From his very first cast in a Bassmaster event, Bill Weidler was swinging for the fences. He was “Bassmaster Classic or bust.”
“I bought a brand new Skeeter FX rigged to fish when I entered the opens (in 2013),” said Weidler, who has lived almost all of his 49 years in the Birmingham, Ala., area.
“I was fascinated by the Classic, and I knew if you won an Open, you got into the Classic. So when I saw Logan Martin Lake on the Southern Open schedule that year, I signed up. That’s home water to me.”
Weidler found success on Logan Martin finishing 12th in only the third Open he entered. The 2013 opener on Lake Tohopekaliga in Florida was not kind to him, however, and a 176th-place finish there negated a rousing end to his season.
In 2014, Weidler entered the Bassmaster BASSfest at Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee, largely because it was a “win and you’re in” chance at the Classic. He caught big bass, but he pressed the wrong button on his livewell’s recirculation pump. Four of his bass expired, and he missed the cut. On Toho again for a 2015 Southern Open, Weidler had 20-plus pounds in the boat on Day 2, but he decided to run through some rough water which caused his motor to shut down. He didn’t make weigh-in and missed another cut.
After an unceremonious finish to the 2016 Southern Open Series (he finished 98th, 85th and 76th in three events), Weidler said he finally learned that consistency is the most common denominator in success.
“I was putting too much pressure on myself,” Weidler said. “When I went into the 2017 Opens, I only had the goal to make a Top 20 in each event … I figured them out (and finished 26th) on the Harris Chain down in Florida, which had been my Achillesi heel. Then at Chickamauga for the second open of the year, I stumbled across something that set up to my strengths.”
Weidler finished sixth overall in the Bassmaster Southern Open No. 2 in 2017, which remains his highest finish to date in a Bassmaster event. The performance lifted his confidence, and it was further buoyed when he returned to Chickamauga shortly thereafter for an FLW event that he wound up winning fishing the same pattern.
“That year at Chickamauga is what told me I could compete,” he said.
Weidler finished 33rd at Southern Open No. 3 at Alabama’s Smith Lake later that year to lock up a spot in the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series. But no sooner than he found himself competing on the highest circuit in professional bass fishing did Weidler begin making the same mistakes that plagued him earlier in his career.
“You think you’ll be calm against these guys, especially me,” he said. “I’m 49 and I understand mind games and mental pressure. I’ve been there. You think you can handle it and then you learn real quickly that you can over-fish because you have too much adrenaline pumping. You want to prove you’re worthy.”
Weidler finished 108th on Alabama’s Lake Martin to start his inaugural season on the Elite Series, but he rebounded nicely by finishing 33rd at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. He slid backwards in the standings after placing 103rd at Kentucky Lake, however, and the only check he made the remainder of the year came at Texas Fest, where he earned $3,500 for placing 88th.
Weidler said those numbers are deceiving, however.
“I lost more fish (in 2018) than I want to remember,” he said. “I was fighting through some equipment changes. I kept finding fish, but I kept losing fish. The line was breaking; fish were coming unbuttoned. It was difficult on me, especially the first quarter of the year.”
Like he did after fishing the 2016 Southern Opens, Weidler did some soul searching when the 2018 Elite Series was complete. The cure for what ails him, he said, is to find his comfort zone, and that means going “back to basics,” even if it means turning down a lucrative sponsorship deal with his previous rod and reel supplier.
“Equipment plays a crucial part in our performance,” he said. “For 2019, I elected to not sign with some of the companies I did last year. I’m going to lose some sponsorship dollars and maybe pay for some equipment, but I won’t have to worry about my equipment or my confidence out there. That’s critical.”
Weidler said it’s not that the rod-and-reel combo he used in 2018 was bad, it just wasn’t right for him. So he’s going back to the Shimano setups he used for many years.
“I like the Curado, the Bantam and the G. Loomis GLX series,” he said. “And during the offseason when I’ve been back on the water with my old equipment, I’ve had a first-place finish and two seconds. When I’m on the water with that stuff, if they get the bait in their mouth, they’re coming in the boat.”
And which equipment is better really is irrelevant. What matters is that Weidler uses what he believes is best for him.
“The biggest factor at this level is confidence,” he said. “Period. You don’t have that, you might as well put your stuff on the trailer and head back home. You can’t play with the big boys unless you’re confident in what you can do.”
And it’s not just rods and reels — Weidler said he’ll embrace a low-key approach in all he does during the upcoming Elite Series.
“I’m going to keep things simple,” he said. “I’ve got one thing I’m focused on and that’s finishes. It doesn’t matter what you look like rolling up in your truck. I’ve been there, done that. I’m going back to what works — grass roots, reliable equipment; rod and reel combinations I know I can catch fish on because I’ve done it before.”
A refreshed approach could pay off by the end of the season.
“I think I’m putting myself in position to have a really good 2019,” Weidler said.