:30 or 2, it was good. They turned the current on, and the fishing just got better.”

Arey’s big day put him just 9 ounces ahead of Tennessee pro Brandon Lester, who spent much of his time Saturday on the same offshore roadbed he fished for hours Friday. The area produced a Saturday limit of 21-7.

The catch pushed Lester’s two-day total to 43-7 and kept him on pace for a remarkable eighth Top 10 finish in his last 13 B.A.S.S. events.

“The spot I’m fishing got a little more popular today, and I’m not surprised,” said Lester, who is seeking his first Elite Series victory. “Everybody knows what to look for, and everybody’s got the same map cards.

“There’s still two days left. But there’s tons of fish out there — it’s amazing how healthy the fishery is right now — and I’ve got places that I haven’t even been to.”

Lester said the bass bit earlier Saturday than they did on Day 1 — and the presence of wind might have aided the success he had using a crankbait.

“When that wind pushes out of Brown’s Creek and hits that roadbed, it washes bait up on it,” Lester said. “When you see bait on the graph, you know it’s getting ready to go down because the bass are only coming in there to feed.”

The two biggest bags of the tournament were caught Saturday — a 24-12 limit that pushed Alabama angler Kelley Jaye into sixth place with a two-day mark of 39-5 and a 24-1 limit that lifted Texas pro Ray Hanselman Jr., into third place with a two-day weight of 40-3.

Hanselman had much of his success Saturday on a giant area that is only holding bass in certain places.

“I started on a bar off the main river that has a hard edge with a good drop on one side,” he said. “It’s about a mile-long bar, and there’s little patches of fish up and down it. When you find them, they might be 200 yards from where they were the day before.

“The only way to find them is to fish the whole thing.”

Hanselman said he caught probably 20 bass on the stretch early before making a move. After relocating, he culled twice, adding his biggest fish of the day — a 6-pound largemouth.

“I was still fishing bars, but a little bit deeper,” he said. “Just some little isolated patches of grass that were holding fish.

“I’ll probably start tomorrow on the same place where I started today.”

The tournament will resume Sunday with the Top 35 remaining pros taking off from Goose Pond Colony at 6 a.m. The weigh-in will be held back at Goose Pond at 2:15 p.m., and only the Top 10 anglers will advance to Championship Monday.

Florida pro Bernie Schultz maintained the lead in the race for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award with the 7-0 largemouth he caught Friday.

The Elite Series Expo continues Sunday at Goose Pond Colony in Scottsboro, where fans can meet the Elites at Angler Alley from 1 to 3 p.m., learn advanced techniques at the Elite Angler Clinics from 1 to 2:15 p.m., and enjoy the Elite LIVE Watch Party from 1 to 3:30 p.m. to watch Bassmaster LIVE and hang out with special guests. There will also be boat demo rides, food and beverage vendors and activities for kids. All events are free.