JACOB CLIMBS TO THE TOP OF THE LADDER
Story and photos by Matt Pangrac
Duluth, GA – With a well crafted game plan, Indiana’s Jacob Wheeler entered championship Sunday of the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Lanier with his sights set in rewriting the record books.
Over the first three days of competition, the 21-year-old rookie had fended off a slew of seasoned veterans who had impressive résumés that included Forrest Wood Cup victories, Bassmaster Classic titles, AOY titles, Tour wins, and earnings well into the millions.
Entering the day with a 5-pound, 13-ounce lead over Scott Canterbury, Wheeler knew that all he needed to do was put another solid limit in the boat to hoist the Cup. His 11-15 effort was his lightest of the week, but it was more than enough to get the job done. With a total weight of 60-1, he won in dominating fashion, beating 2nd place finisher, Scott Canterbury, by over seven pounds.
Canterbury, who brought either a kicker spotted bass or largemouth to the scales each day of the competition, wasn’t able to locate enough big fish on Lanier on Sunday to mount a charge. With a 10-7 limit, he boosted his total weight to 52-12 and took home $100,000 for a 2nd place finish.
North Carolina’s Bryan Thrift also maintained his position on the leader board, finishing the tournament in 3rd place. Thrift targeted largemouth on Sunday to the tune of 12-15 and finished the tournament with a total weight of 52-4.
Scott Martin’s bid to become the first angler in history to win two Forrest Wood Cups and defend his 2011 Cup title fell short as well, and he finished the tournament in 4th place after bringing in a limit weighing 12-1 on Sunday for a total weight of 51-12.
David Dudley moved up from 9th place to 5th place on Sunday with a limit weighing 14-6, the heaviest limit of the final day. With a total weight of 49-13, he finished just over 10 pounds behind Wheeler.
1st Place: Jacob Wheeler (60-1)
The Stats: He becomes the youngest angler to ever hoist the Forrest Wood Cup trophy, dethroning 2008 Cup champion, Michael Bennett, who was 24-years-old when he won the 2008 Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray.
Wheeler, who will turn 22 on September 18th, is the second youngest angler to win either the Forrest Wood Cup or the Bassmaster Classic, getting edged out by Stanley Mitchell who was 21 years, 5 months, 19 days when he won the 1981 Classic on the Alabama River.
Over the course of this week’s tournament on Lake Lanier, Wheeler held the largest Day One lead in Forrest Wood Cup history (5-pounds, 6-ounces), and also held the second largest Day Three lead in Cup history (5-pounds, 13-ounces). His winning margin of 7-pounds, 5-ounces over Scott Canterbury is also a Forrest Wood Cup record for margin of victory since FLW went to a four day cumulative weight format. He is the first angler to win the Cup in wire-to-wire fashion since Luke Clausen won on Logan Martin in 2004.
And the records just keep coming for the young Wheeler. With the win, he becomes the only angler in history to win both the BFL All-American and the Forrest Wood Cup (he is also the youngest to ever win the All-American at age 20 in 2011). He is also the youngest to win at least $500,000 in a single professional tournament.
Wheeler is the second angler in the 17 year history of the Forrest Wood Cup to win the Cup as a rookie, joining Kevin Hawk, who interestingly also won the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Lanier in his rookie season in 2010. He also becomes the only angler from Indiana to win either an FLW Tour Major or Forrest Wood Cup.
On being a Forrest Wood Cup champion at 21-years-old: “I’m just really blessed, because a lot of these guys have been doing this for so long. Dudley – he’s the man. He really encouraged me and it’s an honor to be sitting in this seat right now. In 100 years I wouldn’t have thought that that I could be sitting right here next to the Forrest Wood Cup.
Primary baits: “I caught a couple big ones flipping on the first day and I caught three big ones on a Phenix Vibrator Jig. I also caught a couple on a prop bait.
“On the second day, I caught two of my biggest fish on a (Rapala) X-Rap Prop, and that was really key. The fish were getting accustomed to seeing the bluegill looking prop baits, and the elongated X-Rap Prop really showed them something different. Those fish really seemed to like that bait for sure.
“The third day, I had to make an adjustment. I went up the river and I started flipping and caught my limit pretty quickly. I had about 13 ½ pounds probably at 10:00. I ran back down and caught a couple big ones on a prop bait.
“Today, I ended up catching one of my bigger one on a (Trigger-X) Goo Bug up the river flipping, and then a couple others flipping other creature baits. I caught two big ones on a prop bait.”
Sunday on the water: “I didn’t take anything for granted. I had a limit at about 1:30, and it was a grind. I ran to one bluegill bed that I saw three bass on in practice. I’d been saving this bluegill bed for the last day because I hadn’t fished it and didn’t feel like I had needed to.
“I ran in there and threw that prop bait in there and a big one came up just sitting there. It’s hard to get those fish to commit to your bait. This fish was following the prop bait, and it came up an annihilated it and swallowed it. That was at around 2:00.”
On finding his primary area: “during pre-practice, I ran up the river in a jet boat, but you can’t use a jet boat in FLW tournaments. I caught quite a few good ones, but I couldn’t find a 150 horse power tunnel hull to buy for this tournament.
“The last time I (pre-practiced), I actually spent five days here, and I fished around where I could get to in a bass boat. My dad and I caught about 10 ½ pounds in an hour, and I knew that there was potential for it to be a good spot.”
On the bluegill bed bite: “The river was the area where I felt I could go to and flip, throw a topwater, throw something moving, crank, and catch five fish. Once I caught five, a lot of big ones were on bluegill beds. It’s so much easier to make decisions once you have five in the livewell.
“I ran down lake every time I would catch a pretty good sack in the river. On the third day, I left the river and actually ran an hour just to fish two banks down below Brown’s Bridge by the dam. I caught a 2 ¾ pound spotted bass and that was huge, and I also lost a 5 pounder on the other bank. That was pretty much the deal.”
On the low water conditions: I think that the lake being down actually improved the fishing. When the lake is up, the fish have a lot more places to go, especially up in that river. When the water is up eight-feet, they have all those little bushes and trees. There might be 100 bass up there, but there’s a bazillion laydowns for the fish to be on.
“When the lake is down, there might be only 40 stumps in the water with current breaks, and the fish would position behind that stuff. I thought this lake was amazing from the first day that I got here.”
On opening the tournament with a 21-15 limit: “The 21-15 bag was the biggest bag that I’ve weighed personally in a professional tournament. That was huge. I was leading the Forrest Wood Cup by something like five-pounds, but I didn’t worry about that too much or look at my lead. I had tunnel vision and I had to focus.
“It was very similar to the (2011) All-American. In that tournament, I came out and had a really big bag, so it was almost like I’d been there before, but obviously not on this big of a stage. That limit really made my tournament and it gave me the confidence that I can do this and make it happen.”
2nd Place: Scott Canterbury (52-12)
On Sunday’s performance: “I thought going into yesterday that if I’d have caught 17- or 18-pounds, I’d have a really good shot at winning. I would have, because that’s what it would have taken. I fished as hard as I could and I left everything out there for sure.”
On his primary baits: “Aside from drop-shotting, I also used a one-quarter ounce shakey head, Super Spook Jr., and several different three-eigth ounce buzzbaits modified with a horny toad on it instead of a skirt to keep it up on top of the water. When I threw a big topwater, I threw a Jackall, but I didn’t catch any on it.”
On his drop-shot bait: “Most of them came on a Jackall Crosstail Shad. It was a new color called Tsunami Flick Shake, but it’s a Japanese color and they don’t have it over here. Today, I ran out of that color after about 10 drops, but they lasted me through the week.
“I had about three quarters of a pack. When I was over here pre-fishing, I just picked it up and started catching them on it. I tried to get some, but I couldn’t get any. I probably could have caught a few more fish today, but I just ran out.
“All my weights were from Tiger Tungsten and ranged from one-quater, to three-eights, to one-half ounce. I also used a double rig drop-shot with a ½ ounce tungsten weight.”
On landing his bites: “I was really blessed all week to have some big bites and land them. I landed everything that hooked up except for today. I lost a couple of fish on a topwater, but they wouldn’t have made a difference but to give me a little bit more breathing room for 2nd place.
“Out there drop shotting that brush, these spots are so strong. You had to get them turned to get away from that brush, but as soon as you got them up, they could take 25-feet of line in a matter of seconds.”
Drop-shotting brush: “I had one pile where I caught three of my big spotted bass out of this week. The fourth time that I went to it today is when I caught my biggest fish. You just had to keep rotating. It was all stuff that I found, and I never saw a boat on it the whole time.
“I don’t think that many other people weighed in a giant spotted bass all week. I had four that were over four-pounds, and three of them came out of one brush pile.”
On earning $100,000 for 2nd place: “It’s life changing for me. If I would have won, it really wouldn’t have been about the money, because that Cup is what I want. The money helps a bunch, though. It’s tough out here and it costs a lot of money. This will make things a little bit easier.”
3rd Place: Bryan Thrift (52-4)
On fishing shallow on Sunday: “I stopped and fished a drop-shot on about three places, and every time that I did, I thought to myself, ‘You idiot, what are you doing? You’re not going to win this thing out here.’ I went back shallow, but it’s like the fish don’t get up shallow until 11:00 or 12:00.
“At 12:00, I didn’t have a fish, so I ran way up the river to a little brush pile on a dock. I caught like 25 fish and five keepers, so that calmed me down. The first pocket that I went in after that is when I caught my two big ones.”
Primary pattern: “I was actually catching cruising fish. They weren’t really bream bed oriented. On the second day, I caught two big ones around a marina.”
Overall baits: “I caught fish on a jig, Barry’s prop bait, Damiki D Pop 70, and a shakey head with a Damiki Finesse Miki 6.75 and a trick worm. I caught some on the first day schooling with a Front Runner and a (Lucky Craft) Gunfish. I also caught some on a drop-shot – I’ve caught them on everything.
“I’ve had 15 rods on the front deck and I’ve caught fish on every one of them.”
On getting the cruisers to bite: “There were two places where I saw big fish all four days and they were in the mid-lake area, and there are still two five-pounders that are swimming around in one area that I know of.
“I’d say that I could catch maybe 35% of the cruisers that I saw. You couldn’t hook them on the topwater, even though they’d hit it. They were just pushing it or trying to kill it or something – it was a weird deal.
“I wish that I’d figured out the shakey head deal earlier in the tournament. I could have probably won it doing that. On the third day, I figured out that they wouldn’t eat the topwater, but they’d eat the shakey head.”
4th Place: Scott Martin 51-12
Primary Baits: “It was a four pronged approach this week. On the drop shot, I used a Bruiser Baits finesse worm with a River2Sea tungsten weight and 7-pound-test Sunline with 10-pound –test Spiderwire braid. My second approach was a one-half ounce Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin with a small Bruiser Baits swimbait on the back and 12-pound-test Gamma fluorocarbon. My third was a three-eighth ounce Sworming Hornet Dude with a small straight-tailed swimbait on the back. My final was a River2Sea 600K Rover topwater lure.”
Primary patterns: “A lot of the times when I pulled up on my places, I’d stop way out wide and the fish would come up schooling over 70 to 80 feet of water. That’s when I’d throw the topwater on them. Most of my fish came from deep brush piles this week.”
On fish management: “Jacob averaged 15-pounds a day, and my guess was that it would take around 14-pounds a day. I had 10-pounds today and almost 12-pounds yesterday. I was almost on pace over the first two days, but yesterday killed me. I ended up weighing-in 19 spotted bass and one largemouth. The largemouth came in 40-feet of water while I was fishing for spots.”
On his past year on Tour: “I feel very blessed. I’m always learning, and confidence is the most important thing. I’ve been blessed to have confidence right now and have several good years. This is bitter-sweet for me because I’ve won this before. As bad as I wanted to win it, I’m still very excited to be here and defend the Cup and put on a good show.
“This stuff isn’t my forte. Nobody picked me. They thought that it was a spotted bass lake – but I proved that I could catch them.”
5th Place: David Dudley (49-13)
On the overall tournament: “This is one that I want to forget about. I want it out of my mind. Relatively speaking, am I happy to be 5th? Yea, but I still wanted to win. I just want it out of my mind and I never want to remember this tournament. Once I hit that smallmouth fishery (on the Detroit River in the FLW Tour Open) in a few weeks, it’ll help a lot to forget about this one.
“I know that if we ever come back again, that scar is going to be reopened.”
On losing fish: “I don’t know what it is about how the fish attack. All the ones that I was losing were on topwater. It’s just something that you can’t figure out unless you have a video camera on the strike. I don’t know if they were just bumping the bait if they were just hitting it.
Primary baits and pattern: “I mainly used bream pattern topwater prop baits. I also used a wacky worm in green pumpkin and violet flake and a Watermelon colored 6” HAVOC Bottom Hopper.
“I didn’t actually see but four or five fish that I caught cruising. I know that the fish were cruising, so I was making long casts. I didn’t put more emphasis on this tournament because it was the Cup. My intensity is the same regardless of if it’s the Tour Open or the Cup – I just want to win.”
1st: Fatheadz pro Jacob Wheeler, Indianapilis, Ind., 20 bass, 60-1, $500,000
2nd: Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury, Springville, Ala., 20 bass, 52-12, $100,000
3rd: Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 20 bass, 52-4, $75,000
4th: National Guard pro Scott Martin, Clewiston, Fla., 20 bass, 51-12, $60,000
5th: Castrol pro David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 20 bass, 49-13, $50,000
6th: Chevy pro Jay Yelas, Corvallis, Ore., 20 bass, 48-4, $45,000
7th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 19 bass, 47-7, $40,000
8th: Troy Morrow, Eastanollee, Ga., 20 bass, 46-11, $35,000
9th: Chevy pro Dion Hibdon, Sunrise Beach, Mo., 18 bass, 46-6, $30,000
10th: Chevy pro Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., 18 bass, 43-11, $25,000