Since he first became a competitor in the Field & Stream Total Outdoorsman Challenge on the Outdoor Channel, Chad Weatherford has been in over his head.
At least on the water, anyway. But he has adjusted, and the results have shown it.
Weatherford, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., won the TOC championship as a rookie in 2010 and was the runner-up in 2011. Even now, in his third season as a competitor, his biggest challenges still come on the water.
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Many of the TOC competitors have struggled at fly fishing, primarily due to a lack of experience. But as a life-long bass fisherman, Weatherford said he expected that portion of the competition to come easier.
But the deep, cool waters of Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri – where the TOC’s bass fishing competitions were held -- were as strange to him as a fly rod and rainbow trout.
“I mean, we were fishing in 160 feet of water. 160 feet!” Weatherford said, laughing. “The only place you see water that deep where I’m from is out in the ocean. We fish for bass in shallow water. This was a totally different kind of fishing for me, and I’ve had to work to adjust.”
But throughout his successful run of three TOC competitions, Weatherford said he has grown to appreciate things he previously knew little about.
“I’ve worked on my fly fishing, and I think I’ve gotten quite a bit better,” he said. “I came two or three days before the competition and did a little fly fishing on Lake Taneycomo there above Branson. I was finally able to catch a brown (trout).
“That’s a type of fishing that I’ve really started to appreciate in the three years I’ve been coming to this deal. It’s something I would definitely consider doing again if I had the chance.”
Weatherford, 33, a sales representative for a heating and cooling company, was first introduced to the Total Outdoorsman Challenge when a friend called him about a qualifying event at a Bass Pro Shops in Myrtle Beach. In his first attempt, Weatherford advanced to a regional qualifier in Pennsylvania. He finished fourth – one place shy of reaching the national event.
“But I was hooked after that,” he said. “I knew that once I became better prepared, I would be in better shape. You just have to avoid making mistakes.”
During each of his three years taking part in the TOC, Weatherford has performed the best during the all-terrain vehicle portions of the competition, something that came as a surprise to him.
“I’ve done real well in the ATV stuff the past two years. Not real sure why, but I guess I took to that pretty well,” he said. “I’ve always shot pretty well my whole life – shotgun, archery. But it’s a whole lot more difficult under pressure, under the stress we face in competition.”
Weatherford said he also considers himself to be a strong athlete, an added bonus during the TOC, but he said he never took part in sports during high school. His reasons were based solely on hunting and fishing.
“I’ve always enjoyed hunting everything I could,” he said. “Deer hunting is probably my favorite, but I hunt turkey, I hunt ducks, dove. I even hunt a few kinds of small game.
“I was a pretty good basketball player, but I never played for the school teams. Mainly because of the time it was going to keep me out of the woods. Especially football. ‘We’ve got to practice how many evenings a week?’ That wasn’t for me. I was going to be in the woods.”