Brad Whatley had a great St. Lawrence River tournament, beginning Championship Sunday in 8th place. But Day 4 was a struggle.
For the first three days Whatley made the longest run of any Elite angler, racing 70 miles through waves and wind from Clayton on the St. Lawrence River to Oswego on Lake Ontario. He’d fish for a few hours, then turn around and make the 70-mile run back.
“If I can get away from people I will,” he said. “I’m that guy.”
That was very evident when I looked at the BASSTrakk map early in the tournament. No other anglers were within 10 miles of Whatley.
That strategy got the 2nd year Elite into the top 10, with bags of 19.6, 19.8 and 21.11. But with a strong wind blowing today he decided not to make the run to Oswego.
“I thought it might kill me,” he said, without a touch of irony in his voice. “There’s no way I could win the tournament today, so why take the risk of hurting myself, my cameraman, and my equipment?”
He already had a mechanical problem and began Day 4 in Lee Livesay’s boat.
This morning Whatley began his day fishing in a marina 15 minutes down river from Clayton. After about 90 minutes his good friend Livesay arrived driving Whatley’s newly repaired rig.
From there Whatley worked his way north on the river. He caught a 1 pounder; then an hour later he caught a 2 pounder. After another 60 minutes he hooked up with a 4-pounder, but it broke off.
“This is just not my day,” he said.
But he was fishing on Day 4 of an Elite Series tournament, and that meant a lot to him. So Whatley kept fighting. He didn’t lose his cool. Slowly, ever so slowly he built a limit of five fish by 1:00. It was only 7 pounds, but his best fish of Day 4 were yet to come.
At 2:00 Whatley boated a 3.5, and 25 minutes later he landed a 4 pounder. He also lost two good ones. But Whatley made it to 14.1 for the day.
When I talked with him at the dock early this morning Whatley had no idea where he would fish on the river today. “I’ve only practiced in Lake Ontario.”
Despite that, and despite equipment problems, Whatley kept fighting until the final bell rang, putting together a solid day and a great tournament. He gained some valuable Angler of the Year points, and showed that a 2nd year Elite from Texas can compete on a legendary smallmouth fishery.
“Last year I started out strong and was 15th in AOY before we headed north,” he said. “Then the wheels came off the bus for me. I put it in the ditch up here and I couldn’t get out. But I’m learning. I don’t have any smallmouth mentors. But I learned a lot this week.”
I’d say so. Ninth place in a top 10 filled with smallmouth hammers? The young Texan has learned well.