Tourney Patterns

How Jacob Wheeler won at Santee Cooper

Don’t we already know how he won his 7th MLF win? FFS + Rapala CrushCity Freeloader = win, right? Isn’t it that easy?

Course not! Anyone who thinks that – and some do – honestly insults the rest of that hammer-filled Bass Pro Tour field. So let’s see how this one went down.

Going in and practice

> “I don’t like dialing things in in practice. Half the tournaments I’ve won, I’ve figured it out during the tournament. I practice really, really hard as far as daylight to dark, but I don’t fish as much as I do in the tournament. I just sort of bebop around.

> “…our events are so long – from the start of practice to the end of the tournament it’s 8-9 days. So you really have to be able to adapt. So much is gonna change in that timeframe, you can’t be basing your tournament on day 1 of practice – especially in the spring, when things are changing day by day and hour by hour.

> “…I ran into in an area, a community area, it’s well-known…boats everywhere. A lot of guys were idling around…fishing. I was like, I’m gonna completely ignore this area. I feel like it’s going to get so much pressure everybody’s gonna cannibalize each other. …I was better off looking at stuff everybody was not looking at.

> “So I spent all my time in different zones…where there weren’t as many bass, for the most part. …stuff I knew I could manage and felt like I was one of the only people actually fishing it.

> “…3 major things [were key for him]. Definitely 10′ and shallower seemed to be the deal. Typical pre-spawn. Each lake is unique like that – some lakes they’re pre-spawn in 25′, at Chickamauga here…a lot of bass are in 4-10′. That’s their wintertime depth….

> “…hard places and rock. It could just be hard bottom, rock, gravel or a combination of that.

> “Brush played a big role…and I caught them off of stumps. You didn’t need [both] rock and wood. It was better if you had both, but it didn’t need to be that way.

> “…what made it fun to me is everything I found was old-school for me – old-school idling, looking for irregularities, marking it, understanding where they’re setting up. Dialing in the pattern and slowly figuring it out during the event.

> “I [eventually in the tourney] honed in my rotation based on what happened the [previous] day. It wasn’t easy…some places they left, some places more fish were there.”


> “Day 1 I stayed more main lake. I actually had little hard spot I had a school of them on in 2-5′. I caught them pretty good, then I started rotating all the isolated stuff I had.

> “I started out throwing a [Rapala] Mavrik jerkbait…they were acting goofier and goofier…following the Mavrik out. So I took out the Freeloader and caught a 2.75, then a 6 and then I just rolled with it.

> “I caught a enough weight on the 1st day to basically make the top 10. Now only the top 10 advance to the Knockout Round [it was 20].

> “Day 1 some of them were so shallow I just cast up there and worked the bait. Others sometimes I saw them [on FFS – Lowrance ActiveTarget 2]. I was always paying attention. I wouldn’t even see my bait because it was so shallow, but I’d see if I was making the right cast to the roughest part of the area.

> “Day 2 I went practicing. I caught 2 bass pretty early, then went and practiced the rest of the day and found basically the stuff I won the tournament on. I had some clues throughout the 1st day…started to dial it in a little bit more…little turns, little places where they were setting up – little ditches, the mouths of pockets and creeks. Rocks and wood in those areas.

> “I’d drop the trolling motor and look. If there was 4-5 there, I’d cast out there, they’d pull on it and I wouldn’t let them get it, and I’d roll to the next spot.

> “Day 3 was the Knockout Round. I really didn’t know how it was going to play out. I thought the weather would be calmer that day than it was. It ended up being pretty rough.

> “I started on some community areas that were pretty pressured…caught 2 smaller ones the 1st period. Then the 2nd period I made an adjustment…the weather got flat calm. I ran straight to an area that was getting hit by the wind then it calmed down. I caught something like 28 lbs and basically went practicing again.

> “But I was right on the cusp – 4th, 5th, 6th place. I had 7-8 spots I didn’t want to hit. I knew I couldn’t win the tournament if I burned them. I caught 1 more fish when I was practicing – I was getting after it.

> “It was all the Freeloader, all stumps and brush. The rocks started to go away.

> “Day 4, Championship Day, the weather man was calling for it to be flat calm. I take off running across the lake and it’s rough. So I had to pull an audible. I had a gameplan…I knew it would calm down.

> “I ran to a protected area and started fishing. The fish had gone from the top of the cover to the base of the cover because of the wind. The fish got down low on the cover to use as it as a current break is how I look at it.

> “I picked up a jig with a [Rapala CrushCity] Cleanup Craw and started dragging it over those places. I knew in my mind I had to shoot par that first period. If I could do that, I had a chance to win the tournament.

> “I was real patient and caught a 5, a 3.5 and a 2-something on the jig. Then…I felt the wind starting to calm down. By the end of that first period it went slick. As soon as it got slick they slid up top, higher in the cover.

> “I put the jig up and took that Freeloader out. That’s how I caught all the rest of them.

> “The second period I ran to my primary area, locked down and caught ’em. Dean was catching them too. I finally took the lead I think toward the beginning of the 3rd period. But I had burned a lot of my stuff.

> “I made a rotation back through all my stuff…got up by 9 lbs. Then Dean caught a few more –  I was up by 4 lbs. A 4-lber is nothing [on that lake]…one crack of the whip and it’s over. We had 40 minutes to go. I made a rotation back through my stuff – they were following [the Freeloader]. I was doing everything I could to try to get them to react…nothing.

> “I was not going to live or die making same casts in the same area. So with 25 minutes to go I drove 15 minutes across the lake and shut down. [His ref said] ‘Dean is 2 lbs something behind’ – he caught one while I was running.

> “I made one cast and caught a 4-lber [off a brushpile]. That last-minute decision was the best move to me. I didn’t go [to Santee] to finish 2nd. It was a gametime decision that could’ve gone either way.”


> Rapala CrushCity Freeloader in “pearl white” (muddiest water), “albino pearl” (a little less dingy), and “gizzard shad” and “albino shad” (both in calm water). 3/16-oz VMC Hybrid Swimbait Head: “I caught them on the [new/not out yet tungsten version], 1/8-oz, in the shallower water but I didn’t have enough of them.”

He put Bait Pop on the bait:

> “I put ‘chartreuse’ on the white one and ‘ice out’ [silver, on the others]. It gives a sonar answer [and] I’ve also become a pretty big fan of scent. It’s already in the CrushCity stuff, but with Bait Pop on top of that you see how many fish nose up to your bait in a day’s time. If they’re going to track my bait [he’ll give it a] scent trail. You have to do something because they’re getting tougher and tougher to catch.”

> 7′ M Duckett Jacob Wheeler Original Series Spin Rod, Shimano Vanford Reel (2500), 8-lb Sufix NanoBraid and a prototype Sufix line [the chartreuse line on the reel] to 10-lb Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon.

> Rapala Maverik jerkbait (albino), 12-lb Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon, Shimano Curado 150 HG Reel, 6′ 9″ M Duckett Jacob Wheeler Select Rod.

> 1/2-oz custom jig (gp blue) with a Rapala CrushCity Cleanup Craw (gp magic), 17-lb Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon, Shimano Curado 150 XG Reel, 7′ 7″ H Duckett Jacob Wheeler Select Rod.


> “I used FFS [Lowrance ActiveTarget 2] less than 2% to find places. All the places I found by side imaging – Lowrance side scan.

> “As far as force-feeding [fish], making perfect casts was really important. I was always looking at my electronics to understand where that fish is in relation to my bait. In shallow water…just getting a glimpse. It’s not like you’re in 40′ of water with suspended fish.”


> “I’ve been using MillerTech batteries for several years. They did a great job. I haven’t killed them.

> “That [new Minn Kota Ultrex] Quest trolling motor was pretty good – I’m not sponsored by them. It doesn’t use up a lot of battery and I’m impressed by how quiet it was.

> “Of course iKon.

> “My family…the opportunity to do this lifestyle. I thank God every day to go out and compete and do something that I love.”

Quick note. I asked Jacob if his strategy is to try to make the Knockout Round as quickly as possible so he can practice the 2nd day:

> “The last 3 years was ‘win and you’re in’ scenario [meaning win the first round and you advance directly to the Championship Round]. This year MLF didn’t want to do that…. Normally I would try to compete to win the group, then utilize that time to practice.”

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