Custom Mugs and “Mindless” Fishing

By Luke Stoner – Dynamic Sponsorships

Matt Arey had plenty to smile about after day one concluded for the TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite on Smith Lake. Not only did the Team Toyota pro bring over 12-pounds of spotted bass to the scales, which has him firmly inside the cut in this tight-weight tournament, he was also gifted two custom tumblers (drinking mugs) for his daughters Reese and Wren.

Arey had just finished weighing his fish and was walking back to his boat when he saw a familiar face with two gift bags in her hands.

“I met a sweet lady named Rhonda and her husband at Pickwick Lake two years ago and she gifted me the coolest custom mug,” Arey explained. “When I say custom, I mean straight up one of a kind. It had an almost exact replica of the sponsors on my jersey, and I just thought it was the coolest thing. Her business is called Custom Creations by Rhonda Mae. Today, I saw Rhonda again but this time she had two homemade tumblers for my daughters Reese and Wren. That’s gotta be the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever been given by a fan.”

The Shelby, North Carolina native is proud girl dad and isn’t ashamed to tell you just how much his Taylor Swift-loving daughters and wife Emily mean to him. While a gift for himself would have gotten Arey excited, it was plain to see that he was touched by the gesture because these mugs were for two of the people he loves most.

It took his mind off the Alabama heat and tricky fishing for a moment, which he welcomed. While his day one catch and 30th place standing wouldn’t reflect it, Arey explained he was somewhat struggling mentally with the way he is catching his fish on Smith.

Arey, like most of the field, is using forward-facing-sonar to target suspended or roaming spotted bass in extremely deep water near the main river channel of this beautiful fishery.

“I’m happy to have what I caught today but in a weird way I’m almost not proud of how I caught them if that makes any sense,” Arey said scratching his head. “All we (he and fellow Elite Series competitors) are doing is getting around a lot of bait and bass and zigzagging around with our heads down all day. 90% of the field is scoping, and you can absolutely catch fish doing it, so that’s what I’ll continue to do to cash a check and get points.

“But in my honest opinion, it doesn’t feel like bass fishing. I’m not following my instincts or using my brain really, outside of chasing down individual fish and maybe making minor bait adjustments. Lowrance Active Target 2 is a phenomenal tool and it’s one of the coolest products to ever hit our industry. But when the conditions setup like Smith this week, FFS has taken a lot of the sport out of tournament fishing.”

Arey has proven extremely adept at using FFS, cashing several checks this year “pinging a minnow” or scoping. For many competitors like Arey, this tournament is mentally taxing for a multitude of reasons. Not only are anglers battling summer heat and boat wakes, but they are having to fight the urge to go fish any techniques that don’t include staring at fish on their electronics.

While you could argue this has long been the case in summertime, offshore-dominated tournaments, Arey and many other pro anglers believe the efficiency FFS provides presents a whole new ball game. This has been an ongoing conversation the last few years, especially in 2024, and it seems as though the way Smith Lake is setting up this week will bring the topic to the forefront again.