Story and photos by Matt Pangrac
Duluth, GA - Just two days short of exactly one year ago, Jacob Wheeler was riding high. He finished the first day of competition at the 2011 Forrest Wood Cup on Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita inside the Top 10, and just three months earlier, he had become the youngest angler in history to win the BFL All-American.
By the conclusion of Thursday’s weigh-in at the Gwinnett Center Arena in Duluth, Georgia, it became apparent that the now 21-year-old Wheeler is intent on continuing his string of impressive performances.
The Indiana pro crossed the stage with a staggering 21-15 limit of Lake Lanier bass to open a commanding lead of 5-pounds, 6-ounces over his closest competitor, Scott Canterbury, who riled up the crowd with a limit weighing 16-9 early in the weigh-in.
Determined to keep his string of three consecutive Cup finishes inside the Top 10 alive, California’s Cody Meyer finished the day in a tie for 3rd place with a 14-15 limit of spotted bass, and a very confident Dion Hibdon brought in a mixed bag of spotted bass and largemouth to match Meyers’ effort.
Texas’ Cody Bird finished the day in 5th place with 14-11, and defending Forrest Wood Cup champion, Scott Martin, got off to a good start with a 14-9 limit of Lake Lanier bass to finish the day in 6th place.
1st Place: Jacob Wheeler (21-15)
Describing his main pattern: “I hit over 50 spots today and I was constantly moving. I have an understanding of the water that is 10 feet and shallower. I can pull into an area and point out four (spots) where the fish are going to be. There are very key, specific things that the fish are keying on. Anytime that you have overcast skies you’re going to have a good opportunity to catch some big largemouth.
“I only caught four spotted bass today, and I think that I had about 10 or 11 keeper bass total. All of my good fish came from water less than 10 feet deep.”
How his day unfolded: “The first place where I stopped today, it just didn’t look right. I relocated to a different area and caught two of my biggest ones. I caught another three-pounder, and then I ended up running around a lot to catch the big ones after that.
“The area where I caught the big (largemouth) in had been holding big spotted bass. I was sort of surprised when I set the hook on my biggest fish, because it just didn’t feel right. The spotted bass are really fast, and I really thought that it was a catfish at first. When the fish jumped, I saw that it was a five-and-a-half pound (largemouth).”
Expectations for Friday: “I saw some really good (fish) today that were really shallow. I don’t know if I can do what I did today, because today was pretty awesome, but don’t be surprised if I catch a 15-pound bag. I’m going to shoot for 15-pounds a day.
“I just have to go out and fish the conditions, because that’s all that I can do. I may have to change throughout the tournament. You can never have enough spots on this lake, so you have to keep running. Tomorrow is a new day and you can’t worry about the lead.
“Running new water is definitely going to be a key tomorrow.”
On the competitors chasing him: “Some guys may go out and swing for the home run and strike out, but others are going to bring the heat now. These guys are the best in the world and they’re going to come hard and fast. I have to consistently catch them, and I know that. It’s a great start, but it’s the first quarter. You have to get to the fourth quarter in order to win this thing.”
Looking back on practice: “During pre-practice, I had some good days and I had some bad days. I had some days where I was only catching two or three fish, and that was putting in a 13-hour day. During (official) practice, I could have had around 10-pounds on the first day, around 15-pounds on the second day, and about the same weight on the third day.”
2nd Place: Scott Canterbury (16-9)
Describing his main pattern: “I ran a bunch of new water today and caught my big one off of a place that I hadn’t even practiced. I’m just going out and going fishing every day. I had one largemouth today, and I’m hoping to catch more largemouth tomorrow.
“Those big spotted bass are down deep and they’re feeding good. I had two big spotted bass that were about five (pounds) and three-and-a-half (pounds). I probably hit 30 places today, but I only caught seven keepers. I’m not catching a whole lot of fish; I just got some good bites today.
“I jumped back and forth between largemouth and spotted bass areas today. The five fish that I weighed-in today came on five different baits. I probably had 14 different rods out with a different lure on every one of them.”
On staying mentally strong: “You can’t think about it and you just have to go fishing. It would be a life changing experience to win any tournament, but this one would be really special. I just have to put those thoughts on the back burner and never let it cross my mind, because that’s the only way that I can do it.
Fishing for Lanier spotted bass: “It’s totally different than back home. These fish over here are mostly caught on a spinning rod. I’ve caught six-pound spotted bass back home, but I’ve caught them with a flippin’ stick – this is a totally different deal. I’m not used to this at all.”
On his preparation for Lanier: “I’d never been over here until I came and pre-practiced for six days. I idled around and looked for brush piles, rock piles, and anything offshore that could hold fish. I’ve got waypoints everywhere where there’s liable to be fish, you just never know when you’re going to pull up and catch one.
“During practice, I spent more time looking for new stuff. I figured that I could hit 30 to 50 places in a day, so I needed as many as I could get. There were boats all over stuff that I wanted to fish, but it didn’t matter because I had so many places.”
3rd Place (Tie): Cody Meyer (14-15)
Describing his main pattern: “Most of my fish today came in between brush and timber in the 30- to 40-foot range. I was just going around with my Lowrance electronics and finding one fish at a time.
“I probably caught 12 keepers and 12 shorts. Really, I only had five good ones. It was definitely a grind. I actually hooked a three-pounder that took me right into a bush pile and I thought I was going to lose it, but it ended up coming out and everything went great today. I didn’t miss any and I didn’t lose any – I’ll take it.”
Keying on spotted bass: “Most of my time was spent on spotted bass just because of my prior experience here, and most of the team tournaments here are won with spotted bass. I’d say I fished for spotted bass 95% of the time.”
On fishing for individual fish: “Most of the time, I can tell if a fish is going to bite. I’m seeing them on the screen and ‘video game fishing’ for them. Half of the ones that I weighed-in today were about 20-feet off the bottom. I was dropping it down, watching (the bass) come up, and toying with them by watching my electronics. I think that a lot of the guys are throwing a drop-shot and it’s going right past the fish.”
Identifying primary forage: “There are some blueback herring, but there’s also a lot of threadfin (shad) right now. The threadfin are usually out in 70- to 80-feet of water, but they came up with the thermocline. The fish are spitting up tons of small threadfin everywhere.”
3rd Place (Tie): Dion Hibdon (14-15)
Describing his main pattern: “If there’s one thing that I know, it’s that there’s nobody who can fish shallow water any better or any faster than I can. I’ve done it my whole life. If I have to stand out there and stare at my depth finder all day long, they’re going to kick my butt. I caught them a couple different ways, and I do have one really good deep spot where I caught two of the ones that I weighed-in.
“I hit a little slow spell for a couple hours at around 9:00 for some reason. I moved around and I think that the fish repositioned a little from where I found them in practice. I figured that out at about 11:00. I think that I know exactly what I’m looking for. I caught a 6-pound and two casts later, my partner caught a 4-pounder. I’m just glad that I’m around them.”
On finding fish in pre-practice: “The neat thing about it is that my dad pre-practiced with me, and we got it honed in to where the fish exactly are. When I came back for the three days of practice, I fished totally new water and I could have caught them every day. I’m confident that I know exactly where the fish are, I just have to go catch them.”
On fishing clean: “Could I have had what Jacob had today? No. But I should have been in the 18- to 19-pound range.
“I had a couple little miscues today. I broke my line twice, which is stupid doing what I’m doing, because I’m throwing big line. That happens every once in a while I guess. (Jacob) Wheeler had one of those perfect days. One of those perfect days where you land everything that bites you, every fish come over the log, every fish comes out of the brush. Do I think I can do that? Yea. I’m throwing at the right kind of stuff.”
6th Place: Scott Martin (14-9)
“It’s a grind. It’s not a deal where you pull up on one spot and catch 12-pounds off of one hole. It’s a lot of running around, it’s a lot of adjustments, it’s several different baits, it’s several different depths – it’s more complicated than Ouachita was last year for sure as far as trying to figure out where you need to be. Then the weather today threw a monkey wrench into things and kind of dictated where you could go.”
“They’re not going to pay me today for anything, so I’ve got to catch them. I’m blessed to be in a position to hopefully repeat, so I’ve got to really catch them tomorrow. It boils down to catching them every single day. I burned through a lot of fuel today and covered a lot of miles.”
“I went through 10 or 15 keepers, mostly spotted bass. The big largemouth bite could upset the apple cart pretty quickly. There will be one or two guys who figure out the largemouth deal, but I think this tournament will still be dominated with spotted bass.”
8th Place: David Dudley (13-11)
“I probably had 13-pounds by 12:00 and then culled up a little bit. I kind of backed off because I thought that 13-pounds would be good. With Jacob (Wheeler) showing off like he did, it kind of puts a damper on things.
“With Wheeler catching over 21-pounds, there won’t be any sandbagging tomorrow. I may not catch them, but I will go to everything that I have tomorrow – I didn’t do that today, but I’ll definitely do it tomorrow. When someone catches almost 22-pounds, you can’t back off when you’re chasing that. What he did today was just awesome.
“I feed on this. Seeing him (Wheeler) come in with a bag like that was just fuel for my fire. It just stoked my fire up.”
DAY ONE STANDINGS
1st: Fatheadz pro Jacob Wheeler, Indianapolis, Ind., five bass, 21-15
2nd: Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury, Springville, Ala., five bass, 16-9
3rd: Chevy pro Dion Hibdon, Sunrise Beach, Mo., five bass, 14-15
3rd: Cody Meyer, Auburn, Calif., five bass, 14-15
5th: Cody Bird, Granbury Texas, five bass, 14-11
6th: National Guard pro Scott Martin, Clewiston, Fla., five bass, 14-9
7th: Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., five bass, 13-12
8th: Castrol pro David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., five bass, 13-11
9th: Kettle Brand Chips pro Dan Morehead, Paducah, Ky., five bass, 13-1
10th: Chevy pro Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., five bass, 12-5
11th: Chevy pro Jay Yelas, Corvallis, Ore., five bass, 12-4
12th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., five bass, 11-10
12th: Gary Yamamoto, Palestine, Texas, five bass, 11-10
14th: Folgers pro Scott Suggs, Bryant Ark., five bass, 11-7
15th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., five bass, 11-2
16th: National Guard pro Brent Ehrler, five bass, 11-0
17th: Troy Morrow, Eastanollee, Ga., five bass, 10-15
18th: Cheez-it pro Shinchi Fukae, Palestine, Texas, five bass, 10-14
19th: Clent Davis, Montevallo, Ala., five bass, 10-12
20th: Chevy pro Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., five bass, 10-9
For comlete standings, visit www.flwoutdoors.com.