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Opportunity Knocks for Wesley Strader

Opportunity Knocks for Wesley Strader
Wesley Strader

It’s been almost 20 years since Wesley Strader fished his first FLW Tour event, a Kentucky Lake tournament held in May 1997 in which Strader finished 11th.

Back then, Strader was just a young guy trying to make it as a professional bass angler. There were bills to pay, and he wasn’t paying them all on the water. Plus there was a lot of pressure.

Though an upstart among pros at the time, Strader was hardly a newcomer to the sport. He’d fished BFL events and local tournaments at home in east Tennessee prior to his Tour debut, and, as the son of avid bass angler Bud Strader, Wesley was more or less brought up in the outdoors as part of his “indoctrination” into the bass fishing world.

Still, he wasn’t the Wesley Strader that everyone in the bass fishing business knows today: a perennial AOY contender, the cut-up who’s good for a laugh even on the tough days, the grinder who seemingly always catches a limit no matter where the Tour visits and one of the steadiest pros in the game.

In the seasons between 1997 and now, Strader has laid down a foundation of consistency on which he has built a successful career. He hasn’t won a lot – just once on Tour, actually, plus a B.A.S.S. Southern Open – but he’s been able to smooth his peaks and valleys into more of a rolling landscape of successes and failures by focusing on catching five bass a day and letting the chips fall where they may. It’s been a career based on business but not bling and simply earning a living by doing what he loves and what he’s become very good at.

Strader’s part of a contingent of FLW’s elite pros whose roots date back to the late ’90s. His contemporaries include Andy Morgan, David Dudley and Clark Wendlandt. The only difference is that each of those three has been able to put together the string of successes necessary to win multiple AOY titles, whereas Strader is still seeking his first.

This season might provide Strader’s best chance yet at getting over the AOY hurdle. The Tour schedule sets up for a series of shallow-water duels, which fits his strengths, and he’s fishing better than ever. His performance over the past eight seasons ranks among the best on Tour. During that time, Strader hasn’t finished lower than 23rd in the AOY race, and he’s been a perennial contender in the Forrest Wood Cup.

There are other accolades at stake as well. When Strader won the B.A.S.S. Southern Open last spring, he qualified for the upcoming Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe. It’ll be the second Classic appearance of his career. He’s also in the midst of a potentially record-setting streak of catching 45 consecutive limits in FLW Tour Major competition, which is just five shy of Cody Meyer’s all-time mark.

Yet if he has anxieties about setting the record, competing in the Classic or winning Tour AOY, Strader’s not showing it. While the outdoor media focuses on the stats and the records, he says he’ll only be focusing on fishing in 2017.

 

Wesley Strader

The record that Strader’s not talking about

A month or so ago, FLW Director of Public Relations Joe Opager sent an email around to FLW staff members regarding an interesting stat: Wesley Strader has an active streak of 45 consecutive limits in FLW Tour competition (including Tour Majors, Invitationals and the Cup). The current record is 50 straight limits and was set by Cody Meyer in 2014.

Strader could break Meyer’s record as early as the second tournament at Lake Travis, but he isn’t the only angler with a chance to establish a new benchmark this season. Five other anglers have active streaks that give them a mathematical shot at passing 50, including David Dudley with 38, Michael Neal and Jeff Sprague with 28, Jimmy Reese with 27, and Andy Morgan with 20. But Strader has the best chance of bettering Meyer’s mark.

Consider that none of those anglers has won a Tour event during the course of this latest active streak. Yet each has made a strong bid for the AOY title or qualified for the Cup – or both – during that time. What it suggests is that just catching five fish each day is how a tournament angler makes a living and stays in contention for point titles. But to win, you have to gamble sometimes, and when you gamble you occasionally go bust.

From Strader’s perspective, he’s not counting to 50. He’s only worried about counting to five every day. In fact, he didn’t even want to acknowledge that he has a chance at breaking the record.

“I don’t even look at that [the record],” he says. “That’s the whole goal of every fisherman: to catch a limit every day. If you catch a limit, the big ones will come. If you can figure out how to catch five fish you can go a long way in this industry.”

Strader is proof of what he preaches. The five-keepers-a-day strategy has allowed him to stay in the game for as long as he has.

“My whole deal is, it’s all about cashing a check,” he says. “If you can ‘top-50’ in each tournament, you’ll be right there close to contend for AOY. And if you get two or three top 10s thrown in, you can be right there at the top. I’ve always been about getting a check and being able to move on to the next one.

“I’ve always been good at being able to catch fish. I may not always catch the biggest ones, but I feel like I can catch fish with the best of anybody.”

 

Wesley Strader

More on AOY

Two seasons ago, Strader led the AOY race going into the fifth stop at Lake Chickamauga. “The Chick” isn’t Strader’s true home lake, but it’s literally just down the road from his home, and he got to sleep in his own bed during the tournament. In terms of his proximity to the fishery, he was a local.

Unfortunately, Strader struggled. He finished 77th and lost his AOY lead, eventually finishing sixth in the point standings. It was Strader’s highest career AOY finish, yet the disappointment stung.

Getting over the near miss, he says, is just part of being a professional angler.

“I think to be in this sport you have to be a mentally tough guy,” says Strader. “You can see the guys that are mentally tough and can face any kind of adversity like it never happened. You have to be mentally tough because you’re going to have more bad days than you are good days. You’re going to see opportunity slip away, so you have to be mentally prepared.”

In 2017, he’s been deemed a favorite for AOY, but he says he’s not focused on that milestone either.

“You know, like I’ve said over and over again, I usually have one debacle during the course of the year that throws me off,” says Strader. “If I could ever get past that I could get it, but I’m pretty sure if Andy Morgan is fishing, it might never happen. He might have to retire.”

Strader’s getting a helping hand to get over that “one debacle” hurdle in 2017. With seven tournaments on the schedule instead of six, a guy could win AOY without having to be quite so perfect, which presupposes that an angler focused on consistency overall has a better shot than ever at winning the year-end title.

“It kind of puts you a little bit at ease because you know if you mess up on one it gives you a little bit more of a buffer,” he says. “It will change the outcome of AOY. It’s going to be a little tighter.”

 

Wesley Strader & Scott Suggs

Having fun and a crew change

When Strader became a Tour professional two decades ago, times were a bit tougher. He was recently married, and, like a lot of aspiring pros, he didn’t have a portfolio of sponsors to help him out.

“It was fun when I started out, but it was more stressful,” he says. “When you’re first starting out like me, I had a limited amount of money. I had to cash a check before I could go to the next one. I didn’t have sponsors. My dad helped me out a little bit, but I was working a full-time job and paying my entry fees, and if I didn’t make a check I didn’t go on to the next one. It was all on me. And the good Lord has blessed me to have a pretty good career, but those were the stressful years.”

These days, Strader gives bass fishing his best effort, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously when he’s doing it. His laid-back attitude might help account for some of his recent success.

“I think I have more fun now than I used to, just because of the people I’m around,” he says. “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years in the fishing industry. Great people like Luke Dunkin, Shad Schenck, Scott Suggs – and I know I’m going to forget some people. I have more fun on Tour now than I ever have because at each event I get to see my friends. That’s the thing about it; yeah, it’s a job, but I still get to see my buddies. I look forward to each event.”

As friends go, Strader has seen some changes to his road crew in recent years. His wife, Stephanie, has been travelling with him to tournaments for the last few seasons and helps him manage his sponsor relationships and social media accounts. After the 2015 season, Strader’s travel partner, Shad Schenck, retired. Strader and Luke Dunkin, a Tour newcomer who works in sales and marketing at T-H Marine (one of Strader’s sponsors), have since become travel companions on the tournament trail.

Strader had travelled with Schenck since 2002, and they spent offseasons hunting and guiding other hunters together. Over the years they grew to be close friends. Even though he and Schenck still hunt together (on Facebook, Strader recently documented a sea duck hunt with Schenck in the Boston area) and he wasn’t alone on the road in 2016, Strader acknowledges that he felt the blow of not having Schenck in his corner as a pal and confidante at tournaments last season.

“He’s more than a friend,” Strader says of Schenck. “He’s kind of like another brother from another mother. I love him like I do members of my family. I spent as much time with him as I did with my wife almost. So, I don’t know, it’s difficult. I really missed him last year, and to be honest with you I wish he’d come out of retirement.”

 

Wesley Strader

Looking ahead

The 2017 Tour schedule and the fisheries where it will play out should provide Strader with a golden opportunity to have a great year. He ought to have plenty of confidence stored up in the wake of his recent string of successful seasons.

Will this be the year he finally wins AOY or a major title, such as the Classic or the Cup? The Tennessee pro certainly wants to achieve either or both goals, but he’s not obsessed with them. Win or lose, he’ll still be around in the coming seasons, doing what he does, catching five fish a day, cashing checks and having a heck of a lot of fun being Wesley Strader.

Tags: wesley-strader  flw-tour  curtis-niedermier  angler-features 

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