By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Bill Weidler hadn't made many good on-water decisions at smallmouth-dominated fisheries in the past. Last week at St. Clair, it seemed as if he had some supernatural help in that department.

"I just didn't make any decisions without feeling like I was being led," he said after his unlikely victory in the fifth Bassmaster Elite Series event of the season at one of the world's most renowned bronzeback venues. "Something drew me to the place where I stopped my boat and when I'd play my worship music (by the contemporary Christian band Crowder) it seemed like fish would swim right into my scope."

With a 4-day total of 86-07, the 50-year-old from Alabama outdistanced runner-up Cory Johnston by 8 ounces and three-round leader John Cox by 11. His $100,500 payoff was roughly equivalent to what he'd earned his previous 39 B.A.S.S. tournaments combined.

"This definitely boosts my confidence," said the 3rd-year pro. "I never had any doubt that I could compete with these guys, but execution is the deal. I'm just glad that everything worked out like it did."

Didn't Travel Far

Weidler, whose most significant previous victory was the 2017 Southeastern FLW Series event at Lake Chickamauga, spent the tournament in Anchor Bay, just a short jaunt from the launch in Harrison Township, Mich. He fished all 4 days on a single tank of gas.

"I didn't know what I was looking for when I got there I didn't know anything about the lake," he said. "The only person I talked to was Scott Canterbury; he'd been up there several times and he gave me an idea of what to look for, like scattered grass, patchy sand, grass lines and things of that nature."

He found his primary locale on the second day of practice. The discovery was borne of an aversion to feeling chilled.

"I don't like being cold and I had a hoodie and all my rain gear on when I started driving," he said. "I was still cold, so I decided to stop where I was and wait till the sun got up a little higher. I had the wind to my back, so I started drifting and I caught 26 pounds in 2 hours."

He boated two fish that were in the 6-pound class and the place which featured scattered grass intermixed with "clean spots" that were devoid of vegetation in about 15 feet of water seemed to harbor a bunch that were 4 1/2 pounds or bigger.

"I thought I might've found something special, but I didn't know how special until I started talking to some other guys."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

A 2-acre area in Anchor Bay served as Weidler's primary area throughout the event.

He caught identical 20-08 stringers on the first 2 days to say within striking distance of the leaders, then moved into the Top 10 (8th place with a 22-10 haul on day 3. His 22-13 bag in the final round, which included a pair of 5 1/4-pounders, was the biggest of the day.

He said his primary area was 800 to 1,000 yards in length and covered perhaps 2 aces of surface water.

"A lot of the fish were big rogues that were cruising and sometimes they were semi-grouped up. If the bait wasn't in a clean area, I usually wouldn't get bit. Very seldom did I catch one right on the grass line."

He caught 19 of his 20 weigh-in fish on a dropshot rig and the other was enticed by a Ned rig. He checked in a half-hour early on each of the first 2 days and 20 minutes ahead of his deadline on day 3.

"I've had some mechanical or electrical issues that have kept me from competing for the full 2 days several times this year," he said. "I didn't want to take the chance of something happening in that real rough water."

Winning Gear Notes

> Dropshot gear: 7'6" medium-light Temple Fork Outfitters rod, 4500-size Daiwa spinning reel, 20-pound Vicious braid (main line), 8-pound Vicious fluorocarbon (10' leader), 3/8-ounce cylindrical weight, size 1 Owner Mosquito Light hook, Strike King Baby Z-Too (gray glimmer shad).


> Weidler's previous best finish this year was 57th at Lake Eufaula. His win moved him up from 85th (last among anglers who've fished the full season) to 71st on the points list.

> It was the second Top-10 finish of his Elite Series career he was 6th last year at Lake Lanier.