Opens profile: Whatley starts strong

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James Overstreet

Brad Whatley of Bivins, Texas, claimed third place at the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open of 2018 on Mississippi’s Ross Barnett Reservoir. It was his best finish in the Central Opens since he began fishing them in 2015.

In his first year on the Central Opens tour, Whatley nearly accomplished his goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series by finishing 11th in the AOY standings. The Central Opens were not as kind to him in 2016 and 2017. He cut only one check in each of those seasons.

With a third-place start at Ross Barnett, Whatley hopes his 2018 season is the one that leads to a career as a professional bass angler.

“It is definitely a dream of mine to make it to the big time,” Whatley said, referring to the Elite Series.

Until his dream becomes reality, Whatley will continue to be a supervisor at the Cooper Tire & Rubber manufacturing plant in Texarkana, Ark.

Although Whatley’s father, Keith, was not a bass angler, he got Whatley into fishing early in life. They had a cabin on Caddo Lake on the Texas/Louisiana border and fished it often for crappie and catfish.

The bass that changed Whatley’s life weighed 4 1/2 pounds. He caught it at age 4 on a Beetle Spin while fishing a kid’s tournament on a 20-acre pond. Whatley won the event and received $50 in $1 bills.

“I thought I was a millionaire,” Whatley said.

A few years later Whatley and his younger brother, Blake, began fishing ponds near home from the bank, something they did well into their teens. Whatley was more fanatical about bass fishing than his brother.

“I was an oddball kid,” Whatley said. “I never wanted toys like other kids. All I wanted was fishing poles and baits. I spent every waking minute on the water that I could.”

Mepps spinners, Rooster Tail spinners, soft plastic lizards, Tiny Torpedoes and Smithwick Rogues were Whatley’s go-to pond lures. He shaved the bills of his Rogues so they would wake the surface when he reeled them in.

“After the bass spawned, I remember how they would hang around when the bream spawned,” Whatley said. “I could reel that Rogue over the top of those bream beds and kill the bass.”

Something Whatley learned from pond fishing that he still stresses today is the importance of being stealthy when fishing shallow. And, because Whatley’s lure arsenal was limited while growing up, he learned how to adapt.

“There are so many lure choices today I think we get caught up in trying to do too much,” Whatley said. “When I’m struggling to find them, I always try to tell myself to keep it simple.”

At 19 Whatley got off the bank when he bought a 17-foot Astro bass boat powered by a 115 hp Mariner. He launched the boat at Caddo Lake at every opportunity.

Although Whatley also played baseball and football growing up, he knew he didn’t have the athletic ability to pursue those sports beyond high school.

“But the good Lord did bless me with a big heart,” Whatley said. “Bass tournaments fulfill my burning desire to compete and win.”

After graduating from Texas State Technical College where he learned to be a diesel mechanic, Whatley moved to Bivins, Texas. His first job was working on Tiger Cat logging equipment for Hillister Tractor. A regular paycheck allowed Whatley to purchase a new Ranger Boat.

He began competing in local tournaments on Caddo, Wright Patman and Lake O’ The Pines. Whatley soon decided to concentrate on Lake O’ The Pines because more tournaments took place there. Whatley’s 20-pound limits were laughed at when he began fishing tournaments at Lake O’ The Pines.

“It generally takes around 30 pounds to win there,” Whatley said. “That lit a fire under me to learn to fish for seven or eight big bites a day instead of 20 or 30. I’ve since won over $200,000 on that lake.”

A Gerald Swindle Video inspired Whatley to step up and compete in the Bassmaster Opens. In the video, Swindle is asked, “When is a person ready to take that next step.” Swindle’s reply is that you are ready when you can consistently win local tournaments.

Whatley is especially thankful for the support he gets from his wife, Jennifer. When Whatley is away fishing a Bassmaster Open, Jennifer maintains a stable home for their three daughters, Haley, 13; Tristyn, 7; and Lexi, 4.

“I really can’t describe to you how blessed I am,” Whatley said. “Jennifer is always 100 percent behind me.”

Whatley recently started a business to help with his Bassmaster Open entry fees. He teaches high school and college kids how to practice on a lake for a tournament. That includes everything from map study to seasonal patterns.

“I go to whatever lake they want and treat the day just like I’m practicing for a tournament,” Whatley said. “I verbalize everything I’m thinking to the kids. I believe this teaches them how to work to find the fish.”

Whatley’s current sponsors are Quality Building, Phoenix Boats, Mercury Marine, V&M Baits, Amphibian Eyewear, Shipps Marine, Power-Pole and Denali Rods.