Throughout the course of his two-decade career as a tournament bass pro, MLF Select angler Wesley Strader has built a successful resume around following his instincts on the water. It’s been an asset in his fledgling MLF career as the East Tennessee pro proved to be a threat right from the first Elimination Round he fished in Alpena, Michigan in 2015.
Now, after 42 Top 10s and 272 tournaments under the FLW banner, Strader is following his instincts to the Bassmaster Elite Series.
Strader, a second-year MLF pro, has accepted an invitation to join the Elites in 2018, a change of venue that he and wife Stephanie agonized over since the minute Strader locked up his Elite qualification at the Douglas Lake Open in early September. That 22nd-place finish secured Strader first place in the Northern Open points race and set into motion the decision-making process to switch trails after 21 years on the FLW Tour.
“It hasn’t been an easy couple of months trying to figure it all out, but ever since I qualified I’ve had a feeling in my gut telling me ‘Dude, don’t pass up this opportunity again’,” Strader says. “I dearly love FLW and everybody over there – it’s such a great platform for all of us who just want to try to fish for a living – but at this point in my career and at this age, I think a change is good.”
Strader previously qualified for the Elites in 2002, but declined that invitation because of both family and sponsor responsibilities. He won the 2016 Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida to qualify for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic, and then doubled down in 2017, fishing both the Southerns and Northerns in an effort to qualify for a second consecutive Classic.
The collateral result: three Top 25s and 562 points in the Northerns, and a slew of ensuing conversations with both sponsors and fellow MLF anglers who have made the move from FLW to the Elites.
“I called up Brent Ehrler, I talked to Jason Christie, heck, I called up all my old buddies who made that transition,” Strader admits. “I have a whole bunch of friends who have been through the same process, so I’ve had plenty of input.”
Heading into November, Strader was still on the fence about the decision, but B.A.S.S.’s Nov. 2 announcement of the site of the 2018 Toyota Texas Fest (Lake Travis in central Texas) gave him the final nudge that he needed. Strader’s title sponsor – Hellas Construction – is based in Austin, Texas, less than 25 miles from the Texas Fest tournament site in Jonestown.
“I mean, you couldn’t have put up a marquee sign that said it any louder: ‘Wesley, you need to fish the Elites!’,” Strader jokes. “I think everybody knows how important the sponsor part of this whole deal is, but to have an event basically in Hellas’ hometown seemed like a no-brainer. Like, I can’t NOT fish that.”
As he and Stephanie begin to piece together travel arrangements and scheduling for 2018, Strader admits to being “kinda excited and nervous at the same time” about the change from the familiarity of the seven-tournament FLW schedule to possibly fishing 11 events on the Elites.
“I’m not nervous at all about the competition,” Strader says. “It’s not like I’m changing professions, I’m just going to work at a different company or transferring to a different part of the country. It’s just a change trying to find people to rent houses with, that sort of thing. I’m really excited about going to places I’ve never been before like the Sabine River, Lake Oahe and the Thousand Islands. I fish by the seat of my pants, so I’m just going to keep my mind open and do the things I do best.”