When Auburn University senior Matt Lee blasts off at Grand Lake on Feb. 22, he’ll be competing against the top bass anglers in the world and spotlighted on the biggest stage in bass fishing.

The highly improbable scenario only seemed like a fun dream…until it happened. Then, reality hit hard. Matt and Jordan Lee – Auburn Bass Fishing Team teammates, fishing partners and, most importantly, brothers – were about to compete against each other in the final round of the Carhartt College Series Championship during the summer in Little Rock, Ark. A field of 130 top college anglers had been pared to two, and after 4 ½ hours of head-to-head competition, one would be declared college champion and on his way to the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.

Fishing had been tough all week, with summer’s heat bearing down on Arkansas’ Beaverfork Lake, and both brothers knew they could end up fishless. As it turned out, 23-year-old Matt Lee caught two fish that totaled 5 pounds, 6 ounces, while his 21-year-old brother Jordan landed two fish that weighed 2 pounds, 4 ounces. After the fish had been weighed and Matt’s Classic ticket had been punched, it became more of a solemn occasion than a celebration for the Lee family.

For Matt, competing in the Classic would fulfill of a dream, but for one brother to earn the bid at the expense of the other was unfathomably hard for their family. Everything these brothers had learned about fishing and had dreamed about in the bass world, they had experienced side by side.

“It was incredibly tough on my brother, and it was tough on me, too,” Matt Lee said. “We’re closer than ever now, though.”

An Auburn senior majoring in industrial engineering, Matt is only the second angler to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic through the college fishing ranks. He’ll represent Auburn University when he crosses the Classic stage, but thousands of college anglers will be looking at him with hope, pride, and yes, probably envy. Classic competition will culminate several months of events that have seemed surreal to him: champion designation, a new truck and boat for promotions and tournaments, and sponsorships by industry giants like Bomber Lures and others.

Fishing Together

Matt and Jordan grew up in Cullman, Ala., about 45 minutes from Lake Guntersville. Their parents had a house on the lake, so they grew up fishing from docks and catching whatever would bite. Eventually they got into bass fishing in ponds around home and on the big water whenever someone would take them. At the same time, they started paying attention to professional bass fishing and taking note of the techniques used by the pros.

“I remember my dad was watching the Bassmaster Classic when Mike Iaconelli started break dancing on the stage. He called me in to watch. That was something bass fishing had never seen before, and it was sort of eye opening.”

That 2003 Classic really got Lee’s attention, and he and his brother started paying more attention to tournament fishing, reading BASSMASTER Magazine and watching the Bassmasters TV show.

“When they’d come to Guntersville, we’d always go up there and follow guys like Iaconelli and KVD and go to the weigh-ins,” Lee said. “At the same time, Jordan and I were learning everything we could about bass fishing. Jordan joined a bass club, and eventually we started fishing team tournaments.”

Lee noted that learning about fishing together with his brother and fishing side-by-side so frequently has dramatically improved his skills. That’s partly because they learn things together and talk about strategies when they fish as a team, but even more so due to the competitive nature of a brotherly relationship.

“If he learns some new technique and starts beating me with it, you know I’m not going to continue to let that happen. I’m going work on that technique until I have it down.”

Classic Competition

Being part of the main event obviously will be a new experience for Matt, but the Classic won’t be totally unfamiliar to him. He has attended several Bassmaster Classics, so he at least knows the magnitude of the total show and the excitement level inside the arena from a spectator’s standpoint.

“I don’t know that it has really sunk in, and I’m trying not to think too much about the event and who I’m fishing against, but instead to just get out and fish like I would in any tournament” Matt said. “It’s kind of like earlier this week when I did a photo shoot with BASSMASTER Magazine and we were trying to catch fish for a BASSMASTER cover. It didn’t even seem real.”

Lee’s place in the Classic is completely real, though, and the bass in Grand Lake will give no regard to age or experience. His job is the same as that of the rest of the field once the boats blast off, and everyone begins with the same empty livewell.

Lee has traveled to Oklahoma twice in preparation to compete at Grand Lake and has a good idea of how the lake fishes. He also has been tracking the Oklahoma weather, lake information and results from local tournaments.

Although he cut his teeth flippin’, swimming frogs and using other power techniques on Lake Guntersville, Lee also is comfortable with deep clear lakes and finesse strategies, and he considers himself versatile.

“When people ask me about how I like to fish, I like to tell them that I like a frog or a dropshot, he said. “You can’t be scared to fish something like a small Mighty Worm, even in a lake that has big bass in it. Sometimes that’s what you need to do to catch fish.”

Grand Lake definitely holds plenty of quality fish. Lee has seen that the winning weights in local events have stayed big this winter, even when the temperatures have been very cold and the fields small.

“You put 53 of the bass fishermen in the world out there for three days, and you’re going to see some big bags.”
Indeed, and Matt Lee will do his best to make sure he’s toting one.