Jacob Wheeler can do a lot of things on the water exceptionally well, but keeping secrets isn’t one of them. Shortly after prematurely revealing the CrushCity Freeloader to the fishing world via a victory at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, he once again spilled the beans on a yet-to-be-released bait – the CrushCity™ Ned BLT™ – via a third-place finish in a Bass Pro Tour tournament on Lake St. Clair. From the far south to the far north, he’s quickly and efficiently spreading the word about Rapala’s new soft plastics.
Not Just for Ned Rigging
“Any time you’re talking about smallmouths, a smaller profile tends to get more bites,” Wheeler said. “The Ned BLT is the ultimate Ned Style bait. It has a tapered tail that allows for a lot of action, even when you’re not moving it. In fact, I think I typically get more bite when I’m not imparting any action. It’s also made of a special TPE plastic that’s super high-floating, but what I don’t talk about a lot is that it’s not just for Ned Rigging.
One of my favorite things to do is to use a Ned Style bait on a dropshot. That’s what I was doing at St. Clair.”
He wasn’t just casually drop-shotting. Rather, he had six dropshot rods on the deck at all times, all rigged with 3/8 ounce VMC® tungsten teardrop-shaped weight and the same #2 VMC® Redline Series™ Finesse Neko Hook.
The key was the color that he used. Typically once Wheeler locks into a preferred color selection he doesn’t switch much, but at St. Clair, he saw that the smallmouths, — and particularly the larger ones – had distinct preferences at certain times.
“It really seemed to matter,” he said. “When it was cloudy, I’d use Green Pumpkin Magic or Green Pumpkin Watermelon, but when it was sunny they wanted something more pearlescent, so I used Goby.”
So why six rods?
“It was all about efficiency,” Wheeler explained. “I was catching 50 to 75 smallmouths a day, so it was important to be super-efficient with my time. The more fish I caught, the better chance I had of catching 4-pounders. That’s why I had three Green Pumpkin variations and three Goby-colored versions of the same bait on the deck.”
Finding Them and Fooling Them
St. Clair is notoriously fertile, but also remarkably deceptive.
“You need 4-pounders to win and it’s easy to get sidetracked catching a bunch of 3 to 3 ½ pounders,” Wheeler explained. “There are so many of those 3-pounders it’s insane. It’s all about getting in the right zones.”
That might seem to indicate a need to constantly move, but Wheeler noted that he sometimes needed to hunker down in those best areas and play a game of patience. His best retrieve did not involve shaking or hopping or moving the Ned BLT, but rather letting the natural current do its thing.
“Smallmouths tend not to want a lot of action,” he said. “So it’s all about not trying to overwork it. That seemed to hold true. I’d pitch it in and see them run down to the bait, but if I moved it they would not bite.”
He frequently had to break one of tournament angling’s cardinal rules, though – he left fish to find more fish. Sometimes the moves were just a hundred yards or so, while other times they required a longer haul. Not getting sidetracked or messing up his rotation required incredible discipline. He found that most of his best fish were in the 14 to 17-foot zone, and most importantly they were holding in voids in the grass, or in transition areas where the grass went from thick to thin.
The Right Line Matters
Wheeler’s ultra-efficiency depends not just on having the perfect soft plastic and terminal tackle, but also the right line. That starts with his main line of 8-pound test Sufix® NanoBraid®.
“I use it exclusively on my spinning rods,” he said. “In fact, it’s the same line that I used to catch almost 30-pound bags at Guntersville. It’s super-thin, but durable and doesn’t drag in the water. It gets down faster and your baits will act more naturally, especially when there’s a lot of wind. It just keeps your bait down. I believe it helps me get 25 percent more bites.”
He attached a leader of 10-pound test Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon, which does not retain memory and provides unmatched clarity, which was key because while St. Clair’s smallmouths can be voracious, they’re not dumb. One wrong move or connection and they won’t bite.
Looking Forward to Making History
Heading into St. Clair, Wheeler, the two-time defending Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year, thought he had no chance of a third consecutive title.
“I was down 50 points, so I wasn’t even thinking of it,” he said. “But now, thanks in part to the Ned BLT, I’m 7 points down, in second place. That changes my mindset big time.”
He’s packed tightly in a group of four competitors – including Rapala teammate Ott DeFoe – separated from top to bottom by a grand total of 10 points.
“It’s going to be so interesting to see how it plays out,” he concluded. “Now that I have the chance, I’ve thought about what a huge deal it would be to ‘threepeat’ and I’m excited.”
The final event of the season will take place August 1-6 on Michigan’s Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River. At least by that point the rest of the new CrushCity additions will have been introduced to the world at large, so he’ll have to find some other way to give up the goods.