December 18, 2012 by Brett Carlson
All too often in professional fishing the limelight goes to those who make the top-10 cuts and hoist the six-figure checks above their heads. Matt Arey never made any of those cuts, nor did he win a tournament in 2012, yet he still had by any standard a "career year."
The 2012 Walmart FLW Tour season marked Arey's second consecutive Forrest Wood Cup qualification. But unlike 2011, it carried no peaks or valleys - instead demonstrating a steady stream of success. Arey cashed checks in six of the seven FLW tournaments he fished and earned a career-best $65,000.
"It was a good season but it was also frustrating at the same time," said the Shelby, N.C., pro. "I think I missed three top-20 cuts by the combined weight of a pound. But all year I fished clean, fished hard and everything clicked; I just came up a few ounces shy of a phenomenal season."
When he first turned pro after winning the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup as a co-angler, Arey put together a five-year plan. Admittedly, the transition from the back of the boat to the front wasn't easy and Arey had occasional doubts about his ability to compete at the sport's highest level.
"Last year and this year have really been make-or-break years and I'm proud to say I've made it. I think a lot of my success is a result of sharper decision making. And that better decision making just comes from having spent more time on the water. I run a guide business called Rack and Reel Outfitters with Andy Montgomery and that has me on the area lakes a lot more than it used to."
With experience, Arey has also learned the difference between being an average tour pro and a good one isn't simply a matter of locating fish. It's also about understanding what you've found and how to manage it.
"You've really got to maximize your fish once you've found them. I used to be way too content to just catch a fish here and there off a shaky head. But I've learned that if you have identified a productive area you really have to try seven or eight different presentations and milk it for all its worth."
When Arey further reflects on the 2012 season, it's easy to hear the division in his voice - part pride, part frustration.
"My goal is simply to make a living at this, so from that standpoint I would take a season like this every year. But you've got to break out once in a while too. When I look back, I think I fish a little conservative at times. Guys like Dudley and Thrift catch 20 pounds by noon and aren't satisfied. That's what separates the middle-of-the-pack guys from the best. I get too settled in with, `I want to make that $10,000 check.' That's something I've got to work on."
Arey's consistency ultimately placed him ninth in the Angler of the Year race - just below the Dudleys and Thrifts of the world. Arey has set his primary 2013 goal on once again qualifying for the Cup, the richest tournament in professional bass fishing. Beyond that, he wants to make a serious run at AOY.
"I go back to those three tournaments where I was 23rd or 24th or whatever. When you do the math and look real close at it, the difference between ninth in the points and winning Angler of the Year is making those cuts. But at the same time I would take a top 10 in the points race every year, don't get me wrong."
For the most part, Arey likes the 2013 FLW Tour schedule. But his favorite and least favorite lakes, ironically, are the opposite from the majority of his competitors.
"I've got to be honest; I don't like to go down to Okeechobee, or really all of Florida for that matter. I do pretty well there; I just don't like that style of fishing. It'll be a great tournament I'm sure, but that heavy vegetation is not my style."
The one tournament Arey eagerly anticipates is Beaver Lake, which has become an annual stop on tour.
"I don't know what it is, but I kind of feel like I understand how the lake fishes. I do something different just about every time, but I just can't hate a lake where I've made so much money. This year they should be on beds when we get there and that suits me just fine too."
After his breakout season, Arey has landed two title sponsors - Kissel Krafts Fishing Rods and Wackem Crazy Baits. Kissel Krafts, a maker of custom-built rods, is wrapping his truck and Wackem, a producer of hand-poured custom plastics, is wrapping his boat.
"I think the wraps are perfect fits. Both are fast-growing companies that allow me to design products exactly the way I want."
The other major news from the Arey camp is the arrival of his daughter. Baby Reese, Matt and Emily's first child, is now a happy and healthy 3-month-old.
"My goals for the 2013 season have broadened with the addition of our baby girl. I'm no longer fishing for only my wife and I, but Reese too. I think having her will give me that little bit of extra inspiration needed to fish even harder as I strive for that never-be-satisfied attitude.
"I fished well this year, but that baby girl is the best thing that's happened to me by far. Having a child really makes me appreciate my parents; it's really a whole different type of love."