By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

After the angler meeting Thursday afternoon, Wesley Strader headed to a spa in Paris, Tenn., where his wife, Stephanie, had scheduled him a massage in the wake of a grueling three-day practice period in preparation for the Kentucky Lake Elite Series tournament.

“It was one of those get-up-on-me-and-push-as-hard-as-you-can-with-your-elbows massages,” Strader said.

A deep tissue massage is not part of his typical tournament preparation routine, but it might be after this week.

Competing in just his third Elite Series event after a successful 20-year stint on the FLW Tour, Strader carried a 13-ounce lead into the final day, then punctuated the week with a 20-11 stringer to secure his second career B.A.S.S. victory with a four-day total of 80-04.

It was an emotional triumph for Strader, whose only other tour-level victory came at the Lake Ouachita FLW Tour in March 2002.

“It feels sweet,” Strader said on stage. “This is one of those weeks. This just solidifies me. I’m always the bridesmaid. It was one of those weeks where everything went the right way."

Widely known as a consistent check casher and Forrest Wood Cup qualifier, the 46-year-old from Spring City, Tenn., wrestled with the idea of joining the Elite Series in 2018 after qualifying through the Northern Opens. Ultimately, he decided to cross over from the FLW Tour. He finished 31st in the season opener at Lake Martin and 74th at Grand Lake last week before heading to Kentucky Lake where he’s competed numerous times over the years.

“I’ve always had good success at Kentucky Lake,” he said. “I’ve stumbled once or twice, but there’s always a good chance I’ll get a check. I think everybody gets too worried about winning. I just wanted to make the 50-cut and the 12-cut after that. It just worked out how it did.”

Strader held off Skeet Reese, the leader after day 2, after Reese fell one fish short of a limit for the second straight day. Reese’s bag weighed 17-10 and he closed with 76-06.

Kelley Jaye wound up 3rd with 73-06 after bagging a stout 18-07 today. Jason Christie caught 15-03 today, his smallest limit of the week, and finished 4th with 71-08 while Fred Roumbanis improved three places to 5th with 70-05 after catching 16-08.

“I beat a tool drawer full of hammers,” Strader said.

Here's a look at how the rest of the finalists finished up:

6. Josh Bertrand: 69-08
7. Bobby Lane: 68-08
8. Greg Hackney: 66-10
9. Brent Chapman: 65-14
10. Boyd Duckett: 64-09
11. Shaw Grigsby: 60-12
12. Mark Menendez: 56-02

Only six of the finalists recorded a limit today, as some struggled with the sunny skies. Boyd Duckett left the dock in 4th place, but managed just three keepers for 8-08 and dropped to 10th. Josh Bertrand rode a 17-01 stringer from 12th to 6th where he closed with 69-08.

This was not the Kentucky Lake BassFans are used to seeing with bass ganged up on the offshore bars and ledges. The fish were scattered across all three phases of the spawn, making it increasingly challenging to get dialed in on a particular pattern. The water level fell throughout practice, but finally stabilized early in the tournament and that made it easier for some to commit to one technique as the fish filtered into and out of spawning areas.

Details of Strader’s winning pattern and how the rest of the top-5 finishers caught their fish will be published later this week.

The Elite Series takes a week off before heading to Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, for Toyota Texas Fest on May 17-20.

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

Strader caught fish on several different baits today, including a spinnerbait, a frog, crankbait and flipping a beaver-style bait.

Mid-Day Flurry Pivotal For Strader

> Day 4: 5, 20-11 (20, 80-04)

Over the course of an hour during the middle of the day, Strader caught three 4-plus pounders to get over the 20-pound mark for the second straight day. It was enough to gain separation from Reese and it gave Strader a hunch that he might’ve sealed the deal.

“After the third one, I didn’t know what to say, but it felt good,” he said. “There was something specific I was looking for and when I found it, that was it. I kinda knew I was going to pull it out just the way things were going.”

That something specific was a piece of horizontal cover, whether it was a willow tree branch or a laydown in 2 to 3 feet of water. He flipped a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver in the tramp stamp color to those specific pieces of cover.

“I lost a big one before I caught those three and when I lost that one, I knew what I was looking for,” he said. “It was like that moment when it’s like ‘Ding dong.’ It’s what I’d been waiting on the whole tournament. I knew they’d eventually get on that stuff.

“I went to the next tree and caught one. It had to be something horizontal in the water. It’s a typical Tennessee River thing this time of year.”

Asked what were the biggest challenges he had to overcome today, Strader said there were few, if any. He fished calmly and followed his instincts.

“I caught fish in a pocket today I’d never made a cast in,” he said. “I just fished. I got bit when I had zero – I caught one on a buzzbait. Then I caught my limit on docks and went back to that pocket and just relaxed and fished.”

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

Skeet Reese had nearly 10 pounds before 7 a.m. today, but things tailed off from there.

2nd: Frustrating Finish for Reese

> Day 4: 4, 17-10 (18, 76-06)

Reese was the behind the wheel of his big rig Monday night still wondering how he could’ve mustered one or two more bites over the course of the last two days. Two 2-pounders or one 4-pounder would’ve been enough to push him past Strader.

“It eats the hell out of me,” Reese said. “I don’t take that lightly. If there’s one thing that crushes me, it’s not catching a limit. I left two fish on the table. If I catch any two keepers I win this thing.”

Reese started fast today with a 5 1/2-pounder and a 3-pounder before 7 a.m. with a big square-bill crankbait. He thought it was a sign of more good things to come. Instead, he only got two more keeper bites the rest of the day.

“I squeezed everything I could out of it, but it still hurts to drive away without a blue trophy,” he said. “After my first four fish today, I thought I was on track to win it.”

Without much of a discernable current flowing through the lake today, Reese tried to rely on the wind to identify high-percentage areas, but the afternoon game plan didn’t produce.

“They weren’t pulling any water so I figured I could fish the windy secondary stuff instead of chasing shade on docks or trees,” he said. “I thought it would pan out this afternoon, but it didn’t work. If the wind didn’t blow today and stayed slick, I would’ve chased shade.”

3rd: Jaye Breaks Out Of Slump

> Day 4: 5, 18-07 (20, 73-06)

Jaye needed a good tournament this week to reverse the impact of a 100th-place finish at Lake Martin and a 78th at Grand last week. He turned in a career-best finish to get some positive momentum going into the rest of the season.

“I’m glad with the finish,” he said. “I’m still kicking myself for only having 11 pounds on the second day, but to be able to come back from 26th to 3rd in two days against these hammers. I’ll take that.”

He remained committed to throwing a jerkbait in areas where fish were migrating to and from spawning haunts. He caught a 5-pounder to get the day going and went on to catch 12 keepers.

“I jumped off a couple that would’ve helped some,” he said. “I might’ve caught Skeet.”

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

Kelley Jaye rode a jerkbait to a career-best 3rd-place finish.

After relying on a Megabass Ito Vision 110 jerkbait for much of the event, he went to the bigger Megabass Ito Shiner this afternoon and culled three times with it. He tapped into some new water today and caught two keepers there.

“When I saw the forecast I knew what I’d be doing,” he added. “It was a matter of when to hit the next spot. There wasn’t any rocket science to it when I figured where they were holding at.”

4th: Christie Flipped and Flipped and Flipped

> Day 4: 5, 15-03 (20, 71-08)

Christie went out today hoping to reverse the trend of his stringers getting progressively smaller. He sampled some water where shad were spawning, hoping to collide with a couple 6-pounders. He caught one keeper that he later culled with fish he caught flipping. The big fish frenzy never materialized.

“I finally figured out the pattern at noon,” he said. “After you flip 5,000 bushes, you get a bite on the 5,001st one.”

Despite catching 71 1/2 pounds over four days, he figures he only caught 30 to 32 keeper-worthy fish, a startlingly low amount considering the time of year. For the second day in a row, he didn’t finish his limit until the final hour, but wound up culling a couple times before checking in.

“That’s usually the norm when the shad are spawning,” he said. “These fish eat at night and early in the morning and then shut down. It’s hard to get one to bite in the middle of the day.”

5th: No Regrets for Roumbanis

> Day 4: 5, 16-08 (20, 70-05)

Roumbanis was the only angler to score top-12 finishes at Grand Lake and Kentucky Lake so he was pretty worn out Monday afternoon as he headed home to Arkansas.

“I’ve fished 14 of the last 15 days,” he said. “I’m exhausted.”

All the work was worth it as he’ll head to Lake Travis for TexasFest in a couple weeks in 7th place in Angler of the Year points.

He left Kentucky Lake with no regrets about his strategy or decision-making. He bounced back from a three-fish day on Sunday to move up three spots, thanks to another full day of throwing a swimbait. He targeted an area leading into a spawning flat and was able to intercept pre-spawn fish as well as post-spawners.

“I had the winning fish around me. I just didn’t get enough of the right bites,” he said. “I don’t have a single regret. I fished well. I didn’t lose one that I had hooked. I maybe had a couple missed bites, but those were not fish that were hooked.”


> Day 4 stats – 12 anglers, 7 limits, 2 fours, 2 threes, 1 one.

Final Results

1. Wesley Strader -- Spring City, TN -- 20, 80-04 -- 110 -- $101,000
Day 1: 5, 19-06 -- Day 2: 5, 17-13 -- Day 3: 5, 22-06 -- Day 4: 5, 20-11

2. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 18, 76-06 -- 109 -- $25,000
Day 1: 5, 23-11 -- Day 2: 5, 21-10 -- Day 3: 4, 13-07 -- Day 4: 4, 17-10

3. Kelley Jaye -- Dadeville, AL -- 20, 73-06 -- 108 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 22-00 -- Day 2: 5, 11-14 -- Day 3: 5, 21-01 -- Day 4: 5, 18-07

4. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 20, 71-08 -- 107 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 20-13 -- Day 2: 5, 18-15 -- Day 3: 5, 16-09 -- Day 4: 5, 15-03

5. Fred Roumbanis -- Russellville, AR -- 18, 70-05 -- 106 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 17-15 -- Day 2: 5, 22-11 -- Day 3: 3, 13-03 -- Day 4: 5, 16-08

6. Josh Bertrand -- San Tan Valley, AZ -- 20, 69-08 -- 105 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 20-02 -- Day 2: 5, 13-15 -- Day 3: 5, 18-06 -- Day 4: 5, 17-01

7. Bobby Lane Jr. -- Lakeland, FL -- 20, 68-08 -- 104 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 20-07 -- Day 2: 5, 18-02 -- Day 3: 5, 15-03 -- Day 4: 5, 14-12

8. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 20, 66-10 -- 103 -- $12,500
Day 1: 5, 16-14 -- Day 2: 5, 19-09 -- Day 3: 5, 16-02 -- Day 4: 5, 14-01

9. Brent Chapman -- Lake Quivira, KS -- 19, 65-14 -- 102 -- $12,000
Day 1: 5, 17-04 -- Day 2: 5, 18-04 -- Day 3: 5, 19-05 -- Day 4: 4, 11-01

10. Boyd Duckett -- Guntersville, AL -- 17, 64-09 -- 101 -- $11,500
Day 1: 4, 14-02 -- Day 2: 5, 24-00 -- Day 3: 5, 17-15 -- Day 4: 3, 8-08

11. Shaw Grigsby Jr. -- Gainesville, FL -- 17, 60-12 -- 100 -- $12,500
Day 1: 5, 19-12 -- Day 2: 5, 20-13 -- Day 3: 4, 13-07 -- Day 4: 3, 6-12

12. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 16, 56-02 -- 99 -- $10,500
Day 1: 5, 16-00 -- Day 2: 5, 20-09 -- Day 3: 5, 16-01 -- Day 4: 1, 3-08