Brad Whatley is on the verge of the best Elite Series finish in his two seasons on the tour. It would be a fitting capper to his near disaster of a year. The 40-year-old angler from Bivins, Texas, was having a good year until Lake Champlain. He was coming off his first-ever Elite Series Top-10 finish — ninth at the St. Lawrence River. Then took a 75th-place nosedive at Champlain.
Then the real disaster hit. After driving 15 hours to Detroit for the Lake St. Clair tournament, Whatley was minutes from his hotel when another driver fell asleep at the wheel, hit his truck in the rear bumper and slid down his boat and trailer. Whatley's truck flipped.
"I can't use that as an excuse," Whatley said. "I had so many people come to my rescue. Maybe half the field called or texted. People I don't even have a relationship with were asking what I needed. And Phoenix boats came through in a big way. They brought me a trailer and a tow vehicle."
Whatley finished 60th at St. Clair, then 51st at Lake Guntersville. And he was well outside the Classic cut. Then he began the slow climb back — 39th at Santee Cooper and 20th at Chickamauga. Entering Lake Fork, Whatley was right on the bubble for Classic qualification — 39th in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
"I knew my back was against the wall when I came here," Whatley said. "I knew I had to catch 'em."
That he has done. Whatley entered today's final in sixth place. At 1:45 p.m., he'd moved up a spot to fifth. And he's currently 29th in AOY points, well within the cut for the Classic, which will be held at Lake Ray Roberts in his home state of Texas. It will be his second Classic. Whatley finished 56th in AOY points during his 2019 rookie season.
"I am excited about that Classic," said Whatley, after his comeback from a near-disaster of a season was complete this week.