A slim 2 ounces separated winner Wesley Strader and his closest challenger, Cody Detweiler, in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain.
Strader finished with a winning weight of 50 pounds, 5 ounces to punch his ticket to the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, if he competes in the next two Southern Opens. Detweiler weighed in a three-day total of 50-3 to finish as the Open runner-up in the pro division.
Despite a tough practice, Strader bounced back with solid limits each day, including a 13-1 bag in the final round.
“I hadn’t caught a fish over 2 1/2 pounds in all of practice,” said Strader, who won the pro division grand prize of a Nitro Z20 bass boat with a Mercury Pro XS 225-horsepower outboard engine valued at $45,000.
The Spring City Tenn., angler credited the copper rose lenses of his sunglasses for helping him locate spawning fish in practice. When he didn’t have a bite by 11:15 the first morning, Strader ran to the spot where he saw the spawning fish the day before.
“I don’t know what happened overnight, but those fish showed up … and I caught them,” he said.
Throughout the week, Strader caught most of his fish on a Zoom Fluke or Speed Craw but on the final day, all of his winning weight came on an Old School Twin Spin topwater bait.
“Yesterday, I got on a little deal in some hydrilla and caught some on a (homemade bladed jig), so this morning I decided to start there,” he said. “So when I pulled up on that hydrilla bed, they were biting like crazy.”
Despite fishing in 58-degree water, Strader was able to coax bass into slamming the topwater bait. “Those fish came up and smoked it, so I caught every fish on that Twin Spin in about 20 minutes.”
Detweiler relied on a variety of lures to catch his bass throughout the week. He threw a Chatterbait in the rain the whole first day of competition, and when the weather turned sunny the next day, he threw a Humdinger swim jig and flipped a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver with a 1 1/2-ounce weight to isolated mats. He also relied on the swim jig and flipped the Sweet Beaver to mats the final day to catch a 15-8 limit.
Other Top 5 finishers in the pro division were Mark Rose, West Memphis, Ark., third place, 50-1; Eric Panzironi, Longwood, Fla., fourth, 48-2; and Chad Morgenthaler, Reeds Spring, Mo., fifth, 45-4.
Virginia Beach, Va., angler Chaz Carrington flipped a Big Bite Baits Yo Daddy to catch a three-fish 9-10 limit in the final round and win the non-boater division. His three-day total of 25-9 earned him the top prize of a Nitro z18/Mercury 150 Pro XS outboard rig valued at $30,000.
Brad Knight, Lancing, Tenn., and James Bailey, Warrenton, Va., tied for the $750 Big Bass Award on the pro side as both anglers caught 9-6 largemouths. Nathan Bloom, Winter Springs, Fla., weighed in an 8-14-pound largemouth to earn the $250 Big Bass Award on the co-angler side.
Strader received the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $250 for finishing as the top pro on Day 2. Finishing as the Day 2 leader on the co-angler side, Rob Walker of Deland, Fla., received a Livingston Lures gift pack worth $250.
Stader also earner the A.R.E. Top Angler Award of $500 for being the highest-finishing angler using A.R.E. products.
Elite Series pro Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., earned the Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $500.