JACOB WHEELER REVISITED
Story and photos by Matt Pangrac
Indianapolis, IN – When Jacob Wheeler was on his way to winning the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup this past August on Georgia’s Lake Lanier, the then-21-year-old delivered a very interesting quote following the second day of competition after he had opened up a three pound lead over his closest competitor:
“You really can’t comprehend what’s happening right now. It’s sort of like when I won the All-American – You don’t realize what’s happening during that moment at all. You look back and you’re like, ‘Wow, look at what just happened.’ Right now you’re just in the moment and you’re fishing. That’s really hard to do because there are all these distractions. You’re thinking about the Cup, the money, the prestige, and what it means, but all that you have to worry about right now is the fish.”
Wheeler went on to lead the tournament wire-to-wire and become the youngest winner in Forrest Wood Cup history. Just over two months after the Cup victory, The BASS ZONE caught up with Wheeler following a 3rd place finish in the FLW Tour Open on Sam Rayburn to see if the Cup victory had sunk in yet.
“It’s still unbelievable,” explained Wheeler. “To watch the TV show and how everything unfolded each day, it’s just like ‘wow.’ People are asking me if I’ve come off of my high, but I still get up every morning and it’s still hard to believe that I actually won and it’s real. Even now, it seems a lot crazier than it did when it was happening.”
In the days and weeks following his Cup victory, Wheeler, who qualified for the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup with a 30th place finish in the FLW Tour Angler Of the Year Standings in his rookie season, took the hardware on a bit of a victory lap.
One of the stops included a Wednesday night jackpot tournament where Wheeler cut his teeth on tournament fishing. “I really wanted to share the Cup with everybody in Indiana, especially the guys that I fished with and competed against,” he explained. “I remember when I was 14-years-old riding my bike down to the local river near my house for the Wednesday night tournament. I’d have five rods and tackle bag with me, and I would just wait for someone to show up who didn’t have a partner and would take me fishing. I wanted to share my experience with all of those guys because they were and still are a big part of it.”
Even though he’s just 22-years-old, Wheeler is well aware of the fact that the Forrest Wood Cup victory was accompanied with a responsibility to the entire organization and sport of bass fishing. “I think that it’s a huge responsibility,” he stated. “I don’t know if I’d call it pressure, but that win wasn’t only for me. That win was also for all the kids growing up who want to do this for a living. It gives them hope and someone to look at with the idea that if I can do it, so can they,” Wheeler explained.
“I started fishing on the junior TBF trail, and I really want to push to give kids the same opportunities that I had. Even though I’m just 22, the fact that I won the Cup puts me in a position to maybe change some kid’s life that wouldn’t otherwise have had that opportunity.”
Wheeler said that the most meaningful difference he has already noticed in his own career is the amount of respect that other anglers are showing him. It’s something that he doesn’t take lightly.
“It’s so hard for the guys coming up in the ranks to break into professional bass fishing. You need something that helps you break in and gain respect,” he explained. “You’re coming in and fishing against the best in the world like David Dudley, Scott Martin, Brent Ehrler, and Larry Nixon – guys that have been doing this for so long at such a high level.”
A conversation with FLW Tour pro Randall Tharp solidified the fact that Wheeler is headed in the right direction. “Randall and I have become pretty cool friends over the past year, and he came up to me at the last FLW Tour Open on Rayburn and told me that he just wanted me to know that I’d earned some respect on the Tour,” said Wheeler. “It meant so much to me that someone like Randall Tharp, who I really look up to, took the time to tell me that.”
With the 2011 All-American title and 2012 Forrest Wood Cup title already under his belt, Wheeler has no intentions of resting on his laurels. If anything, the ample success early in his young career has made him even hungrier to achieve new and lofty goals in the coming season.
“The one thing that I have to be cautious about is the fact that a big win early in your career has the potential to make you lazy and not fish to your true potential,” he explained. “You’re not getting up at four in the morning and practicing until dark because you’re comfortable with what you have. That’s the biggest thing that I don’t want to happen.
“You have to go in to every tournament like it’s the biggest tournament of your life. You have to practice hard and focus on every single event. If I can still do that, I’ll be satisfied with whatever happens in the future.”
His 3rd place finish last week on Texas’ Sam Rayburn proved that Wheeler hasn’t taken his foot off the gas. “That was the first tournament that I’ve fished since winning the Cup. I really like the tournaments where it’s a tough bite and a struggle to catch five good ones.” The top five finish was Wheeler’s highest finish in FLW Tour level competition, besting his 8th place finish at the FLW Tour Major on Kentucky Lake this past June.
“You have to have confidence to come out here and fish,” he explained. “If you go into a tournament worrying about getting beat by these guys, you’re going to get beat. If you worry about what you need to do and have confidence in your own ability, that’s the key to success. Some people take that as being cocky, but it’s really just confidence. If you don’t have confidence in yourself, you just won’t be able to compete and perform.”
Wheeler said that it wasn’t until he watched his Forrest Wood Cup victory on television that he realized just how calmly he handled the pressure. “I didn’t realize that I wasn’t freaked out when I hooked a big one,” he said with a chuckle. “I was pretty calm and collected with it. That was one of the things that really jumped out at me when I watched the show. I could tell that I was relaxed and calm in the moment. To be honest, I was more nervous watching the television show than I was when I was actually fishing in the tournament,” he concluded.
NOTE: To listen to portions of Jacob Wheeler's behind-the-scenes media interviews from practice through the final day of the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup, CLICK HERE.