Shortly after he caught a 4-pound, 4-ounce bass on a Rapala® DT®-6 early in the championship round of the 2019 Major League Fishing Challenge Cup, Jacob Wheeler began to feel like something special could happen. And indeed it did.
When Wheeler’s boat official called “lines out” that afternoon, Wheeler had dominated the competition on North Carolina’s Badin Lake, winning with 19 bass weighing a combined 51 pounds, 5 ounces – 21 pounds, 5-ounces more than the runner-up caught.
“You knew at that point in time, the quality that I was catching, I knew I was up,” says Wheeler, a Rapala Pro. “It was not that easy to get a bite down the lake.”
After catching the 4-pound, 4-ouncer on his DT-6 (in the “Penguin” color pattern), the next seven out of eight bass Wheeler caught weighed three pounds or more. He caught each in four to six feet of water off a nearly 100-yard stretch of shoreline where current was hitting the bank the hardest.
“So those fish would keep replenishing,” Wheeler explained.
He fished the same stretch of bank three separate times, catching several good-size bass each time, targeting a barely visible current seam.
“I pulled up and caught three on three casts … or four casts, but really quickly,” Wheeler recalled. “And I realized how much they were relating to that current. …
“They were actually grouped up,” he explained. “When I got a bite, I knew there were multiple fish in that area.”
Wheeler’s Rapala DT-6 was a “big key to success” in locating and triggering those fish, he said in a Facebook post. “I was able to cover water efficiently and put them in the boat each round. It is one of my favorite shallow-water water crankbaits and can always be found in my arsenal.”
“DT” stands for “dives to.” A DT-6 dives to six feet. Fished in four to five feet of water, it will bump and grind into the bottom, deflecting off rocks and other obstructions – and that’s when you get bites.
“Absolutely crushed them on a Rapala DT-6,” Wheeler said in another Facebook post about his Challenge Cup win.
Built of balsa wood, Rapala’s signature material, DT’s swim with an inimitable tight wobble and can back out of shallow cover better than copycat crankbaits, floating up and minimizing snags.
Wheeler also caught scorable bass on a spinnerbait dressed with a Storm® 360GT Largo Shad as a trailer. Largo Shads feature boot-tails that produce strike-inducing action on both the retrieve and during free fall. They can be customized by cutting or removing a unique tail tendon for a wider tail action.
“I’m big on throwing something that’s unique than what other people are throwing on a lot of our fisheries,” Wheeler said. “The Largo Shad’s profile and action both are completely different than anything that is available on the market.”
When throwing both his DT-6 and spinnerbait-Largo Shad combo, Wheeler was targeting a slightly deeper strike zone than he suspects other anglers were targeting.
“Every single bite that I got, I started to understand a little bit more why those fish were there, and where they were set up and what they were doing,” he said. “After I caught that big one, I started to understand that they were a little bit further off the bank. …
“And that really made me slow down a little bit more,” he explained. “I was taking my time and letting that bait get down. … I was really trying to get it down there to where I thought those fish were living.”
Several other competitors were targeting shallow grass and water willow, which MLF commentators had predicted would play significantly in the winning pattern. “I guess it didn’t really materialize,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler’s 2nd Cup Win; World Championships Next
North Carolina’s Uwharrie Lakes Region hosted the Challenge Cup. The competitors fished first on High Rock and Tillery lakes. The championship round was held on Badin Lake, a 4,900-acre reservoir located between High Rock and Tillery. All three waterbodies are on the Yadkin Chain of Lakes.
Wheeler’s win on Badin Lake awarded him a second Major League Fishing Challenge Cup Trophy. He won the Cup in 2017 as well.
“To win this event to close out the year, it’s a special thing, because you don’t get that many opportunities,” Wheeler said. “So when those opportunities come up, you definitely want to make hay and get it done.”
Wheeler’s Cup win on Badin qualified him to compete in MLF’s 2019 General Tire World Championship tournament, which is being broadcast on CBS this month and next. The World Championship Shotgun Round 2 will be broadcast on Saturday, June 29, from 2-3 p.m. ET. Wheeler is competing against 12 other anglers near Vidalia, Louisiana, on backwaters and oxbows of the lower Mississippi River.
“To be on CBS and have that opportunity, it’s pretty dang cool,” Wheeler said. “And the format’s a little bit different. And that’s what’s cool about it as well. There’s a fewer amount of guys and we all want to win it.”
MLF 2019 World Championship TV Schedule
Watch Wheeler – and fellow Rapala Pro Mike Iaconelli – compete for the 2019 General Tire World Championship on CBS on the following dates and times:
Saturday, June 29 (2-3 p.m. ET) – Shotgun Round 2
Saturday, July 6 (2-3 p.m. ET) – Elimination Round 1
Saturday, July 13 (2-3 p.m. ET) – Elimination Round 2
Saturday, July 20 (2-3 p.m. ET) – Sudden Death Round
Saturday, July 27 (1-2 p.m. ET) – Championship Round