By BassFan Staff
It started on the banks of the White River in the Broad Ripple section of Indianapolis. Jacob Wheeler would head out with his father and uncle on fishing excursions as soon as he was old enough.
They’d fish for whatever was biting – bluegill and bass when it was warm, walleye when it was cold. His dad would hook the fish and let Jacob reel them in.
There’s a photo of a 2-year-old Wheeler, still in diapers, with a Snoopy rod in hand.
“He’s been hooked on it ever since,” said Lynn Wheeler, Jacob’s mom.
When he’d go to career days as a youngster and the question would be asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up,” his answer never wavered.
“I want to be a pro bass fisherman,” was his standard response.
Clearly, it didn’t take long for the fishing seed to take root with Wheeler and today, inside the Gwinnett Events Center on the outskirts of Atlanta, the fishing world saw it blossom as the 21-year-old Wheeler closed out a historic victory to capture the Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Lanier.
The FLW Tour rookie caught 11-15 on the final day to finish with 60-01 and lock up the wire-to-wire victory. He collected $500,000 and became the youngest Cup champion ever. He prevailed over a star-studded group of finalists, whose collective résumés include four Cup titles, three Bassmaster Classic wins and five Angler of the Year awards.
“It’s going to take forever for me to realize what happened," he said. "I’ve been trying to put it in the back of my mind the whole week and now to realize what’s happened, it’s going to take a while."
Scott Canterbury, who started the day a little less than 6 pounds back of Wheeler, caught 10-07, his smallest stringer of the week, but held on to finish 2nd with 52-12. Bryan Thrift stuck 12-05 and finished 3rd with 52-04. Scott Martin, last year’s Cup winner, had 12-01 to close with 51-12 in 4th, while David Dudley caught a day-best 14-06 for a 49-13 aggregate, sliding up four spots to finish 5th.
Here’s how the Top 10 finished up:
1. Jacob Wheeler: 60-01
2. Scott Canterbury: 52-12
3. Bryan Thrift: 52-04
4. Scott Martin: 51-12
5. David Dudley: 49-13
6. Jay Yelas: 48-04
7. Andy Morgan: 47-07
8. Troy Morrow: 46-11
9. Dion Hibdon: 46-06
10. Luke Clausen: 43-11
Losing ground in the Top 10 were Jay Yelas, who slipped one spot to 6th, and Luke Clausen, who dropped from 6th to 10th with just three fish today.
Blue skies and blazing sun soaked the region today – a stark contrast to the first 3 days – and it seemed to push the fish, especially the spots, tighter to cover.
Wheelers has now won two of FLW's signature events in back-to-back years.
Bucking the conventional wisdom that this would be a spotted bass derby, Wheeler, the kid who prefers flat-brimmed hats and hails from the town known more for its auto racing than bass fishing, outsmarted the rest of the field by focusing more on water that held resident largemouths.
Wheeler Stuck To Plan
> Day 4: 5, 11-15 (20, 60-01)
This week’s win gives Wheeler victories in two of FLW’s signature events – he won the BFL All-American last year – in the last 15 months and makes ancient history of the days when he’d drain his bank account every other week just so he could afford to fish a BFL or a local jackpot tournament.
He was humble and gracious in victory today, answering every question and honoring each autograph request.
“There are so many people that have supported me,” he said. “Everybody in Indiana, it seems, sent me a Facebook message or texted me. It’s just been an awesome support group and I couldn’t have done it without the thoughts and prayers from them.”
He started the day amid the fog in the Chattahoochee River, where he rewrote the book on August tournaments at Lanier this week. After sharing water with Yelas the last couple days, he had to it himself as Yelas devoted his time elsewhere.
His plan all week had been to put a limit together in the river and then chase bigger fish hanging out on bream beds.
“Today it was a lot easier because I could work my way up,” he said. “Yesterday, Jay and I shared so we had to run our best stretch first because you want to fish the stuff the big ones are on. Today I had enough time, so I had to methodically work every little laydown, every stump, every little nook and cranny of that river until I couldn’t go any further.”
He caught his first keeper at 8:40 as a group of 12 boats keenly looked on. A while later, he added a 2 3/4-pound spot and added a couple more in the river before running an hour to a bream bed he hadn’t fished since practice.
“I’d been saving this bluegill bed for the last day because I hadn’t felt like I needed it too much,” he said. “I ran in there and literally I threw my prop bait up there, twitched it three times and I saw this big 'un come up. He was just sitting there. The problem here is there are tons of good largemouth shallow. It’s hard to get those fish to commit. They’ll just sit there. They’ll follow their bait in. It’s really hard to get those fish to bite and commit to your bait.
“This fish was following my prop bait and I was thinking, ‘Man, it’s going to be another one of those things – a 4-pounder sitting just a foot below by prop bait.’ I twitched it one more time and let it sit there for like 4 seconds and he came up and annihilated it and swallowed it whole.”
That gave him his limit and a sense of relief that victory was imminent. However, he wasn’t sure he had enough until he saw what Canterbury had caught.
“Not until Scott weighed in,” he said. “That’s when I felt comfortable. I didn’t take anything for granted. I caught my biggest largemouth at about 2 p.m. That was the one that I felt did it.”
Scott Canterbury relied on big kicker fish each day to stay in contention.
2nd: Canterbury Gave it His All
> Day 4: 5, 11-15 (20, 60-01)
Canterbury caught a big kicker fish each day to keep himself in contention throughout the event. He'd have needed a sack full of giants to track down Wheeler today, so he wasn't extremely disheartened by his runner-up finish.
"It's awesome," he said. "I was really blessed all week to get some big bites and land them. I had a couple more bites on top that I didn't land, but all they would've done was give me a little more breathing room for 2nd.
"I figured going into the day that I'd need 17 or 18 pounds to have a good shot at winning. I fished as hard as I could and left everything out there."
The $100,000 check he received after the weigh-in made it his biggest payday as a pro.
"It's life-changing because it's real expensive out here and this makes it easier, anyhow. But to win it, it wouldn't have been about the money. I want that Cup."
His stringer today was topped by a fish that was right around 4 pounds. It wasn't quite as big as his best specimens from each of the previous 3 days.
"That fish had a broken back and couldn't fight as hard as the other big ones had been doing."
3rd: Thrift Getting Closer
> Day 4: 5, 12-05 (20, 52-04)
Thrift's finish marked his fourth Top 10 in five Cup appearances (the other was a 15th) and represented his best to date.
"This one's the toughest for me," he said. "I wanted to win bad, and I was on the fish to win it. That's about all I can say."
He caught eight keepers today, including a 4-pounder.
"At 12:30 I had no fish, so I ran 35 miles to a dock that for some reason had about a thousand fish on it. I caught a limit, then I went back to the bank and got my two biggest ones (he also had a 3 1/2).
Bryan Thrift notched his fourth Top-10 finish in the Cup in five outings.
"After I caught that second big one, I was mad at myself. I'd wasted an hour and a half for three 2-pounders when I should've gone to another pocket and tried for a couple of big ones."
The $75,000 payday pushed the sixth-year pro's career earnings past the $1 million mark.
4th: Martin Put Up a Fight
> Day 4: 5, 12-01 (20, 51-12)
Martin's showing was a near-complete turnaround from the last time the Cup was held at Lanier in 2010 (he caught one fish in that derby and finished 77th). It was also a valiant defense of the title he captured last year at Ouachita.
"I learned a lot 2 years ago," he said. "I knew how to dropshot then, but I was fishing the wrong depth and at the wrong end of the lake. I enjoyed fishing deep this time – being from Florida, I don't get a chance to do it that often."
He brought in his first largemouth of the event today, but it came from the same deep water that produced the 19 spots he weighed through the course of the tournament. He handled about a dozen keepers for the day.
"It was a slower start. I didn't have my first keeper until 10:30 and I'd been getting a limit by then. The dropshot bite kind of fizzled today and the star of the show was the Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin.
"I'm honestly very proud and I feel very blessed that I was able to defend my title until the last day. At the same time, I'm disappointed because I wanted to win – what an opportunity this was have back-to-back victories in the Cup. I can break down each day right now trying to figure out where I could have come up with an extra 8 pounds."
5th: Dudley Boats Biggest Bag
> Day 4: 5, 14-06 (20, 49-13)
The re-emergence of the sun today was a boon for Dudley, who caught the day's best stringer and his best of the tournament.
The top-ranked angler in the BassFan World Rankings went through eight or nine keepers. Several were long, but none topped 3 1/2 pounds as all of them were slender.
"Once it got sunny, they went up underneath the docks," he said. "I caught almost everything on a shaky-head today. Their weight was hard to judge because they were so skinny."
It was the two-time reigning Angler of the Year's best Cup finish since his victory in 2003 at the James River. He's competed in the event seven times since then and has just one placement lower than 14th.
> Day 4 stats – 10 anglers, 9 limits, 1 three.
Day 4 (Final) Standings
1. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, In -- 21-15 (5) -- 11-12 (5) -- 14-07 (5) -- 11-15 (5) -- 60-01 (20) -- $500,000
2. Scott Canterbury -- Springville, Al -- 16-09 (5) -- 12-07 (5) -- 13-05 (5) -- 10-07 (5) -- 52-12 (20) -- $100,000
3. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 13-12 (5) -- 13-11 (5) -- 12-08 (5) -- 12-05 (5) -- 52-04 (20) -- $75,000
4. Scott Martin -- Clewiston, Fl -- 14-09 (5) -- 14-11 (5) -- 10-07 (5) -- 12-01 (5) -- 51-12 (20) -- $60,000
5. David Dudley -- Lynchburg, Va -- 13-11 (5) -- 10-10 (5) -- 11-02 (5) -- 14-06 (5) -- 49-13 (20) -- $50,000
6. Jay Yelas -- Corvallis, Or -- 12-04 (5) -- 18-04 (5) -- 6-10 (5) -- 11-02 (5) -- 48-04 (20) -- $45,000
7. Andy Morgan -- Dayton, Tn -- 11-02 (5) -- 14-04 (5) -- 11-08 (4) -- 10-09 (5) -- 47-07 (19) -- $40,000
8. Troy Morrow -- Eastanollee, Ga -- 10-15 (5) -- 13-06 (5) -- 12-02 (5) -- 10-04 (5) -- 46-11 (20) -- $35,000
9. Dion Hibdon -- Sunrise Beach, Mo -- 14-15 (5) -- 14-01 (5) -- 6-03 (3) -- 11-03 (5) -- 46-06 (18) -- $30,000
10. Luke Clausen -- Spokane, Wa -- 12-05 (5) -- 11-14 (5) -- 12-13 (5) -- 6-11 (3) -- 43-11 (18) -- $25,000