ON THE VERGE OF HISTORY
Story and photos by Matt Pangrac
Duluth, GA – After seeing his lead shrink to just over three pounds on Friday, Indiana’s Jacob Wheeler sent a message to the rest of the field on the third day of the Forrest Wood Cup on Georgia’s Lake Lanier.
On a day when only two of the remaining 20 anglers managed a limit surpassing the 13-pound mark, the 21-year-old FLW Tour rookie, who has dominated the headlines since opening the tournament with an astounding 21-15 limit of Lanier largemouth, toted 14-7 to the scales to increase his lead to 5-pounds, 13-ounces. He will enter the final day of competition holding the second largest lead in Forrest Wood Cup history with a total weight of 48-2.
Scott Canterbury did all that he could do to keep pace with the streaking Wheeler. The Alabama pro, who has remained in the top five each day of the tournament, crossed the stage with a 13-5 limit anchored by a kicker largemouth to boost his three day total to 42-5 and finish in 2nd place.
North Carolina’s Bryan Thrift climbed to 3rd on Saturday with a total weight of 39-15 after boxing a limit weighing 12-8, and Scott Martin, looking to defend his Forrest Wood Cup title, finished the day in a disappointing 4th after bringing in his lightest effort of the week weighing 10-7. He faces a deficit of 8-pouns, 7-ounces heading into Sunday’s finale.
Unable to reconnect with the largemouth bite that catapulted him to 2nd place on Friday, Oregon’s Jay Yelas slid to 5th with a limit of spotted bass weighing 6-10.
After back-to-back efforts of 14-15 and 14-1, Dion Hibdon’s quest for a second Forrest Wood Cup hit a road block on Saturday as he managed just three keepers for 6-3. Despite the stumble, Hibdon snuck inside the final cut in 10th place, edging out Cody Meyer by just two ounces.
1st Place: Jacob Wheeler (14-7, 48-2)
On mixing up his baits: “I’ve caught keepers on seven or eight different baits (this week). That’s Indiana fishing – it’s typical. I don’t get caught up with one bait at all. All you can do is fish the conditions and feel it. If I pick it up and get bit, I’ll go with it. I ended up catching eight keepers today and I had nine keeper bites.”
On making a move: “After I had a pretty big bag, I ran 45 minutes down the lake to go to one bank. I caught a 2 ¾ pounder and then ran to an area where I had seen a 5 pounder. Sure enough, she was there. I threw a shakey head in there and she sucked it up. I set the hook and she came up and jumped and spit it out. I wanted to cry.
“That 2 ¾ pound spotted bass that I caught was the first fish that I’ve caught below Brown’s Bridge all week. I was sort of saving some of those areas down there because I felt they were tucked away and nobody else would be fishing them.”
Fishing the river: “The bass are all over the place and you just have to work them out one by one. That’s my type of fishing, and I love it. I love current because it positions the fish, and I feel very comfortable in those areas picking out the fish.
“You can see the ripple behind pieces of wood. There are eddies and current breaks. Those fish are just sitting behind that stuff to get out of the current and ambushing. That’s just river fishing.”
On keeping things in perspective: “I’m going to try to sleep tonight, but I highly doubt that I’ll get any sleep. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night thinking, ‘Oh, I have to do this,’ or ‘I have to do that.’
“Hopefully I’ll get some sleep and get after them in the morning. I think that the sun should actually make the fish position better tomorrow and they won’t roam as much. The majority of my fish are coming five feet and shallower.
“I was just very blessed with the bites that I had today. I can’t emphasize enough that I feel like if God wants me to win this thing, it’ll happen. If he doesn’t, it’s not going to happen. My nerves are taken away because I’m just putting it in his hands. “
2nd Place: Scott Canterbury (13-5, 42-5)
Fishing two patterns: “I started out deep this morning and didn’t have a bite for two hours. I went shallow, and it was on. I probably missed out on a little bit of the bite, but I’ve started shallow each of the first two mornings and never got a bite.
“It’s just a timing deal. If you pull up on the right spot at the right time, it can definitely happen. I’m going to switch back and forth tomorrow for sure. I’ve weighed in some big spotted bass so I’m still going to fish deep.
“I’ve still got three or four deep places that I haven’t been to. Tomorrow, my pre-practice preparation could really pay off. I have to continue to fish places where I’ve caught fish, but I’m going to run as much stuff as I can because it might be fresh.”
On targeting specific species: “Going into it, I knew that I’d need to catch a couple largemouth. I’ve weighed-in a decent one every day, and today I had two big ones. I missed another one that was pretty decent. Today is the first time during the tournament that I’ve put a big largemouth in the boat.”
On overcoming the nearly 6 pound deficit: I’ve been so blessed this week to get a good bite or two each day. Anything is possible in fishing, and if I get blessed with three or four of those good bites tomorrow, it’ll be a different story. I’m going to fish as hard as I can and cover some water. Hopefully, I’ll get four or five of the right bites.
“I think that to have a legitimate shot at this, I have to catch somewhere around 18-pounds. That’s tough, but it could happen.”
3rd Place: Bryan Thrift (12-8, 39-15)
Saturday on the water: “My first two bites were both five-pounds and I missed both of them. I don’t think that I caught my first fish until probably 9:30. I ended up with seven keepers throughout the day.”
On catching Wheeler: “I definitely have a big deficit but there’s a lot of big fish in this lake. I saw five today that would have weighed 24-pounds. A giant bag like that is definitely possible. Tomorrow, I’m going to go out and fish for largemouth all day."
Fishing history: “I’ve mixed in a few deep places that I found in 2010. I never practiced on them, and on the first day I actually caught a four-pound and a three-pound largemouth out of some deep brush that I found a couple years ago in 25-feet of water.”
On targeting largemouth: “I knew coming into this that if I had a shot to win, I’d be fishing for largemouth. I tried to play around with some new brush piles, but I couldn’t catch anything but little spotted bass.”
6th Place: Luke Clausen (12-13, 37-0)
“Every day there has been a window where I catch them. I didn’t catch any on topwater this morning, and I caught five of my six fish in about a 30 minute period between 9:30 and 10:15. It was pretty boring the rest of the day.
“I had all spotted bass today. I think that if I can catch 14- or 15-pounds out deep, I’ll run to the bank and try to catch a big largemouth.”
8th Place: Troy Morrow (12-2, 36-7)
“If the clouds would ever go away, we could catch some big fish. It’s killing us out there. The largemouth would have never lasted this long without the fresh water coming in every night and the cloud cover we’ve had.
“I’ve had to abandon my big spotted bass and go shallow. I didn’t catch any deep fish today. Up the river, it gets muddy, but when you get a lot of rain in the late summer on Lanier, it kills the algae bloom and it clears up.
“I made the decision to go shallow during practice. I tried some of my techniques during practice in good areas where there weren’t a lot of other competitors, and I just wasn’t getting the bites. After the first day of practice, I abandoned the pattern and started looking for my shallow bite.”
9th Place: David Dudley (11-2, 35-7)
“I scarred my voice today screaming out of frustration. Then when I lost a 7-pounder, I cracked my rod over my knee and broke it in three pieces. That still didn’t relieve the pressure.”
20th Place: Brent Ehrler (5-14, 27-0)
“I figured that this was Lake Lanier and that it would be won with spotted bass. Right now, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t go look for largemouth.
“I only had one good day of practice, and I could never catch the big ones. I kept thinking that it was just a matter of time before I ran into the bigger fish and I just never did. I’m so mad that I didn’t even look shallow and get on the bream bed deal. I love running that pattern and fishing topwaters. It’s really disappointing.
“I was really sore today, and I’m so beat up. With all the boat traffic, it was really rough out there. I’m looking forward to laying off for a few days because my whole body is torn down right now. I’m anxious to get a day or two where I can just relax and recuperate. My body needs to get better.”
DAY THREE STANDINGS
1st: Fatheadz Eyewear pro Jacob Wheeler, Indianapolis, Ind., 15 bass, 48-2
2nd: Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury, Springville, Ala., 15 bass, 42-5
3rd: Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 15 bass, 39-15
4th: National Guard pro Scott Martin, Clewiston, Fla., 15 bass, 39-11
5th: Chevy pro Jay Yelas, Corvallis, Ore., 15 bass, 37-2
6th: Chevy pro Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., 15 bass, 37-0
7th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 14 bass, 36-14
8th: Troy Morrow, Eastanollee, Ga., 15 bass, 36-7
9th: Castrol pro David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 15 bass, 35-7
10th: Chevy pro Dion Hibdon, Sunrise Beach, Mo., 13 bass, 35-3
11th: Cody Meyer, Auburn, Calif., 15 bass, 35-1, $20,000
12th: Clent Davis, Montevallo, Ala., 15 bass, 34-10, $20,000
13th: Clark Wendlandt, Leander, Texas, 15 bass, 34-7, $20,000
14th: Kettle Brand Chips pro Dan Morehead, Paducah, Ky., 15 bass, 34-6, $20,000
15th: Cheez-It pro Shinichi Fukae, Palestine, Texas, 15 bass, 34-2, $20,000
16th: Folgers pro Scott Suggs, Bryant, Ark., 15 bass, 32-5, $15,000
17th: Cody Bird, Granbury, Texas, 12 bass, 31-8, $15,000
18th: Rayovac pro Jason Christie, Park Hill, Okla., 14 bass, 29-8, $15,000
19th: Dr Pepper TEN pro Glenn Browne, Ocala, Fla., 15 bass, 28-4, $15,000
20th: National Guard pro Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 13 bass, 27-0, $15,000