After winning the first Bassmaster Open of 2016 on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain, Wesley Strader is on track to accomplish what he failed to do in 2015 — qualify for the Bassmaster Elite Series.
The Tennessean finished seventh in the 2015 Northern Open point standings. The top five point-getters in each of the three Bassmaster Open divisions receive an invitation to compete in the Elite Series. If any of those anglers refuse the invitation, which often happens, the B.A.S.S. tournament staff reserves the right to work down the point list until they find anglers willing to fill the five spots. However, this is not guaranteed.
Unfortunately for Strader, all the top five anglers in the 2015 Northern division took advantage of their opportunity to compete against the world’s best bass anglers on the Elite Series. Had Strader qualified for the 2016 Elite Series, he would have faced an unforeseen conundrum.
For the past 20 years, Strader has competed on the FLW Tour where he has amassed career earnings of $1,344,138 and gained the support many sponsors. In 2016 some of the Elite Series and FLW Tour events are scheduled for the same week. Strader would have had to make a tough choice between the two tours.
This season Strader is doubling his odds for qualifying for the Elite Series by fishing the Southern and Northern Bassmaster Opens. If he pulls it off, Strader plans to fish the Elite Series and the FLW Tour in 2017, provided there are no conflicts in the schedules.
Strader lives in Spring City, Tenn., with Stephanie, his wife of 20 years, and 18-year-old daughter, Madison. 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., which is 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 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 paired up and 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. Three signature flat-sided balsawood crankbaits that Strader designed are available from PH Custom lures and also on his website www.straderfishing.com.
Strader’s sponsors currently include: Ranger, Evinrude, Hellas Construction, Auto Park of Athens, Tenn., TH Marine, Power-Pole, Powell Rods, Stan Sloan’s Zorro Bait Co., Reins Tungsten, Trokar, Gamma, Fishhead Spin, PH Custom Lures, Typhoon Sunglasses, Lew’s, Lowrance and Rayjus Performance Apparel.