By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Jesse Wiggins says he usually forgets about fishing for a while once a tour-level season ends and a new one is still several months away. That's not the case this year after his strong second half of the MLF Bass Pro Tour campaign that saw him post his second straight sixth-place finish in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings.
"It just makes me hungry to get going again," said the 32-year-old from Addison, Ala. "Normally when I get home (after the last event), I just want to go hunting or whatever, but I'm itching to get back to fishing already.
"I'm still going to hunt, but I'm fishing around home more than I usually do."
His season got off to a strong start as he was 8th in the opener at the Kissimmee Chain. But after a 12th-place showing at the REDCREST Championship (Lake Norman), he posted subpar finishes in back-to-back events at Cherokee/Douglas (51st) and Murray (63rd).
After three regular-season events, he was 43rd in the points standings. After a lackluster outing at Heavy Hitters (25th out of 30 competitors), he placed 16th at Lake Guntersville, 13th at Cayuga Lake, 4th at Lake St. Clair and 3rd at Saginaw Bay to leapfrog all but a handful of anglers on the list.
With consecutive single-digit points finishes on his ledger (following a 14th in 2021), he's begun to entertain the possibility of winning an AOY title.
"Absolutely, it makes me realize it's possible," he said, "but you almost have to make a Top 10 in every tournament to win one against these guys. There are several guys who are right there every year, so it's not just how the ball bounces. Work ethic and making the right decisions mean a lot.
"I'm going to keep doing everything I know how to do. This certainly feels a lot better than being down there in the 60s, like I was in 2020 (68th). That was tough to take and it had me wondering if I could even do this. It seemed like every decision I made was wrong."
His first sixth-place AOY finish came under the BPT's former every-fish-counts format and this one was achieved under the biggest-five-per-day system. That brings some additional satisfaction.
"Just doing it multiple years in a row feels good and it gives me confidence that I can catch them in either format. That's the main thing."
The 2022 campaign featured his initial tour-level victory at Lake of the Ozarks and he also won a BFL Regional at Smith Lake in his home state last fall, so that year was a bit more profitable from a financial perspective than this one. Nonetheless, this was a season that, for the most part, saw the game plans he developed in practice carry over into the tournaments.
For example, in the finale at Saginaw Bay, he spent his first practice day looking for smallmouth and caught just one fish. The next day he started cruising in and out of reed clusters and got several bites, including one from an oversized fish.
"I could see a bunch more of them swimming around in there, and that area ended up holding up for me for all 4 days," he said. "It was a pretty big area and there were two or three other guys in there with me who did well. The last day I caught a couple of big ones.
"The key was finding an area that had bass and staying with it. I've had trouble in the past with not going somewhere and just staking it out. This year I found quite a few places where I could stick around and get the right bites."
Still, he's a bit haunted by the March and April events in which he failed to advance to the Knockout Round. With even solid finishes there, he could've been right in the AOY mix at the end.
The worst part about that is on both occasions, he was among the Top 10 in his 40-angler group after the initial day.
"The not-so-great ones are the ones you always think about – what could have been," he said. "What really bothers me is I didn't get it done on Day 2, but the way everything else worked out, I'm not going to complain."