Winning Baits

How Jacob Wheeler won the Dale Hollow BPT

Does Jacob put on his pants and launch his boat just like anybody else? Word is…no. 😁 Alright whatever the deal is, he won again! 2nd win this season, 8th MLF win and most MLF wins ever. Amazing. Here’s how it went down.

Going in and practice

> “…a cold front comes through and we had warm weather right before that – in my mind I’m thinking a pre-spawn/spawn event.

> “I live 2.5 hours south of Dale Hollow and have probably spent 100 days on Dale Hollow in my life so I know it fairly well. I felt really comfortable about understanding the fishery but I’ve never fished it this time of year. So I was going to run around to try to figure out where this tournament was going to go down at.

> “…I go into a couple pockets and they were not spawning. So I get out and fish around for suspended fish…any highland reservoir is more of a FFS lake. They sit on bait a lot.

> “Later in practice that was sort of going away. …largemouth…went to the bank. I went into a pocket and 15 largemouth were on the bank spawning.

> “It seemed like half the smallmouth were post-spawners. So they must have spawned on the last full moon, the last week of March…seemed that way anyway.

> “Practice wasn’t exactly how I envisioned it, but I definitely had an area of the lake where I caught some key fish.

> “A big key because our events are so long is not dialing it in in practice. I don’t want to be committed to any one thing. I had pre-spawners, spawners, fish around brush, fish suspended around bait…fish around bluff walls…a lot of options. What am I going to spend my time doing throughout the tournament? I didn’t really know.”


> “The first day I started on an area that was more bait-related. I caught 21 lbs in about 45 minutes…ran around and caught a few more doing that deal…basically 2 primary zones.

> “Then I went and fished bluff walls. …after I had a pretty good start, I went basically practicing after the first period of the 1st round. …I went and caught some fish on bluff walls, I caught some fish on points and ended the day in a really good position. I think I had 59 lbs and was firmly in position to make the top 10 round.”

> Day 2: “…only needed to catch about 10-15 lbs. My goal was…to eliminate a zone [area of the lake]…Obey River area. It’s pretty obvious – they get on bluff walls, turns and stuff like that. I caught enough to qualify and wrote it off after that. I felt like I was done with that zone and needed to spend more time in other zones.

> “The big thing that happened on day 2 for me was…it was really windy: 15-25 with gusts to 40, out of the SW or W. When that happens on a highland reservoir, it blows a lot of bait and nutrients into certain areas of the lake…makes stuff better.

> “I ran into one of my primary areas from day 1 and the bait was everywhere. The bait was leaving, but now the bait was everywhere. What that does is get the fish to group up more…gets them to group up in schools more and actually hunt.

> “…realize what I thought would be going away, now because of this wind amplified what is going down. So then I was all in on that deal.

> “In the Knockout Round I shut down on 1 of the 2 primary areas I had. Another angler was in that area…made my presence known and left to go to my other area, which was a little bit larger area. It wouldn’t be as hard to share it if another boat was there.

> “Nobody else was there and I caught like 55 lbs in an hour and half. I caught ’em really quick. I was able to do that really fast and get out of that zone. Then I was just able to practice the rest of the day…looking for places. We had rain and wind. A lot of those places the wind had pushed the bait into. I looked for key zones. …my 2 primary areas [the weather] made those better [but he couldn’t find others].

> “Championship day…the wind was going to blow out of the west really hard. One area was protected, one was not. I started on [the area] that was going to get blown out by the wind because it was calm that morning. Another competitor was in the same zone with me…about 100 yards away.

> “Basically I caught 70 lbs in the 1st period alone…just absolutely train-wrecked them. But Michael Neal is 15 lbs away from me after the 1st period. At that point I wanted to go to my other primary area, hoping have it to myself….

> “It was a big area, about a quarter-mile long-ish…they were set up in. …nobody’s there. The fish are acting weird. I’m not catching them. I was like, obviously somebody started here because there’s no way fish are acting this weird and not biting.

> “I was able to get into a zone [a piece of that area] I felt like wasn’t pressured and caught 30 lbs fairly quickly to have over 100 lbs. 30 or 45 minutes in, Michael shows up…sharing that area. Then I knew why they were acting so weird [Michael had started there]. It’s interesting how much pressure changes things…they know what’s up.

> “I had 1 really good zone I wanted to go to – down the lake – really bad but Michael was in 2nd place that point. So if I struck out down the lake I would be in a position where he could make a comeback. So I would rather focus my attention there and split them up. He catches one, I catch one, I stay 30 lbs up on him. It was a strategy thing….”


> Rapala CrushCity Mooch Minnow (gizzard shad) on 1/8, 3/16, 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2-oz VMC Sleek Heads and not out yet VMC tungsten heads.

> “A big key…on the lighter heads for those Mooch Minnows I had the tail tabs cut off. The purpose for that was I wanted that bait to roll more on that lighter head. It would have more action so those fish up higher in the water column – I could throw to those fish, shake that minnow and it would have more of a rolling action. If they were pressured I could catch them more on a lighter head than on a heavier head.

> “On the flip side, when I saw a group of fish 20-30′ down moving fast, I needed that 1/2-oz head because those fish were moving at such a fast pace. I’d make 10-15 cast before I’d get it in front of them because they moving so fast. I was going 1.5 mph on the trolling motor and was barely keeping up with them. When they’re hunting in groups they’re moving insanely fast.

> “When I was using the 3/8 and the 1/2 I didn’t cut those [Mooch Minnow tail] tabs because that’s the action of that bait. It’s not going to rock any more [if the tabs were cut] with that heavier head on it.

> “The fish were all over the place, from a foot down to 20-30′. If I could get a lighter head to them, the [fish-catching] action was better.”

> Rapala CrushCity Freeloader (green shad), 3/16-oz and 1/4-oz VMC Hybrid Swimbait Head. “Bluff walls and points – the post-spawners wanted a bigger-profile bait.”

> Both rigs: 7′ M Duckett Jacob Wheeler Original Series Spin RodShimano Vanford Reel (2500), 8-lb Sufix NanoBraid to 10-lb Sufix Advance Fluorocarbon.


> “ActiveTarget is the best FFS when you’re chasing suspended fish. You can see so much farther. I play with both Garmin and Lowrance – both have their advantages and disadvantages.

> “As far as suspended fish go, you can see so much further out [with ActiveTarget] – I can see an 1/8 at 85′ and I can see a 1/2 at 110. I keep my ranges at 100 to 120 depending on how big the area is.

> “You have to be on it, you have to know what you’re doing. The key is it’s all about efficiency.

> “I had a Garmin 34 [transducer] on my boat…and I never turned the Garmin on throughout the tournament.

> “To me side imaging definitely is underutilized. The biggest thing is to see bait and fish. I would idle through areas before just beaming around. You can see groups so much better on side imaging. …if it’s singles you have to pick them out on FFS. The majority of places I was fishing had groups of bass.”


> “I did use Bait Pop…put it on all my baits in the bags…. To me, if it helps me 20% to see my bait in the water…catch 3 more bass in a day, that’s the difference between winning and losing in all of these tournaments.

> “Millertech batteries – I’ve been running them all year. I actually had a moment where my batteries didn’t charge the night before – I guess a breaker broke. I run 3 36v Millertechs so I had a backup…plugged that in and I was good to go….

> “Huge shoutout to my wife. She’s the rock. She takes care of everything at the house. Having a really strong family life is really important…knowing everything’s taken care of at home and they’re okay…she’s the superstar in that support group. I couldn’t perform at the level I am right now without that support from her.”

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