The 2017 season was the fourth time Alabamian Bill Weidler had competed in the Bassmaster Southern Opens. Things didn’t go his way in his first three attempts, but he ended up kicking bass the last time around.
Past Florida tournaments had been Weidler’s undoing. But at the first 2017 Southern Open on the Harris Chain, he came away with 26th place. Weidler finished sixth at the next Southern Open on Lake Chickamauga, ended up 33rd at the final Southern Open on Smith Lake and landed at fifth in the final AOY standings.
Weidler believes part of the reason for his recent success is that he changed his goals. In 2017 he was fishing to qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series. Previously, he wanted to win one of the Southern Opens and qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.
“I put so much pressure on myself to win that I couldn’t settle down and fish right,” Weidler said. Instead, he aimed to make the top 20 in each tournament, and it made him unbelievably calm when it came to fishing in the 2017 Opens.
The 47-year-old engineering director was not introduced to bass fishing by his family, as is often the case. The instigator was Kyle Castile, whom Weidler met at Shades Valley High School when he was a sophomore. On weekends the teens launched a johnboat rigged with a trolling motor at one of the two 85-acre lakes on Birmingham’s Oak Mountain State Park.
“We’d be there when the park opened at daylight,” Weidler said. “We’d throw a buzzbait and a Texas rigged worm and that was it. At that time a 3- or 4-pounder was a brute.”
As with many young bass anglers, Weidler watched Bassmaster tournament coverage on television and idealized Kevin VanDam. KVD is two years Weidler’s elder.
“That put a burning desire in me to get into the big tournament scene, but I didn’t have enough money to do it,” Weidler said.
At age 21, Weidler began working in the family business, Hi-Tech Environmental. He was exposed to every facet of the business from working as a mechanic in the shop to being a draftsman.
It was around this time when his mother, Kathy, bought a 15-foot bass boat with a 75 hp outboard for her wayward fishing son.
The boat allowed Weidler to expand his horizons and begin fishing pot tournaments on Lay Lake and other waters close to home. In 1996 Weidler purchased a 20-foot Nitro powered by a 225 hp Mercury outboard.
“That’s when I started pushing it,” Weidler said. “I fished more local events and a lot of night tournaments. It wasn’t uncommon for me to fish a Friday night tournament, and then fish a tournament the next day out of the same marina.”
Around 2008 the success of the family business allowed Weidler more time to pursue his fishing passion. Before taking on the Bassmaster Opens, he felt he needed to up his game to the point where he was doing consistently well in tournaments in the Birmingham area.
“Local bass anglers around Birmingham have done well on the big state when they get there,” Weidler said. “I knew if I could do well competing with those guys day in an day out, I’d be ready for the Opens. It took a few years to get there.”
A buzzbait is still a crucial part of Weidler’s bass arsenal. His other strong suits are flipping and swimming a jig, which is what did the job for him at the Harris Chain and Chickamauga.
“I caught bass less than 12 inches deep at Harris and Chickamauga,” Weidler said. “Give me a flippin’ stick and 65-pound braid and I’m happy.”
Weidler’s sponsors in the Bassmaster Opens were Triton, Mercury, Simrad, Netbait, Airport Marine, Fitzgerald Rods and Power-Pole.