Tennessean Wesley Strader qualified for the 2018 Bassmaster Elites Series by seizing the Bassmaster Northern Open’s 2017 AOY title. Although Strader has been an FLW Tour pro for more than 20 years and has amassed winnings of over $1.5 million, qualifying for the Elites was no gimmee for him.
Strader nearly made the cut for the Elite Series when he finished seventh in the 2015 Northern Open point standings. Only the top five point-getters received an invitation to compete in the Elite Series.
In 2016 Strader doubled his odds for qualifying for the Elite Series by fishing the Southern and Northern Bassmaster Opens. After winning the first Southern Open of 2016 on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain, Strader appeared to be on track to accomplish what he failed to do in 2015.
Although the win gave Strader a birth to the 2017 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe in Texas, he wound up 16th in the Southern Open’s final AOY standings. He decided not to fish the last Northern Open of 2017 after biting dust with a 108th place finish at the second event of that series on the James River.
At the Conroe Classic, Strader landed in 28th place. Apparently, he enjoyed competing against top-level Elite Series pros because he signed on for the 2017 Southern and Northern Opens. It was winning the Northern Open AOY title that punched his ticket to the Elites. Strader also made a good showing in the Southern Opens, claiming 20th place in the AOY standings there.
Strader lives in Spring City, Tenn., with Stephanie, his wife of 22 years. Stephanie travels with Strader to all of his tournaments and handles the “business side” of his professional fishing career.
Spring City is a short cast from Rockwood, Tenn., where Strader grew up. Rockwood overlooks the Phillips Branch arm of Watts Bar Lake. Phillips Branch served as the schoolroom for Strader’s bass fishing ABCs. Strader claims that his father, Bud, was one of the local hot sticks at Watts Bar.
“He had me using a baitcaster by the time I was 8 or 9 years old,” Strader said. “I grew up fishing mainly worms and jigs.”
When Strader was 12 years old, his parents bought a 14-foot johnboat powered by a 6 hp outboard so that he and his brother Shawn, who is two years younger, could fish Watts Bar. However, the brothers were limited to one cove in Phillips Branch. Until Strader was 15, his mother, Sandy, had to accompany the boys when dad was working. His mother spent many long days in the johnboat under a hot sun so her boys could pursue their passion.
“That’s when the bass bug really hit me,” Strader said. “The johnboat didn’t have an electric motor. We paddled around and learned how to fish without a depthfinder. We knew every rock, stick, tree and brush pile in that cove.”
It wasn’t until Strader was 17 years old that he seriously got into tournament fishing. He and his father found a used Bullet bass boat with a 150 hp outboard that had been dinged up from falling off its trailer.
“My dad traded a used truck and some cash for that boat,” Strader said.
Strader and his father entered their first team tournament the very next week. They didn’t do well, but the experience set Strader’s destiny in motion.
For the next several years, Strader fished team tournaments with his father, club tournaments, local tournaments and regional bass circuits. When Strader competed in pro-am tournaments, his father would enter as a non-boater so his son could fish with the boat.
“I got to learn different lakes and styles of fishing all over the South,” Strader said.
In 1997 Strader fished his first FLW Tour event. It was on Kentucky Lake. He finished in 11th place and used the winnings to secure deposits for all the FLW Tour events the following year. He has been a full-time bass pro ever since.
“My strength is shallow water fishing,” Strader said. “I like to visually see what I’m casting to. It goes back to my johnboat days. But, I’m not handicapped if have to fish offshore.”
One of the many things that Strader’s father passed down to him was the craft of whittling homemade wood crankbaits. Signature balsawood crankbaits that Strader designed are offered by PH Custom lures.
Strader’s sponsors include Ranger, Evinrude, Hellas Construction, TH Marine, Power-Pole, Powell Rods, Stan Sloan’s Zorro Bait Co., Reins Tungsten, Trokar, Gamma, PH Custom Lures, Lew’s, Lowrance, Zoom, Orion Coolers and Rayjus Performance Apparel.