The Vicious Strike of the Bass
“The vicious strike of the bass,” answers pro bass fisherman Brad Whatley when asked what appealed to him about bass fishing.
When bass fishing the angler gets just as excited to hook a fish as the fish gets chasing that one-of-a-kind lure, and since a fish hasn’t told me then I’m inclined to believe the angler.
For Whatley it is a true lifestyle.
The avid fisherman from Bivins and 1998 Atlanta High School graduate practically grew up on a water source of some kind.
“I have been fishing since I was four and learned to clean a fish at five,” Whatley recalls. “I grew up on Caddo Lake with my dad where we had a cabin and if I wasn’t at Caddo fishing for crappie or catfish I was at the pond every day.”
Whatley was never coerced into fishing although both his father and grandfather were avid fishermen during his youth.
“Fishing just came natural to me; it wasn’t like anyone forced me into it,” Whatley said. “I was different than most kids because I spent every moment I could on the water with a fishing pole in my hand.”
Success even came early in life for Whatley.
“I remember fishing tournaments hosted at Mr. Kennedy’s pond, owner of Kennedy’s Western Wear in Atlanta back in those days and winning my first tournament at four years of age,” Whatley remarked. “I was excited to win but more excited that I was able to catch a fish period.”
Memories are made on the water when it comes to fishing. From the first fish reeled in to the largest catch of your life; every angler has a favorite or special memory and Whatley is no different.
“I remember my dad was in town selecting All-Stars at the baseball field and I was fishing with my papaw. I was nine at the time and caught a 7 1/2-pound fish that was so heavy it stripped the gears in my rod and reel,” Whatley said. “I was so excited to show my dad that my papaw drove me to the ball park and I walked through crowds of people watching other games so that I could show my dad what I had caught.”
Whatley and his brother Blake began fishing ponds together as they got older, and the competitive edge came out.
“I am very competitive when it comes to sports and fishing is no different,” Whatley said. “If we sat down and played dominoes I’m looking to win not just play. That’s just how I am about competing with someone.”
Although Whatley played high school sports, he knew early on he wouldn’t be playing those sports in college or beyond.
“I have zero athletic ability but my heart is huge. I am passionate about fishing and I found out you don’t have to be the most athletic person to fish which made it all the better for me,” Whatley stated. “If you can pick up knowledge on how to fish, you can fish well into your golden years.”
After high school Whatley purchased a 17-foot Astro bass boat which he kept saturated with water from Caddo Lake.
Not long after graduating from Texas State Technical College, Whatley earned enough from his job to buy a Ranger Boat and he began competing in local tournaments with a favorable liking towards Lake O’ The Pines.
Whatley and his brother Blake have pursed more than $200,000 at Lake O’ The Pines and it was success like that which got him to thinking he could fish professionally.
“I started winning a lot here in local tournaments so I thought why not try and give it a shot,” Whatley said. “There’s a lot of work, time and money wrapped up into pro fishing. It’s not just a fishing trip you would take with a friend or family member, you are fishing to compete and win.”
“I didn’t have technology at my fingertips or YouTube to go by,” Whatley added. “I loved fishing and competition but didn’t know about true, competitive fishing until my late teens. I didn’t think about going pro until my late 20’s.”
Whatley joined the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open Series and has slowly gained momentum as an angler trying to make it to the Elite Series.
The Bassmaster Elite Series is the highest level of professional bass fishing tournaments.
Competitors must qualify for the series through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens or the B.A.S.S. Nation, and anglers who are already on the Elite Series must re-qualify each year by maintaining enough points throughout the season.
The pro anglers compete all season for the opportunity to win points toward the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year award and to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.
“My first year doing this I missed the Elites by two spots and actually led the tournament at Fort Gibson, but finished fourth in 2016,” Whatley said. “If I could sum up what it’s like to make the Elite Series and Bassmaster Classic is to say the Elite is like making it into the NFL and the Classic is the Superbowl of fishing.”
The 2018 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series includes nine tournaments on prime bass fishing waters, but the series format was changed from three divisions to two with each division fishing four tournaments each.
This will determine qualifiers for the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series and for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic, presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
The Opens Championship winner and the Top 5 in performance points from each division — determined by an angler’s finish in all four divisional tournaments and the Championship —will be invited to the Elites.
The winner of the Championship and the Top 3 anglers in points from each division following the Championship will be invited to the Classic.
The championship is tentatively scheduled to be held Oct. 18-20.
Whatley claimed third place in the first tournament on Mississippi’s Ross Barnett Reservoir, which was his best finish in the Central Opens since he began fishing them in 2015.
In his first year on the Central Opens Tour, Whatley nearly accomplished his goal of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series by finishing 11th in the AOY standings.
The past two seasons have been hard on Whatley, but with one tournament left on this year’s Central Opens Tour, Whatley is up by 21 points.
Whatley, who is a supervisor at Cooper Tire & Rubber Company in Texarkana, has also started his own coaching business where he teaches aspiring anglers how to practice on a lake for a tournament.
“I began a coaching business. Kids can’t learn how to practice for tournaments from a guide,” Whatley remarked. “A guide will stay with them until they catch a fish then they wrap it up and move to another spot. I want them to know the basics of course but I also want them to know there is more to fishing than casting and baiting.”
“I go to whatever lake they want and treat the day just like I’m practicing for a tournament. We are not here to catch fish only but if your kid wants to fish tournaments I will show them how and where,” Whatley continued. “I will show them what to look for on maps and how to read sonar and structure scans on a graph. Coaching is great because you can tell the kids who are forced to go out by parents and the ones who are serious and want to improve their fishing skills. I verbalize everything I’m thinking to the kids. I believe this teaches them how to work to find the fish.”
To date Whatley’s largest bass weighed in at 11 pounds and was caught on his final cast.
“I have won a lot of money on my last cast,” Whatley said. “Some fishermen wrap it up as time to finish draws near but I’ll cast until the final second. Some of the largest bass are caught on the final cast.”
While growing up pond fishing Whatley’s go-to lures were Mepps spinners, Rooster Tail spinners, soft plastic lizards, Tiny Torpedoes and Smithwick Rogues, but when it is crunch time he has one special go-to lure.
“I like using the V&M skipping jig,” Whatley said. “It’s helped me catch a lot of big fish so it’s my go-to lure.”
Whatley’s current sponsors are Quality Building, Phoenix Boats, Mercury Marine, V&M Baits, Amphibian Eyewear, Shipps Marine, Power-Pole, Plenum Medical and Denali Rods.
Of course none of his adventures and ventures would be possible without family support.
“I am truly blessed to have my wife and kids’ support through this because I’m gone a lot with work, coaching and touring,” Whatley said. “Jennifer, my wife, has been 110 percent behind me and if she wasn’t then I wouldn’t be doing it. My wife is a nurse, is very independent and maintains taking care of our three daughters, Haley, 14; Tristyn, 7; and Lexi, 4.”
“Jennifer knows how much I love to fish, most of our dates were fishing trips,” Whatley added. “When I wasn’t sure how to handle work and touring she told me to go and do it. Without family support it would be impossible to fulfill.”
On a final note, Whatley had advice for aspiring anglers.
“If they have the ambition and hopes of going pro, they need to spend enough time on the water to get the feel for it. Videos and YouTube are okay to show you the basics, but to be a pro is knowing when to stay and when to leave,” Whatley remarked. “You get a certain vibe when you are on the water as to where to set up shop and where to go next. The feel of a tug-of-war with a fish is more than you’ll get from a video. There are no shortcuts. You have to put in work just like any other sport or profession. You get out what you put in.”
With those words of wisdom from a local pro angler, it may not be long before you get to experience the vicious strike of the bass.