Perched on the hot seat with seven anglers to weigh in, Bill Weidler had no idea he’d win the YETI Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair, and three weeks later he remains a bit incredulous he scored the breakthrough victory.
“It’s still surreal,” he said. “There’s times that I’ll sit on my couch and look at the trophy and can’t believe I have it. I’ll stumble across a post where somebody has a video of (emcee Dave Mercer) screaming out I won, and it still gives me chills. It’s just been unbelievable.”
Weidler was particularly stunned as his only clue that he was doing well on Championship Sunday were appearances on Bassmaster LIVE and analyst Mark Zona checking on his progress. He thought he might be among the top four, he said. But, unlike the previous three days, Weidler didn’t look at BASSTrakk after checking in. When wife, Darlene, and one of his sons approached before the weigh-in, he told them not to update him — he wanted to go in blind.
“The crazy thing is after checking in, I always looked at BASSTrakk,” he said. “I told her, ‘I don’t want to know.’ I had no idea I was leading the event. I didn’t know if I was fourth, second. I had no idea.”
Anyone following the unofficial leaderboard knew his bag, which ended up being the biggest of the day at 22 pounds, 13 ounces, had him 2 ounces ahead of Cory Johnston and 4 ounces up on three-day leader John Cox. So as he retained the leader’s hot seat the rest of the weigh-in, he was truthful in answering Mercer pessimistically that he probably needed a few more pounds.
“I wasn’t just saying that. I truly did not know where I was,” he said. “My nerves would have been worse if I had known I was leading on BASSTrakk. I went in at eighth, and I’m going up against Chris and Cory Johnston, who are the best at playing that game, and John Cox was leading by 3 pounds. I had no idea. No idea.”
While thinking the next angler up could easily supplant him, he said it got more intense as each failed to top his total of 86-7. Cory Johnston finished half a pound back, with Cox out 11 ounces, Clark Wendlandt 14 ounces and Jake Whitaker 1-5.
It was Weidler’s first victory in 40 B.A.S.S. events, and he proved to himself he was right in thinking he could compete on the Elite level.
“It means the world, not just to me but my wife and the family,” he said. “We have just put everything that we have trying to be successful, going through the hard times as well as the good times. It’s just means the world to us that we can get a victory. A lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot of sacrifices on everybody’s part to try to make this happen.”
Equipment failures this year factored into Weidler being mired near the bottom of the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Going into St. Clair, his outlook was to survive the final northern smallmouth event, but the pro from Helena, Ala., didn’t hold a sunny outlook.
“The struggle with the smallmouth, I was hoping I could just have a good event,” he said. “When we got done with Champlain and St. Lawrence, which I bombed both of those, I joked with my wife, ‘We got one more smallmouth event. I just got to make it through this event.’ That’s literally what was on my mind.”
It might have gotten a bit brighter when, hoping not to get chilled running, he shut down and discovered what would be the winning area in practice. With worries of potential mechanical issues, he checked in early each of the first two days with competitive bags of 20-8. His fortunate find in practice was paying off.