Winning Baits

How Jacob Wheeler won again, this time at Guntersville

Here’s some great info from the guy who has more MLF wins than anyone: 6. And until last weekend, as MLF said, “hasn’t hoisted a trophy since Stage Six of 2021.” Dang that’s a long time without winning man! 😁 Oops no wait – he won AOY last year (again). Here’s what went down for him at Gville.

Going in and practice

> “Before I got there, spending time around the house on Chickmauga, I could tell some were starting to move out…not very many places. Typically TN River lakes go hand in hand. If they’re out on Chickamauga, they’re probably out on Guntersville.

> “…one thing I realized pretty quickly was…I graphed a place and 4 days later they showed up on it. So I knew they were coming…the weather being warmer every day…. Before anybody throws a lure out, if you can be the first one to find them, it can be a lot of fun.

> “I really thought that a local [one of several MLF pros who live on or near Gville] was going to win the tournament because if you have 40-50 places they school up at, then more than likely you would figure them out during the tournament [and] more and more would come.

> “My first day of practice I ran out there and graphed, and didn’t find that many groups. I found 4 schools, maybe 5, and marked probably 10 places offshore…3-4 legitimate schools and 6 other places where I saw 1-3 bass. It was just places I figured they had to [go to post-spawn] from my knowledge of the TN River. That’s typically how it works – a few, a few more, then all of a sudden 100 bass are there 5 days later.

> “The next day I went shallow, messed around with the bluegill spawn deal…afternoon is typically the best [for deep fish], and I went and graphed around and found 7-8 more schools. That really gave me a good understanding of what was transpiring. So I had 11-15 places starting the event, and I still had some bluegill spawn stuff [for a backup].

> “I wanted to fish offshore if I could.”


> “…my whole goal starting the event was if I could catch them fast enough and early enough every day where I could graph that final period and find new stuff…that’s going to be the way to win this tournament.

> “So the 1st day I caught I think 18 lbs the 1st period. About midway through the 2nd I had 20-14. So I was basically able to graph from that point on, and I found 4 new places.

> “The 2nd day I caught 18-20 lbs pretty quick. They took the camera from me, and I was able to graph for 2 full periods. I found like 7 new schools, and 3 of them were places I found in practice and never saw anything – they just showed up. I was pretty confident I could keep those in my back pocket…[the fish] just got there and probably no other locals knew about them and probably no other competitors….

> “Meaning…many of the best local fishermen know all these spots, but you don’t know the exact day they get there. …if you’re not graphing every day, you don’t know when they showed up. There pretty much are no secrets on the TN River anymore, so it’s really just…finding them first to get that opportunity to really catch ’em.

> “…the first 2 days is just pole position, just get in. The next day [the Knockout Round] is really all about winning. It’s a 2-day shootout, a 2-day bass tournament to win.

> Day 3: “I started on a place, and Jordan [Lee] pulled up and asked if he could fish, I’m like, ‘Yeah dude no problem.’ It didn’t work out real well and he ended up rolling out. I moved around a little bit and they’d moved – they were positioned a little bit different. I caught a 4-09 and a 6-something on that place.

> “I ran down the lake and got on a community hole and they were biting. It was crazy how the rain, that front, impacted those big ones…. That front came through and I threw on that exact same group of fish I’d been throwing at for a while…the big ones triggered and I caught 2 6-lbers. I’ve never seen that, where it’s like at the flip of a switch they go from following to eating your bait every cast.

> “That’s basically day 1 of the tournament and I have 27-28 lbs by the end of the 2nd period. So I was able to graph a little bit and tinker around [the last period].

> “I actually had 29-09…leaned on one spot really hard, a community place. I had a 6-8 lb lead, so why would I continue to set the hook on 4.5-lbers – they might be the ones that win the tournament for me.

> “The final day I started on the community hole and it did not pan out. I felt like that was gonna happen. The big thing was I had some stuff in my back pocket I had not fished….

> “I was able to catch 2 3.5-lbers the 1st period – it was really tough fishing that 1st period for whatever reason. If I did not have ScoreTracker at that moment, I would have been freaked out a little bit. I would not have known the fish just were not biting.

> “I was saving some things for the afternoon because that’s the best time of day [and because of spectator boats that might have fished those spots if he went there earlier]. Knowing that the final period was the best period to fish offshore, I felt very comfortable I could catch 18-20 lbs. You don’t know if a local angler or another competitor was on [those spots] – you had to trust that.

> “The start of the 2nd period I started fishing places I found in practice that I hadn’t had a chance to fish…catch a 4+ lber and I was like, Alright, they’re starting to bite, the wind is starting to slick off, it’s starting to happen.

> “…another spot I caught another 4+ lber, like a 4-14. Now we’re sitting pretty good.

> “I was waiting to go to this one place where I caught a 6-lber…slid up there and caught another 4+ and a 6-02. When I hooked that 6-lber I was like, This is the tournament. Of course anybody could have an unbelievable day and catch 30 lbs…but I knew if I could get up there and everybody had to catch 30 it would make it a little tough.”

The spots

> “…big giant points and lead-out places where ditches and creek channels come out. Those are the community areas…so many fish use that highway to exit out of that creek or that spawning area. So a lot of times they’re major creek channels, major points, stuff like that…you can visually see on a map.

> “The places that are little bit sneakier are places that you have to idle for a long period of time down straight ledges, and for whatever reason bass just set up on that place…the way the current swings…little hard spot, they decide to set up right there for this year. That’s the kind of stuff I try to find, and a lot of our competitors do as well.

> “…they change year to year and they set up different each year. I’ll stop when I can see 5 or more [fish]…unless 3-4 are set up really nice and they’re big ones. Typically I’m looking for groups of 5, 6, 7 fish…a lot of schools I had were 20-30 fish schools.

> “Some of [these spots] were on the edges of grass, some of them were on deeper ledges not even close to grass – it really just depended on what the area had to offer. I had schools as deep as 35′ and as shallow as 8′. The most common depth was 15-20’….

> “…typical for every TN River lake, if you start at the dam and work your way up, they’re deeper down at the lower end of the lake and the schools set up shallower on the upper end.”


> 4.25″ new Rapala Freeloader (“green shad when the sun was out, gizzard shad when the wind blew and was cloudy”) on a VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jig (“3/16-3/8 but my main 2 were 1/4 and 5/16”).

> “I’m shaking it…shaking the rod tip pretty hard….”

> 7′ M Duckett Jacob Wheeler Spin Rod (“it has a super-fast tip which helped impart action to the bait”) with a Shimano Vanford 2500 (“that drag system on the 2500 is really good – the 3000 is okay….”).

> 8-lb Sufix Nanobraid (aqua camo) to 10-lb Sufix Advance Fluoro. “Nanobraid was sort of the unsung hero of the week. I see a lot of anglers out there using too heavy a braid on their spinning rod, and that really negatively impacts the action of the baits they’re throwing especially when you have wind or current. I cast father with that braid, and it also really does allow the action of that bait….

> “I don’t think bass see line as well as we think they do. I think the drag of the line diameter negatively impacts the bait and its action so that’s why they don’t bite it as good. …8-lb Nanobraid is smaller diameter, better action equals generating more bites.

> “I caught 1 bass not on a Freeloader this week…on a spoon.”


> “This year I swapped out to ActiveTarget 2. I think it’s about 20% clearer image [and] better target separation. I can see that jighead falling out there 90-100′ [away]…allowed me to see where my cast was in relation to the bass.

> “I was definitely keeping [the bait] over their head. I saw about 40% of the bass bite it, but most of it when I’m looking down, there’s a lot of information I’m trying to gather. I just really want to see where the bait is in relation to the bass. Then I turn away from and just fish – because either they’re going to bite it or they’re not.

> “Half the time had I had 360 turned off. …I have not dialed in my 360 this year and was having a tough time [in the tournament] getting a good image with it, so I got frustrated and turned it off.”


> “I gotta shout out the guys from iKon [Boats] real quick. …[the final day] I slung an ear on a prop and they were right there. They were my pit crew on the water. They pulled up, swapped my prop…and I took off…. It was pretty awesome to have an on the water pit crew.”

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