Once lightning bolts and extremely heavy rainfall finally moved safely away from Lake Fork about 90 minutes after sunrise, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brad Whatley sat dressed in dry Carhartt raingear awaiting the National Anthem, reflecting on simpler times involving simpler lures, before chasing fat largemouth that are chewing on spawning shad.
Whatley made his living as a logging equipment expert not far up the road from Lake Fork, and won roughly $200,000 over the years on Lake O’ the Pines, Texas as an amateur angler.
But after a fantastic 2018 season in the Bassmaster Opens, he qualified for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, and with the full support of wife Jennifer, accepted an invitation to join the Elite Series and give up the logging gig.
While you might think Whatley has probably fished Lake Fork a lot, given its closeness to his home in Bivins, Texas, he confirmed that’s not the case.
“The only time I fished here was at night way back in the day with my dad. We fished only at night here, and we’d tie our old Kingfisher boat up to a tree because we didn’t even have a trolling motor,” Whatley reflected fondly.
Lure choices were simple too. “About all Dad and I threw was a black Hildebrandt spinnerbait with a big #6 Colorado blade, or a firetail colored plastic worm. We stayed tied to the tree most all night, cast them to submerged grass beds all around us, and we’d do just fine,” remembers Whatley.
Now at age 38, things have gotten far more strategic. Whatley was eager to make his first cast after Day 1’s slight lightning delay because he knows the shad are spawning, and the bass are chewing. But that’s typically a low light bite. The earlier you make that first cast, the better your chances.
“I’ll start the day running secondary and primary points, alternating between a topwater and this “wild shad” colored squarebill from 6th Sense. Some of the points are so covered in brush and timber that you can’t hardly get a crankbait through them. But the topwater and sqaurebill are a good one-two punch when you’re chasing the shad spawn,” he says.
Whatley says the sqaurebill will run about 4’ deep on 20-pound fluorocarbon. And if the shad spawn pattern dies, he’ll move to target spawning bass around shallow grass lines.
But even before big thumper spinnerbaits and firetail worms entered Whatley’s tackle box, it was an equally simple Beetle Spin that first filled his soul with a passion for bass fishing ate age four when he won $50 in a kid’s derby on the little multi-species spinner.
Today, let’s cheer for the 5’ 8” God-fearing family man and his signature goatee facial hair to chase down five fat Lake Fork largemouth amid the shad spawn.
Certainly, you can bet he’s fueled by a heart full of memories made in a boat tied to a tree amid night fishing trips here on Lake Fork with his dad Keith. Those were simpler times that ultimately spawned a pro career.