Jacob Wheeler wins again. This time it was a late May Bass Pro Tour event on Guntersville, but at this point in the young phenom’s career, the headline virtually writes itself. He doesn’t miss the mark often.
It’s no secret why he’s so good: There’s a relentless competitive drive, a God-given talent, and a fearless level of versatility. There are no holes in his game. Well, maybe one. If there’s a single thing that the young pro isn’t good at, it’s keeping a secret.
We’re over a month away from ICAST when Rapala® and other brands will unleash upon the fishing world their latest and greatest products, but Wheeler’s already let the cat out of the bag – he won this tournament with one of Rapala’s soon-to-be-released soft plastics, a swimbait named the Freeloader. Let the clamoring for the early runs of them begin today.
“It’s got a ‘W’ before we even launched it,” he laughed. “I’ve never been so excited to fish with a new product.”
Finesse Pays Dividends Everywhere
Guntersville, an impoundment of the Tennessee River in north Alabama, is one of the vaunted playing fields of professional bass fishing, noted for turning up big limits and as a testing ground for big baits and power fishing techniques. At the same time, it gets a ridiculous amount of pressure. These may be the most educated largemouth bass on the planet. That’s why Wheeler kept his mind open to finesse techniques that the traditional Bubbas might reject.
He started the tournament as part of Qualifying Group B, with a solid 20-15 on Day One. That had him nearly 10 pounds out of the lead for his group, but less than two pounds behind second place. It would take a little help, and some surgical strikes, to challenge for the win.
When the Day One leader faltered a bit, Wheeler made up some ground on his second day of competition, bringing in a 22-8 bag of largemouths to cut the lead down to 3-6. That’s a sight that no early leader, whether a veteran or a hotshot rookie, wants to see, the hottest angler on earth breathing down his neck, just one good bite away and getting better. Wheeler came out of the Qualifying Round in second place.
That impressive position doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Once again, Wheeler proved that he’s not only a master technician but also an incredible tactician. The BPT format divides the 80 angler field into two groups that fish on alternate days. After two days of competition for each group, half of the field is eliminated, weights are zeroes and the remaining 40 compete against each other. Then they’re winnowed down to 10, carrying over their previous day’s weight to the final round. In the earliest qualifying portions of this tournament, once Wheeler had enough weight to move forward – which generally happened quite early — he laid off his primary fish and went scouting for more. He had the potential to catch more, but fishing against the best anglers in the world he knew that fish that wouldn’t help him early might be critical late. So when slight upgrades weren’t needed he increased his understanding of Guntersville’s bass with his eyes on the ultimate prize.
On Saturday, Wheeler kept his foot on the gas, again improving, this time with five bass for 29-8, to establish a 5-01 lead on his nearest contender, fellow Rapala pro Ott DeFoe. He closed it out on the final day with another 25-plus pound bag, outperforming the field and seemingly coasting to victory by a margin of over 9 pounds.
A Jig and Swimbait System
“The whole goal of this product line is that everything had to have a purpose,” Wheeler said of the yet-to-be-introduced plastics and their brethren. His purpose for them, as in everything he does, seems to be winning. He wouldn’t comment on them except to say that they have a “unique action” that made the most of his “shake and bake” presentation, but the plastics benefitted from the VMC® Hybrid Swimbait Jig.
He used the jigs in sizes from 3/16 to 3/8 ounce depending on the depth he was fishing and the amount of wind he was experiencing on the big Alabama impoundment.
“The key is that it has that hybrid hook,” he explained. “It’s more of a Sproat-style hook with a little bit of a bite. The hookup ratio is absolutely phenomenal.”
The Importance of Light Line
Again, Wheeler’s tremendous track record results because he leaves nothing to chance. Every element of his fishing equipment is torture-tested and proven, and they all work in concert to make him a superior fishing machine. A big part of that this week was his Sufix® NanoBraid.
It wasn’t heavy braided line like that favored by many Guntersville hammers, or even the 10 or 15 pound test used by many spinning gear aficionados. Instead, on the way to catching his best 10 Championship Round bass that averaged just a hair under 5 pounds apiece, he favored 8 pound braid.
“That was the unsung hero,” he said. “Leader line is not as important as your main line. The majority of the line that you have in the water is braid. That was the key this week, to be able to impart action into that bait.”
Jacob Wheeler may not be great at keeping secrets, but this week the fishing world once again saw how and why he’s building a Hall of Fame career. It’s a system built for success, and built upon the best tools available.