With momentum still in his favor following his 2021 Angler of the Year win, Rapala® Pro Jacob Wheeler last week rolled to another exciting top-10 finish in Major League Fishing action, finishing 8th in the 2022 Bass Pro Tour Stage 1 tournament in Louisiana. To advance from the qualifying rounds to the championship round, relied on a new Rapala® crankbait, Sufix® line and VMC® tackle.
“It feels good to start the year off with a top-10,” Wheeler said. “It’s been an unbelievable week out here in Louisiana.”
Wheeler caught his first bass of the tournament on a Rapala OG Tiny 4 thrown on 10-pound-test Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon line. The OG Tiny 4 is a new flat-sided, finesse-size balsa crankbait. Advance Fluorocarbon is the most supple, sensitive and strong fluorocarbon line Sufix has ever engineered. Sufix® and VMC® are Rapala® Respected Brands.
Later in the qualifying rounds, Wheeler caught several of his bass by pitching a dropshot rig comprising a main line of 8-pound-test Sufix® NanoBraid®, a 10-pound test Advance Fluoro leader, a 1/4 oz. VMC Tungsten Tear Drop Weight and No. 1 Finesse Neko Hook dressed with a Texas-rigged finesse worm.
To advance to the championship round, Wheeler leaned on the best fluorocarbon line Sufix has ever made to hold onto the best day of competitive fishing he’s ever enjoyed. In the exhilarating smash-fest that was the knockout round, he caught nine largemouth weighing a combined 43 pounds, 7 ounces. Each of those bass, including two over 7 pounds and a 6-pounder, came into his boat on Advance Fluorcarbon. He caught them “skipping, pitching and casting” around Cypress trees and boat docks, he said.
“Today was absolutely unbelievable!” Wheeler said after winning the knockout round. “I had the best day of tournament bass fishing I’ve ever had.”
Wheeler’s confidence in Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon, he has said, includes “knowing that when I pitch into that heavy cover and I hook that big one, I’m going to be able to get it in.”
Advance Fluorocarbon features a higher density index than traditional nylon lines, a quality that helps anglers feel bottom and bites better. That’s invaluable “intel of what’s going on down there” on the bottom, Wheeler has explained. “That can be the difference of having a bad day or having a great one.”
Another benefit of a higher-density line like Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon is that it will convey your bait four times faster down to the strike zone than will old-school nylon line. And baits that work best fished on or near the bottom will get bit even better, thanks to Advance Fluorocarbon’s virtual invisibility underwater.
Colder-than usual temperatures in and around the Stage 1 tournament’s host city of West Monroe, LA, made bites tougher come by for many anglers. “These fish are awful cold,” Wheeler said in the MLF NOW! webcast of the Group B Qualifying Round. “Tough fishing – wintertime to spring-time transition can be very difficult.”
OG Tiny 4 Delivers Big on Day 1
The new OG Tiny 4 was designed by Wheeler’s fellow Rapala Pro, Ott DeFoe, a three-time Bass Pro Tour winner and 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion. “OG” stands for “Ott’s Garage,” the location of the workbench at which DeFoe carves and sands prototypes of baits he designs.
“Ott did pretty good with that little plug,” Wheeler said last Sunday during the first Qualifying Round, after catching his first bass of the 2022 season, a 2-pound, 6-ounce largemouth.
Built of balsa wood, Rapala’s signature material, the OG Tiny 4 is essentially a shorter, lighter version of another flat-sided, balsa crankbait DeFoe designed, the OG Slim 6. The OG Tiny 4 swims with a tight balsa-wood wobble and a subtle action – similar to a Shad Rap, but in a smaller package.
“My desire with that bait was to get an action very similar to that of a Shad Rap but have it in a different profile,” DeFoe has explained previously.
Mission accomplished, according to Wheeler.
“Yes sir, got a little OG Tiny in the mouth,” Wheeler said last Sunday in an MLF NOW! live webcast just before unhooking and weighing the 2-pound, 6-ounce largemouth that got his season started. He caught it near a sea-wall in five to 10 feet unseasonably cold water. “Shout-out to my boy, DQ, for shooting me some of these new little small-shad, small-profile crankbaits,” he said.
“DQ” is Dan Quinn, Rapala’s Field Promotions Director.
Count Wheeler among the believers in the importance of balsa-wood crankbait construction, backing up the Rapala slogan “If you’re not throwing balsa, you’re just chucking wood.”
“I don’t care what anybody says, a balsa crankbait triggers fish better than any other type of plastic crankbait does,” Wheeler has said previously.
“It was tough out there, but we made it work,” Wheeler said in a video posted to his Facebook page last Sunday, his first day of Qualifying Round action in the tournament.
When fishing an OG Tiny 4, don’t just cast and wind it straight back in. Instead, pause your retrieve occasionally, giving your rod tip a little twitch – especially when you feel the bait carom into sizable bottom cover or structure. The OG Tiny’s circuit-board lip makes a unique sound, depending on what you crash it into.
A Rapala OG Tiny 4 comes armed with two No. 5 VMC black-nickel 1X-strong hybrid treble hooks. It measures 2-¼ inches and weighs 5/16th-oz. It’s available in 19 color patterns, including pro-inspired looks such as Citrus Shad, Rootbeer Crawdad, Chartreuse Rootbeer Crawdad, Green Gizzard Shad, Big Shad, Bream, Copper Green Shad, Hot Copper Green Shad, Classic Craw and Coosa Special.
Wheeler Just Keeps Rollin’ in Bass Pro Tour
Wheeler has won six major Major League Fishing competitions, including five Bass Pro Tour tournaments. Enroute to winning the 2021 Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year title, he won three of seven Bass Pro Tour tournaments. He won his second Bass Pro Tour victory in 2020 on Lake Eufaula in Alabama. In 2019 on Table Rock Lake, he won his first Bass Pro Tour tournament. He also won MLF’s General Tire World Championship in 2019.
The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, competing for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2023 championship. MLF NOW! coverage of Bass Pro Tour tournaments is live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.