To kick off the first day of the 2019 Cherokee Casino Tahlequah Bassmaster Elite at Lake Tenkiller, Texas pro Brad Whatley is on the outside looking in.
Whatley, a rookie on the Elite Series, is holding down 55th place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year rankings. The Top 50 move onto the AOY Championship late next week where a $1 million purse will be paid out.
From there, the Top 42 will earn a berth to the coveted Bassmaster Classic in March 2020.
"That’s the goal — to fish the Classic. That’s always the goal,” Whatley said. “This is a big week for me, but I’m not going to fret it. I dug myself in to a hole this year, and the only way out of that slump is to keep pushing.”
The 39-year-old pro knows his season hasn’t gone as planned, but he’s not losing any sleep about it.
“First thing in the morning, I’ve got to catch three good fish and I’ll have a shot at making the AOY Championship cut,” he said. “At Tenkiller, those might be 3-pounders. Fish like that will go a long ways at this event. And if I swing and miss, I'm going to finish the tournament strong, head for home and regroup for 2020.”
Both largemouth and smallmouth bass need to measure 16 inches at this Oklahoma lake, and that means a lot of quality fish are going to be thrown back and not make it to the weigh-in.
“The biggest bass will most likely be caught first thing in the morning, and by 10 a.m. I’ll know if I'm going to St. Clair or not.
“That’s the nature of the slump, though,” he said. “There are times when you just can’t do anything right, and then there are times you can do no wrong. I'm on the backside of a slump, and my goal is to blow the top off of it tomorrow.”
Nobody likes to talk about doing poorly in the bass tournament world, but Whatley just smiles through it.
“There’s a lot on the line this week, but it is what it is,” he continued. “If I don’t pull out of the slump this week, you can bet it'll happen soon. Slumps just don't last forever.”