(Editor’s note: This story was originally published after Michael Matthee qualified for the FLW Cup at the Costa FLW Series Championship in 2017. Now in his rookie season on the FLW Tour, Matthee just finished second to Jeremy Lawyer at Grand Lake.)
“I live and breathe just to catch fish,” says Michael Matthee.
The 31-year-old is a longtime winner in the South African tournament circuits who has earned alpha status in his home country with a blend of undying determination, skill and versatility. Look no further than his meteoric rise in the first ever sanctioned FLW South Africa fish-off.
Matthee swamped a field of 100 competitors to earn a berth in the Costa FLW Series Championship on Kentucky Lake in November, where he finished ninth overall and first in the International Division to qualify for the 2018 FLW Cup at Lake Ouachita.
We wanted to learn more about Matthee and his prospects as a Cup competitor, so we assembled this list of 20 questions.
1. Where did you grow up?
I’m from South Africa and grew up in Centurion.
2. How did you get started fishing?
My parents are from Zimbabwe, and I spent many holidays there with my grandparents, fishing Kariba Dam, the Zambezi River, Darwendale and stayed often at my grandparent’s beautiful home on the banks of Lake Mazvikadei.
3. What types of fishing have you done in southern Africa?
Tiger fishing, deep-sea fishing, specimen carp fishing; those are some of my favorite fish species in southern Africa.
4. What inspires you about bass fishing?
From a very young age I was inspired by my grandfather and father. I spent most weekends on the water fishing with them and learning this fantastic sport. As I got older I spent time watching all the pros and following them in the magazines. The American pros inspired me to become a professional fisherman. South Africa is a beautiful country, and I have been blessed to travel throughout southern Africa and meet people that are as passionate as I am about fishing. All these interactions inspire me.
5. What is your occupation?
I am currently a self-employed cabinetmaker. I started my business before I left school in 2003, borrowed my dad’s van and tools to do installations of cabinets, and earned enough money to buy my first machine. I started the business in my parents’ backyard, then moved to a very small rented factory. Today, 14 years later, I have my own much bigger factory with 30 employees. It’s hard work, but it allows me to go fishing every weekend, which is my biggest passion.
6. How does your business work ethic translate to fishing success?
My business is very disciplined. I am proud of our product and our service, and I think this shows who I am and the way I approach fishing.
7. What or who caused you to focus on competitive bass fishing?
My first introduction to competitive fishing was as a junior. I earned my Protea Colors* a few times. Then I left competitive fishing to focus on my business. Eventually, I started with competitive fishing when a friend’s father asked me to fish a local club tournament, and from that day forward I was hooked. Now, all I can think of is bass fishing.
*Colors are awarded by a national governing body, South African Bass Angling Association (SABAA) in this case, to anglers who have excelled at the highest level in their chosen sport.
8. How many tournaments do you fish in South Africa in a year, and what are some of your biggest successes?
Without a doubt, qualifying to compete in the Costa FLW Series Championship through FLW South Africa is one of my greatest achievements. I am also proud to have earned both my South Africa Junior and Senior Protea Colors.
I fish a series of tournament circuits every year that keep me on the water most weekends, including SABAA Divisional, SABAA Nationals, FLW South Africa Gauteng Division and EBass.
9. What is your preferred method of bass fishing on your home waters?
Power Fishing. Trolling motor on high, covering as much water as I can.
10. What were your top fishing strategies in Africa that enabled you to qualify for the Costa FLW Series Championship?
I fished completely different than the other competitors, always looking for something different. I like to show fish something different than what the other anglers are using. It was tough to qualify because South Africa has so many top-quality anglers.
11. What do you have to say about the trend toward international competition?
I joined FLW South Africa for the opportunity to fish in the USA. This was a lifelong dream of mine, and when I qualified my dream came true. It took me about a week to realize that I actually qualified to fish the Costa FLW Series Championship and compete against some of the world’s best anglers. Thanks to FLW, many international anglers have been given the same opportunity. It’s a lifetime opportunity to fish the Costa FLW Series Championship with a chance to qualify for the FLW Cup.
12. Was the championship your first trip to America?
It was my first trip to the USA.
13. After qualification, what was your preparation plan? Was it difficult to make practice arrangements? And how much practice did you get?
I didn’t have much preparation. Three days before I left for the USA I was fishing SABAA Nationals here in SA. I did a lot of internet research on Kentucky Lake and a lot of mapping homework. I only had three days practice, one day from a tinny (aluminum johnboat) up at Kenlake Marina and two days on a Ranger boat I borrowed from FLW.
14. Who are your heroes in the world of bass fishing? Did you get to meet any of them at the championship?
Denny Brauer, KVD, Gerald Swindle, JT Kenney and Bryan Thrift. I was very fortunate to meet Bryan.
15. What did you think of Kentucky Lake?
Wow. It’s massive. Completely different from any of our fisheries in South Africa. It’s an amazing Lake. I caught seven different species of fish.
16. What pattern did you develop, and how did it hold up during the tourney?
I developed two main patterns. Firstly, I targeted medium-depth water around 6 feet near schools of shad with a Zara Spook Jr. Secondly, I used an umbrella rig around deep bluffs and sand humps, covering lots of water, looking for bites. In practice, I found fish on rocky banks in medium to deeper water. Once I figured out where the fish were holding I would try and duplicate that on my electronic maps, looking for contour lines and channel edges.
17. How does fishing in Africa compare to American waters? What, if any, adjustments to your style had to be made?
I found that it was totally opposite to our fishing in Africa. We don’t have large roaming schools of shad here, and the baitfish we have do not school the same way, so I adjusted my strategy by using my deep-sea experience, finding baitfish to find bass.
18. Now that you qualified for the Cup at Lake Ouachita, what are your thoughts? Are you confident?
I am honored and grateful to be representing South Africa at the 2018 FLW Cup and hope this will take South Africa’s bass fishing to the next level. I must admit, I am a little intimidated to be fishing the biggest competition in bass fishing, but will put my heart and soul into the Cup.
19. What will you do to prepare for Lake Ouachita? Do you have plans in place?
I will do a lot of homework and mapping and research on the lake. I do not have any plans in place yet but plan to travel across the ocean and practice for at least seven days.
20. What are your future plans? Any thoughts of joining the FLW Tour?
The plan is to fish the FLW Cup in 2018 and join the FLW Tour in 2019. The only things stopping me from joining the Tour in 2018 are some business matters.