By Todd Ceisner
Depending on who you talk to, the measure of success at the professional level in bass fishing can take on a number of forms.
For some, their success is measured merely by wins and ultimate triumphs. The top of the leaderboard is the only slot that really matters to them and anything short of that qualifies as some form of a failure. For others, success is rooted in being consistently good and waiting in the check line at each event. Wins are a priority, but being in the hunt holds just as much weight.
Thereís no authority on which way is right or wrong Ė each has its own set of pros and cons and many anglers have built successful careers around both models. In looking at Wesley Straderís fishing dossier, one could reason that he fits the latter profile perfectly. The Tennessean tends to agree.
His lone win at the tour level came early in his career (2002 at Lake Ouachita) and ever since, heís settled into a routine thatís seen him cash checks with great regularity. Only once (2004) since 2002 has he failed to cash more than three checks in a season. His best showing in 12 career Forrest Wood Cups, where every competitor earns a check, was the 8th place he posted at the 2005 event at Lake Hamilton in Arkansas.
Last year was much of the same. He was steady enough to earn money in each Major and finished 13th in Angler of the Year points, which clinched him a second straight berth in the Toyota Texas Bass Classic.
ďI look at is as a great success,Ē he said. ďI was 100 percent on all the tournaments as far as checks. I didnít quite get some of the checks that I wouldíve liked to have gotten, but I was 100 percent on checks and thatís always a good thing. I didnít finish as high as I did in 2011, but it was still a positive.Ē
ĎPolesí Slowed Him Down
When the topic of his consistency was raised, he was quick to point out how reluctant he was to invest in a Power-Pole, let alone a pair of the shallow-water anchors. Simply put, he just didnít see the need or value in them.
Then, he tried one and heís been singing a different tune ever since, and he believes his fishing effectiveness has improved as well.
ďI was always dead set against having a Power-Pole,Ē he said. ďIn 2011, I installed one on my boat and then after I had one, I said, ĎWell, I have to have two.í
ďItís helped my fishing out a lot, just from the simple point of say youíre fishing a dock or a grass mat and the windís blowing. Itís improved my fishing because stuff doesnít get past me like it would have before, say, if the wind were blowing. Instead of that one cast now, Iím making two or three more casts that had I not had the poles.Ē
His reluctance to follow along with what most of his peers were installing on their boats was rooted in pure pigheadedness.
ďI was just stubborn,Ē he added. ďIíve just always been old-school. I grew up on the Tennessee River so it was like, ĎI donít need that.í Then, after I put one on the boat, I was like, ĎI canít believe I was that stubborn.í Oneís good, but twoís way better. Theyíve been a big help.Ē
As he enters his 16th full season on Tour, Strader has reached a reflective point in his career. Heís in the best physical shape of his career, a product of being a duck guide in Texas over the winter and trudging up to 50 miles a week with waders on.
ďThe older I get, I look back at how much Iíve learned over the course of the years,Ē he said. ďIt seems like every year, you learn a little more about things youíve done in the past and the situations youíve been faced with. You have all that stuff stored in your memory bank and it kicks in and becomes second nature. Iím still healthy and I feel as good as I did when I was 18 and I feel like Iím a little smarter.Ē
You learn patience the older you get and knowing when to go and when to stay. Thatís the stuff that takes time. Some people pick up on it a lot quicker, but thatís the thing I think Iíve learned the most in the past 10 years. My whole career has kinda been like that Ė Iíve always fished by the seat of my pants. I try not to get locked in on one thing thatís dead solid.Ē
That approach could come in handy this week at Lake Okeechobee, a venue thatís given him fits over the years.
ďItís been a real love-hate relationship, I guess,Ē he said. ďI either do real well there or I donít do good at all. Itís just one of those things being from where Iím from and how I grew up on a river system. To say the least, Iíve learned a lot in the last 2 or 3 years about natural lakes. Itís more about being in the right area and staying there and not running around.
"Iíve always wanted to get there and run around like a chicken with its head cut off. There and Lake Champlain, you cannot do that. You have to pick an area and stay in it and stay with it and eventually itíll work out.Ē
Heíd love to get into the mix for the Angler of the Year award before long, start to develop a regular presence in the Top-10 and, of course, put another Tour victory on his rťsumť, but if his experience has taught him anything, itís that every variable needs to fall in place in order for those things to happen.
ďIíve had a few 2nds and I thought I wouldíve won another one by now, but everything just has to go right to win,Ē he said. ďItís just really hard to win. Iíve based my whole career on cashing those $10,000 checks and making the championship every year. If you continue to do that, the odds say itís going to catch up to you one of these days and youíre going to win one.
ďIím not going to say I wouldnít like to win Angler of the Year because thatís what everybody strives to do and itís the true testament of an angler. Iíd like to win it and I focus on winning it, but you can always look back over the course of a year and itís always one or two bites that you lost and the points you lost because of it that haunt you. If you could just go through every tournament and capitalize on every key bite, then at the end of the year, itíll all work out.Ē