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.
There’s no authority on which way is right or wrong – each has its own set of pros and cons and many anglers have built successful careers around both models. In looking at Wesley Strader’s 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, he’s settled into a routine that’s 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.
“I look at is as a great success,” he said. “I was 100 percent on all the tournaments as far as checks. I didn’t quite get some of the checks that I would’ve liked to have gotten, but I was 100 percent on checks and that’s always a good thing. I didn’t finish as high as I did in 2011, but it was still a positive.”
‘Poles’ 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 didn’t see the need or value in them.
Then, he tried one and he’s been singing a different tune ever since, and he believes his fishing effectiveness has improved as well.
“I was always dead set against having a Power-Pole,” he said. “In 2011, I installed one on my boat and then after I had one, I said, ‘Well, I have to have two.’
“It’s helped my fishing out a lot, just from the simple point of say you’re fishing a dock or a grass mat and the wind’s blowing. It’s improved my fishing because stuff doesn’t get past me like it would have before, say, if the wind were blowing. Instead of that one cast now, I’m making two or three more casts that had I not had the poles.”
His reluctance to follow along with what most of his peers were installing on their boats was rooted in pure pigheadedness.
“I was just stubborn,” he added. “I’ve just always been old-school. I grew up on the Tennessee River so it was like, ‘I don’t need that.’ Then, after I put one on the boat, I was like, ‘I can’t believe I was that stubborn.’ One’s good, but two’s way better. They’ve been a big help.”
As he enters his 16th full season on Tour, Strader has reached a reflective point in his career. He’s 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.
“The older I get, I look back at how much I’ve learned over the course of the years,” he said. “It seems like every year, you learn a little more about things you’ve done in the past and the situations you’ve been faced with. You have all that stuff stored in your memory bank and it kicks in and becomes second nature. I’m still healthy and I feel as good as I did when I was 18 and I feel like I’m a little smarter.”
You learn patience the older you get and knowing when to go and when to stay. That’s the stuff that takes time. Some people pick up on it a lot quicker, but that’s the thing I think I’ve learned the most in the past 10 years. My whole career has kinda been like that – I’ve always fished by the seat of my pants. I try not to get locked in on one thing that’s dead solid.”
That approach could come in handy this week at Lake Okeechobee, a venue that’s given him fits over the years.
“It’s been a real love-hate relationship, I guess,” he said. “I either do real well there or I don’t do good at all. It’s just one of those things being from where I’m from and how I grew up on a river system. To say the least, I’ve learned a lot in the last 2 or 3 years about natural lakes. It’s more about being in the right area and staying there and not running around.
"I’ve 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 it’ll work out.”
He’d 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 résumé, but if his experience has taught him anything, it’s that every variable needs to fall in place in order for those things to happen.
“I’ve had a few 2nds and I thought I would’ve won another one by now, but everything just has to go right to win,” he said. “It’s just really hard to win. I’ve 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 it’s going to catch up to you one of these days and you’re going to win one.
“I’m not going to say I wouldn’t like to win Angler of the Year because that’s what everybody strives to do and it’s the true testament of an angler. I’d like to win it and I focus on winning it, but you can always look back over the course of a year and it’s 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, it’ll all work out.”