Most anglers have heard tales of a bite so hot, you could catch ‘em as fast as you could reel ‘em in, but few have experienced it. Yet that’s where Rapala® Pro Jacob Wheeler found himself last week in New York, where Sufix® line and VMC® hooks helped him win a bass tournament in which every fish 2 pounds or heavier counts. And he wasn’t alone – at least half the anglers he bested were on a crazy-hot big-smallmouth bite as well.
So, if everyone was catching big smallies as fast as they could reel ‘em in, how did Wheeler win? Reel ‘em in faster, of course! Heck, he even boat-flipped a few!
His successful strategy? He up-sized his Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon leader line so he could reel in the smallmouth he caught quickly, without playing them out, denying them an opportunity to make aggressive runs and jumps.
“This week I really beefed up my leader line,” Wheeler said during Major Legue Fishing’s live broadcast of the Bass Pro Tour tournament he won on the St. Lawrence River. “If the leader line’s strong enough and you can get their head up, it’s how you fight ‘em [to land them more quickly]. … If you’re not getting their head up out of the water, as soon as those suckers get the opportunity to get their heads down … you’re just fighting them for minutes and minutes on end.”
While other championship-round contenders were throwing baits on 6- to 8-pound-test leader lines, Wheeler said, he was throwing his on 12-pound Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon. Lighter-pound-test line can easily break when a big smallie makes a bull rush, acrobatic leap or tail-walks. But with his 12-pound-test Sufix Advance Fluoro, Wheeler did not waste valuable time playing out each fish he hooked.
“Getting them in boat a little quicker” was “key,” Wheeler told majorleaguefishing.com. “If you can generate the bites on 12- or 14-pound test, you’re way better off.”
For every two bass Wheeler boated in, say, 30 seconds or less, he bought himself an extra minute to cast for and catch another bass. Over the course of three periods in the championship round, those extra minutes added up – and so did Wheeler’s impressive catch count and weight total. When the smoke cooled on the hot bite, Wheeler was far out of reach of any other competitor, having caught 35 bass that weighed a combined 129 pounds.
Wheeler connected his 12-pound-test Sufix Advance leader line to 8-pound-test Sufix Nanobraid. “I have a lot of confidence in it,” he said. “It works for me.”
Wheeler caught his bass on VMC-armed drop-shot rigs, Tokyo Rigs and Ned Rigs. “Sometimes … being on the bottom, or being up higher on a drop-shot really made a difference,” he told majorleaguefishing.com.
Wheeler’s drop-shot rig comprised a No. 4 VMC Finesse Neko Hook, a ½ oz. VMC Tungsten Drop Shot Weight and a blue-and-copper, 3-inch Ned-style soft-plastic stickworm. His Ned Rig comprised a ¼ oz. VMC Ned Rig Jig (a new product to be released this month at ICAST) rigged with pink and blue-and-copper Ned-style soft-plastic stickworms. His VMC Tokyo Rig was weighted with a ¾-oz. VMC Tungsten Slider weight and dressed with a white 3.3-inch soft-plastic creature bait.
“The Tokyo Rig, I could throw a ¾ oz. weight on it and there were fish that I could not get them to bite [the Ned Rig Jig], but they would bite this,” Wheeler told majorleaguefishing.com. “And I boat-flipped a 5-pounder on this exact technique and exact set-up. I was throwing [it on] 30-pound braid, 17-pound [leader] line – big line – just boat-flipping them, which was like the best feeling!”
Wheeler’s win on the St. Lawrence River was his second MLF Bass Pro Tour win of the season. He’s now third in Angler of the Year points, behind leader Ott DeFoe, a fellow Rapala Pro.
Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour tournaments are catch-weigh-release competitions. All bass caught that meet a minimum weight are considered “score-able” and count toward a competitor’s daily weight total. In one qualifying round, Wheeler caught 47 bass that weighed a combined 165 pounds and 1 oz. In the two qualifying rounds combined, he caught 66 bass that weighed a combined 222 pounds, 1 ounce.