Matt Thompson, a fourth year Champions Tour pro, runner-up at the 2019 Championship on Bay Lake, and winner of the YETI Big Bass award 10 out of the 15 Champions Tour events he has fished, is the 2022 Champions Tour Angler of the Year.
Going into this season, we asked Matt if winning Angler of the Year was a goal of his, “No, I have two goals at each Champions Tour event, one, win the YETI Big Bass award, and two is to place 15th or higher, so I cash a check,” said Matt.
If you’ve been to a Champions Tour event, you can pick Matt Thompson out easily thanks to his height, the fact that he’s usually walking away with a YETI cooler, and most importantly, his smile and demeanor. Matt without a doubt is one of the nicest anglers we have on the Tour, and no matter what he is a true professional and ambassador to the sport of fishing.
This transfers on to the water and how Matt competes. “You can’t get upset or down out on the water,” commented Matt. “As soon as you do that, you are done. These guys are vicious and will mow you down if you take yourself out of the game mentally.”
Some anglers worry about the lake split that the Champions Tour will put in place at their events, but Matt explained that the lake split is the equalizer. “When that mid-day break comes and the section of the lake we can fish changes, that is an anglers’ chance to clear the slate and go fish a new tournament.”
Matt spent more time pre-fishing this year for each Champions Tour event, than in past seasons. During his previous seasons he would spend two to three days practicing for each event, but this year he upped it to four to five days. So, when we asked Matt if this was the difference maker in having the year he did and winning the Angler of the Year award, his answer was quick, “No…and I’m never practicing that much again!”
“Up until this year, I would pick a depth I liked for that given lake, the conditions and what the fish were doing, and I would exploit that depth for those two or three days of practice,” said Matt.
By focusing on one depth range, whether it be shallow, mid, or deep, Matt would have his mind focused in on fishing everything he could that fit that pattern, so when it came time to tournament day he wouldn’t be bouncing around. And that is what happened to him during the 2022 season, he bounced.
With more days of practice, Matt would spend a day shallow, then two days deep, and come that fourth day of practice, “I would be so frustrated and spun out come that fourth day of practice, I wouldn’t know what to do,” said Matt. “If it wasn’t for my friend, and travel partner, Tony Hatten, I would’ve been in trouble. But he kept me calm and fishing, and I can’t thank him enough.”
Most of the time, what Matt ended up fishing during the tournament would be new water, or areas he hadn’t focused on during practice. “If you look at my starts for each Champions Tour event, they are not great. It looks like I really enjoy digging myself out of a whole during the day, and that’s because I would start each tournament spun out.”
One item that has always been consistent for Thompson and his pre-fishing, is the Humminbird SmartStrike technology. By relying on the information that SmartStrike provides, Matt can quickly identify what other areas of the lake he should be targeting.
“I think of the pink boxes that are displayed on SmartStrike as if another angler gave me waypoints on a lake. They may hold fish, but I likely won’t know exactly how to fish that spot,” said Matt. “So, I will ALWAYS go fishing first, and fish what I have confidence in, then from there look at what I’ve done and caught fish doing, and then look at those pink boxes to replicate what I’ve been doing on other areas of the lake.”
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“For all the anglers out there, that are thinking of fishing the Champions Tour next season, but are worried they need to pre-fish three plus days a week, don’t! Do what is comfortable to you, if you want to spend that much time, do it. If you can or only want to pre-fish two days for an event, you can still compete, just do what is comfortable for you.”
The Champions Tour has been to Lake Vermillion three times, and over those three days of competition, over 3,000 bass have been caught. Yet only one angler has caught a bass over five pounds during each competition day, yes Matt Thompson. That was the case again this year, and Matt was getting close to taking the lead, so he changed up his strategy and went fishing for “filler fish.”
“That was a dumb move on my part, I just had caught my two biggest bass, and then went to try and catch a bunch of keeper bass. I think I caught three small bass in about an hour and dropped down to fifth place, and in the end finished in fourth. That is an event I wish I had back!”
With an Angler of the Year title on his resume now, ten YETI Big Bass awards, and back-to-back years of winning the Moolah Cup, winning a Champions Tour event is all that eludes Matt. “I’m not going to change a thing,” said Matt. “I’m going to fish the same way in 2023, that I’ve fished every event. As I said before, I need to just learn how to start an event better.”
From all of us at the Champions Tour, we congratulate Matt on the great 2022 season and winning the Angler of the Year award. We thank you for being a great representation of the Tour, ambassador to the sport and a great guy!