With Lake Ouachita laying out smooth as glass, Jacob Wheeler knew just what to do when a school of bass began busting shad on the first morning of the Forrest Wood Cup, the FLW Tour’s championship tournament – toss an Arashi® Top Walker on top of them as soon as possible. His instincts nearly netted him his second Cup trophy in four tries. After leading the field the first and third days, the Rapala pro finished in fourth.
“When the bass came up schooling, with bait breaking the surface, I didn’t even stop to put the trolling motor down,” Wheeler recalls. “I literally jumped on the front deck, grabbed the rod with the Top Walker, made a cast in the middle of the schoolers and caught a three-pounder. And that was my first fish of the first morning.”
“So that right there – not even stopping to put the trolling motor down – that split-second decision was key,” he explains. “With those schoolers, sometimes you might only have a five-second opportunity to get a bait to those fish.”
And based on the “slick-calm” condition of the water and weather on Day 1, Wheeler knew the bait to get them to bite would be a Top Walker, Storm®’s newest offering in its popular Arashi line-up.
“That Top Walker shines better than anything, a lot of times, when it’s calm,” Wheeler says. “It’s doesn’t have a real crazy, over-the-top, spitting, sputtering action. It’s a subtle – but still very attracting – action that gets those fish to really commit to it. I caught some quality, key fish on that Top Walker, that helped me stay high up in the leaderboard.”
That’s a position Wheeler’s used to in Forrest Wood Cups – in his five appearances, he’s never finished outside of the top 12. He won it in 2012, finished runner-up in 2013, came in 10th in 2014, 12th in 2011, and now fourth. He’s the youngest angler to win the Forrest Wood Cup.
“It’s all about keeping your head in it,” Wheeler says of his success. “In this Cup – a real tough bite – you’re not going to catch ‘em great every day and you’re not going to find the honey hole probably – there’s not probably going to be one place that’s going to be the deal. You’re going to have to run around and fish by the seat of your pants. And that’s exactly what I did the whole event this year.”
And if stormy weather hadn’t “jacked up the fish” in one of his primary areas on the last day, he stood a good chance to repeat as champion. He started the final day with a 12-ounce lead over the closest competitor. Previously, he had jumped to an early lead, finishing the first day in first place with a 1-pound, 2-ounce cushion over the nearest rival.
‘Just A Little Bit Different’
Available in both a 4-1/4 and 5-1/8 inch models, the Arashi Top Walker walks the dog even when retrieved fast, having been purpose-built to eliminate the missed opportunities all too common with lesser topwater options. Partially flattened sides prevent it from rolling as it changes direction on the retrieve.
“It’s something just a little bit different than anything else on the market,” Wheeler says.
Another little difference was an on-the-water modification Wheeler made during Cup competition — switching out his Top Walker’s rear treble hook and replacing it with a #4 Dressed X-Rap Treble, which features feathers. “Sometimes when I would throw the Top Walker out when the bass were blowing up on shad, they weren’t getting it,” Wheeler explains. “But instantly after I put that feather-treble on, those fish would come up and start committing to the bait so much more. That was really important for me the first few days.”
The X-Rap® tail triggers strikes by imitating the action of a minnow’s tail. A VMC® round-bend premium treble, it’s forged from the finest high-carbon steel. A chemically sharpened cone-cut point provides extremely fast and effortless penetration power.
“There’s just something about feathered trebles sometimes that acts more like a little baitfish, or small shad,” Wheeler says.
Although the Arashi Top Walker was unveiled to the public only last month, Wheeler already considers it a confidence bait. Because Storm is a Respected Rapala Brand, Rapala pros got their hands on Top Walkers back in April. “So I had a little time to play around with them before the Cup,” he says. “I’m really keyed in to little differences in topwaters. And when I messed around with a Top Walker this spring, I could tell that’s it’s a bait that would work really well in calm conditions.”
And those are just the conditions Wheeler encountered each morning in the Cup. Making long casts with the Top Walker to schooling bass was productive from about 7 to 9 a.m. on the first three of the tournament’s three days. His best color pattern was Ghost Pearl Shad.
“I’d get like two or three throwing it to schooling fish in the morning, with one real quality fish,” Wheeler says. “So I’d use those schooling fish every morning to settle myself down before I’d go to the bank.”
In the mornings, he targeted offshore fish suspending at about 20 feet in 50 feet. Shallower pockets with really clear water saw the Top Walker too. In addition to a long-glide, walk-the-dog action, Top Walkers feature four bearings that broadcast a variable pitch frequency, mimicking the sound of schooling baitfish.
Wheeler threw his Top Walker on 17-pound-test Sufix® Siege monofilament line. This was critical because monofilament line floats, keeping the bait running true and on the surface. It also has a good amount of stretch which helps to keeps from tearing the hooks from fish as they near the boat.
Ring The Bell
On the tournament’s final morning, Wheeler found less success with a brand-new bait, and more with a seasoned classic – a Blue Fox® Vibrax.
“I feel like they got used to the Top Walker after three days,” he says. “But that old-school in-line spinner would get those fish to bite when they wouldn’t bite a topwater anymore.”
Although Wheeler didn’t recall the exact size and model of the Vibrax he used, all Vibrax in-line spinners feature a single treble hook trailing at least one Colorado or willow-style blade. The key feature is a unique Vibrax bell, which emits sonic vibration when a free-turning gear rubs against it.
“It’s just something that looks like a small, little minnow,” Wheeler says. “You know it’s going to move fast and they’re going to bite it quickly. It just catches them.”
Wheeler threw the Vibrax with a spinning rod on 6-pound test Sufix NANOBRAID®, a new ultra-thin superline released in July.
“That NANOBRAID would allow me cast so much further and get it into those schools,” Wheeler says.