Matt Milatz (@milatz_matthew on Instagram) is a rare breed in his Pacific Northwest neighborhood of Puyallup, Washington. You see, in a part of the United States renowned for its salmon, steelhead and trout fishing, Matt is a bass reeler.
“When I was kid, I started out fishing rivers and stuff for salmon,” he says. “My dad was a total river freak.”
One day, Matt decided to try his hand at bass fishing on a nearby lake.
“It was my first time out,” he said. “And I totally killed it.”
It’s a common theme — and pun — among reelers, but Matt was hooked. He turned his back on the rivers and lit out for the local lakes.
Matt started fishing tournaments and meeting up with others in the Pacific Northwest bass angling community, like Austin Redding.
“Yeah, I fish with Austin—I’m going out with him as soon as I get off the phone with you,” Matt laughed.
These days, Matt fishes 11-14 tournaments a year, mostly Northwest Bass or club tournaments.
“But usually all the biggest tournaments in Washington,” he says. “I just won back-to-back tournaments. One had 146 anglers.”
He’s also gone as far afield as Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky Lake, Tennessee — the latter for the Costa Bassmaster High School National Championship Tournament.
“We did pretty well,” Matt says of the 240-angler tournament.
Closer to home, Spanaway Lake is his go-to fishery.
“Spanaway is awesome,” Matt says. “It’s got both largemouth and smallmouth, and you can get them almost year-round.”
Largemouth are his favorites.
“I’m all about the size,” he says. “Oh, I know smallmouth can get get big — I pulled a seven-and-a-half pounder out of American Lake— but I like the largemouth.”
On Spanaway, Matt chases largemouth in spring and summer and then goes after the smallies in the fall.
“In the spring, I’m looking for flats with a drop nearby, and in summer I’m looking for the fastest ledges or the coldest, moving water — or docks. Docks are almost always good,” he says. “In the fall, I look for ledges, but not as steep.”
Matt’s tried and true is a Senko rig.
“I like to drop football heads down ledges or skip them under docks, or even dragging,” he says. “The bass don’t have as much competition for food in the lakes around here, so topwaters aren’t as effective. You’ve got to get the bait to them.”
Part of is the fish that the bass are competing with.
“Out east, you throw a crayfish or bluegill pattern,” Matt says. “But here you want to mimic a fingerling or trout.”
And this type of knowledge is exactly the type of thing the keeps getting Matt back out on the water.
“Every time I go out, I try and learn new things,” Matt says. “I rarely go to a body of water and do the same thing. I try and challenge myself with new ways to fish.”