|Photo: James Overstreet B.A.S.S.|
They say that the B.A.S.S. Federation Nation is the hardest path to the Bassmaster Classic. While it's true that making the Classic through the Federation is extremely difficult, the path as a college angler might be even more of a challenge. Auburn's Matt Lee completed the long journey and had to endure every possible emotion to make it happen. He edged out his own brother for the right to the berth and it was not easy.
To even make it this far, the two brothers had to first be the top two anglers in their school (which consists of roughly thirty anglers) after five qualifying tournaments. From there it was off to Regionals and then the National Championship. The road just began there as the team had to finish the team competition in the top four in order to make the bracket style tournament. Essentially, each day they fished could be their last, from the qualifiers to the finish; each fish was important. The odds of two Auburn anglers, let alone two brothers, making the finals were about as unlikely as you could imagine.
The thoughts and emotions still had not changed when I talked with Matt Lee this evening. "I still cannot grasp what happened this weekend," stated Lee. The unlikely scenario is a dream come true, but at the same time was crushing knowing that his best friend, brother, and life-long fishing partner came so close but fell just short. They had talked about it before the event and mentioned how cool it would be if one of them won, but they never imagined it would be so hard. "When I found out I won, all I could think about was Jordan walking off the stage and they were telling me I was going to the Classic. It was unreal and I was full of so many emotions." stated Lee.
The support and media attention has been overwhelming for Matt, who was forced to take a final this week in between getting calls and text messages from family, friends, media members and even the B.A.S.S. CEO. I asked him if he ever imagined it would happen and said it was a dream come true. "I still can't believe it and this has happened so fast. There are so many emotions and the odds of just making it happen is unreal," added Lee.
He refelected on a recent article on Bassfan.com where Mike Iaconelli was discussing how he's trying to ensure that he makes the Classic this year after an average year. "To think that I might make it and Iaconelli might not is crazy and is very humbling, there is no way I am better than Ike and it just puts this in perspective. Everyone is telling me how people try their whole life for this and here I am getting ready for it, it's all thanks to the opportunities B.A.S.S. has given college anglers and I want to represent them well," added Lee. With an attitude like that, he is sure to represent college anglers very well, but he plans to fish Grand Lake as much as possible before the cut-off and try to compete in the event instead of just being someone who fished it.
This was a life-changing event for Lee, who is wrapping up his final stretch of a Industrial Engineering Degree. "Before this, I was just focusing on getting good grades and trying to do well enough to get into a Master's program. Now I am in class and all I can think about is Grand Lake," mentioned Lee. He is smart and realizes that this is a huge opportunity, but also sees that education is the most important thing to being successful. Nobody knows what the future holds for him, but he is grateful for the opportunity to fish against the best at the 2013 Classic.