In a Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour tournament on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake on Tuesday, Rapala Pro Jacob Wheeler became the 7th angler in the history of professional bass fishing to win back-to-back Angler of the Year titles on a major tour.
“When you get into that group, you’re on a very elite list,” said MLF Now! livestream co-host Marty Stone, a former Bassmaster Elite Series pro who competed against several bass-fishing legends who preceded Wheeler in winning back-to-back AOY titles.
Like last year, Wheeler enjoyed fantastic fish-catching and landing success this season with Rapala lures, VMC hooks and jigs, Storm Largo Shads, Terminator frogs and Sufix fishing line. Storm, VMC, Terminator and Sufix are Rapala Respected brands. He finished in the top 10 in six of seven Bass Pro Tour tournaments.
“It’s been an incredible year,” Wheeler said onstage in his AOY trophy-presentation ceremony. “I haven’t won a tournament this year, but I’ve been consistent. … It’s been an awesome year.”
He kicked off the season with a seventh-place finish on a three-lake venue in Louisiana, place third in Texas on Lake Fork, finished eighth on Alabama’s Smith Lake, came in fifth on Lake of the Ozarks, and earned runner-up honors on both Watts Bar Lake in Tennessee and Cayuga Lake in New York.
“This season, more than anything, I trusted my gut, every decision I made,” Wheeler said. “When you’re competing against this group of guys, you cannot second-guess any decision that you have.”
Major League Fishing’s reigning 2021 Angler of the Year, Wheeler arrived in Minnesota this week with a 65-point lead over his closest competitor for this year’s title. In the first two days of competition on Mille Lacs, he controlled his own destiny by catching 17 scoreable bass weighing a combined 58 pounds, 13 ounces. That was enough to finish third in his group, qualify for the Knockout Round and secure his second AOY title.
“It seemed like everything was on, as far as decision-making,” Wheeler said late Tuesday afternoon in the MLF Now! livestream of the second day of Group B Qualifying Round action. “I definitely feel like my mindset’s changed in the last 6 to 8 hours to trying to win this tournament.”
In the Knock Out Round the following day, Wheeler came within ounces of making the Championship Round and getting a chance to fish for a win. But his good friend Adrian Avena, one of three Bass Tour Pros who travel with Wheeler and share vacation-rental houses, claimed the final Championship Round berth, catching just two more ounces of scoreable bass than Wheeler.
Wheeler won the 2021 Angler of the Year title last fall capping another amazing season in which Rapala lures, VMC hooks and Sufix line helped him win three tournaments and earn four additional top-5 finishes. He has finished in the top 10 in 14 of his last 17 Major League Fishing competitions, a count which includes regular-season Bass Pro Tour tournaments, the 2021 and 2022 REDCREST championships and the 2021 and 2022 Heavy Hitters tournaments.
“What Wheeler has done has never been done in the history of professional fishing,” said Stone, the MLF Live! co-host.
Dan Quinn, Rapala Director of Field Promotions, is equally impressed by Wheeler’s career accomplishments. But having worked with him for a decade now, Quinn’s not surprised.
“I’ve always known that Jake would be one of the very best fishermen to ever pick up a rod, and seeing that come to fruition is pretty darn cool,” Quinn said. “What’s even cooler is that he’s just getting started and has a whole lot of trophies left to hoist over his head.”
“To say the past ten years have been special would be a serious understatement,” Quinn added. “Words can’t describe how proud I am of Jacob – he is absolutely amazing. I’ve seen first-hand the blood, sweat and tears he’s poured into his career. The work ethic that’s driven him to be where he is today is nothing short of incredible. He’s worked his butt off to be where he is today. Congratulations to him on back-to-back AOY titles – he’s earned every single bit of them!”
Big Smallies on VMC® Hooks & Sufix® Line
In Minnesota this week and throughout the Bass Pro Tour’s northern swing through one amazing smallmouth-bass fishery after another, Wheeler caught hundreds of big smallies on dropshot rigs comprising VMC® hooks and Sufix line. This week on Mille Lacs, a key component in his drop-shot arsenal was a prototype No. 2 VMC Redline Finesse Neko Hook. VMC will launch an entire line-up of Redline hooks in 2023.
When pulling up hundreds of pounds of big smallies on dropshot rigs, Wheeler relies on Sufix® line to get them from the bottom and into the boat. He connects a leader of 8-pound-test Sufix® Advance® Fluorocarbon to a main line of 8-pound-test Nanobraid superline. He keeps his bait on the bottom with VMC Tungsten Tear Drop weights. He dresses his VMC drop-shotting hooks with Ned-style and fluke-style soft-plastic baits, most often in green pumpkin, shad/smelt and perch color patterns.
In addition to drop-shotting VMC Finesse Neko Hooks, Ned Rigs also helped Wheeler put a lot of scoreable bass on MLF scales. His Ned Rigs comprised a ¼ oz. VMC Ned Rig Jig rigged with Ned-style soft-plastic stickworms in various colors.
A unique beveled-edge conical keeper on the Ned Rig Jig’s hook shank holds soft-plastic Ned worms so securely, you’ll get multiple casts and hooksets out of each one you thread on. VMC designed the jig with an optimal distance from its keeper to its jig-head to allow a soft-plastic worm to remain in place on the hook shank by collapsing tightly in that area, creating superior holding power.
Another key bait for Wheeler this season was a Storm Largo Shad paddle-tail soft swimbait rigged on a VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jig. He threw that combo on baitcasting gear spooled with 12-pound-test Sufix Advance Flurocarbon. The Hybrid Swimbait Jig’s hook features a wider gap to maximize hook sets and a hybrid bend for extra strength. It’s 1X strong and made from Hi-Carbon Steel with a forged shank.