Like most all Americans, Alex Wetherell will head to a family gathering at his parents’ home in Middleton, Conn., this Thursday for Thanksgiving supper.
“We do all the traditional stuff with the turkey and all that,” he said, “but my birthday is December 4th, so my mom will usually do something early and mix in some jumbo stuffed shrimp, and that’s always a nice thing.”
Wetherell feels he deserves some nice things this year. A man of faith, he has many blessings, among them was qualifying for the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series in his sixth season of trying.
“God answers prayers,” he said. “It doesn’t always happen in the timing or in the way you think it will. It’s in His timing and His way. I’ve finally had a dream come true that He’s put in my heart for a long time, and you can’t be more grateful than that.”
Wetherell experienced hardship in his attempts to reach B.A.S.S.’s top circuit, but certainly nothing like the Pilgrims, who 401 years ago celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Mass. Like Elite Series two-day cuts — in numbers only — half of the 102 people who left England on the Mayflower died before their first spring. (OK, so maybe it is a little like the Top 50 cut.)
After their arduous journey and winter, Pilgrim survivors had much to celebrate with the indigenous people who helped them produce a harvest the following fall. While their feast was more life-sustaining, Wetherell’s feat is life-affirming.
Starting his journey young, Wetherell became the Junior Bassmaster World Champion in 2010, won a B.A.S.S. Nation divisional in his home state in 2015, and began fishing Bassmaster Opens the following year. He’s led several Opens and came close to qualifying to the Elites, only to suffer the slings of bad tournaments and arrows of equipment malfunction.
In 2022, Wetherell started great and followed through to win the St. Croix Northern Opens point race and secure an Elite invitation.
“It still hasn’t fully set in and it probably won’t until the national anthem of the first Elite tournament at Okeechobee, but it was a huge weight off my shoulders,” he said. “I am so thankful to finally have done it, finally gotten over the hump and made that dream come true, like every kid growing up reading Bassmaster magazine wants to do. That was a really cool moment.”
With seven Top 10 finishes in his 27 B.A.S.S. entries, Wetherell had chances to qualify in previous years, only to get snake-bitten. He’s led in several tournaments then faltered, missing out on the win-and-in berth to the Bassmaster Classic. He admits he began to question his chosen path.
“A year or two ago, I was almost sitting myself down for a heart-to-heart with the Lord,” he said, wondering if he should continue his pursuit. “I feel like this is what I’m called to do, yet I’m constantly having heartbreak and close calls.”
“I was close, not to walking away, but having to really rethink some things. I had been doing this for five years and I keep coming up short. It would have been tough, feeling like I was good enough to qualify for the Elites and yet not being able to. Thankfully, now I give glory to God.”
Having gone through difficult times is in part why Wetherell was able to get past a bad practice for the James River, the first Northern Open of 2022. Knowing a poor start can potentially ruin a season, he turned not finding fish into the positive of eliminating water. On Day 1, he got the season off to a rousing start with a leading 25-pound bag en route to a fourth-place finish.
“I think I’ve matured mentally where external circumstances and situations aren’t affecting me. I’m able to move past those and use them to my advantage,” he said. “I’ve learned a terrible practice doesn’t mean anything.”
Looking back, Wetherell said things clicked in that first tournament and put him on a good path for the next two. He took 10th at Oneida to stand second in points, once again in a great position to earn an Elite invite as he entered the final event on the Upper Chesapeake.
Disaster had hit him before, like in 2017 when two Top 5 finishes sandwiched a bomb finish of 128th. Another time, a blown engine ruined a Top 10 start. So negative thoughts crept into his mind.
“Part of me was starting to think, ‘What’s it going to be this year?’ I felt the pull of the emotional roller coaster,” he said. “Alright God, I’ve been here before and it seems like everything is going to line up and work out perfectly, then I don’t have a good tournament.”
“I need to stop thinking that way. If this is the Lord’s plan for my life, I know I just need to do everything I can do and leave everything else up to Him. From a mental standpoint, I packed all that in and worked through that.”
To prepare for that third Open, Wetherell spent his free time outside work and church researching and then pre-practicing for the huge and unpredictable Chesapeake Bay fishery. Four fish for 10-14 on Day 1 had him worried, but standing 32nd in the event kept him second in points. While catching a limit on Day 2, he actually had less weight but climbed up the standings.
“A limit there was huge. I’m doing math in my head,” he said. “I’m extremely competitive and want to get first in points.”
Things looked good after posting his total of 20-2 and watching only one angler supplant him in the weigh-ins the next hour. He finished 17th to total 572 points on the season, 6 more than Kyoya Fujita who was 11th in the derby.
Wetherell finally qualified for the Elites, with the Northern Division Angler of the Year to boot. Wetherell knows he’s come a long way. Years ago at a Champlain Elite, he had his jaw dropped while rubbing elbows with the likes of well-decorated Elites like Mike Iaconelli, among others.
“I’ve gone from being in awe to now being thankful that I’m going to be competing against them,” he said. “It’s a really cool feeling, and I just want to remain humble and work hard and just be grateful.”
While he’s going in with a stacked rookie class, Wetherell has set lofty goals of winning an event and posting three Top 10s.
“If you fall short, you still do well,” Wetherell said. “I’m going out there and trying to win every single event. I don’t want to show up just to make a check. I’m extremely competitive and want to try to put all the work in to put myself in a position to win every event.”
The schedule is to Wetherell’s liking, with two events in Florida where he’s done well and the first four perhaps requiring bed fishing, which he likes. Smallmouth events up north don’t hurt his feelings, and he said visiting places not on the Elite schedule for some time works to level things for the rookies.
Again, he’s happy to finally make it, joining others who have also been trying to awhile, namely Bradley Hallman and Logan Latuso, who had his father, Robbie, knock him out one year.
“That’s a tough Thanksgiving table,” Wetherell said. “A couple of guys have been like a point away, so I’m sure it will be a nice Thanksgiving for the guys who finally made it this year.”
So Thursday morning, as he has for the past 15 years or so, Wetherell will gather with church members for a Turkey Day football game.
“Right after church, we all go out there and there’s 35, 40 guys. It’s always extremely intense,” he said. “I’m extremely competitive in anything and everything, and I come to win. It’s no joke. Then you go home and eat some nice dark meat turkey … because it’s not dry and actually tastes good.”
Wetherell also knows that the “oyster,” that tender piece in the little spoon-like bone along the back, is the tastiest morsel of a turkey. Of course, for his 30th birthday, he’ll enjoy those jumbo shrimp in butter topped with Ritz crackers and stuffed with what exactly?
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I don’t really ask questions, I just eat it.”
Happy birthday, and happy Thanksgiving!