By MLF Communications Staff

BYRDSTOWN, Tenn. – Each of the 10 anglers who qualified for the Championship Round on Dale Hollow Lake will start Sunday morning with zero pounds, but it sure feels like two have separated from the rest of the pack in the chase for the trophy at the third MLF Bass Pro Tour event of the season.

On a day during which many of the 20 anglers on the water struggled to generate consistent bites, two-time Angler of the Year (AOY) winner Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tenn. and rookie Drew Gill of Mount Carmel, Ill. seemingly stacked weight on ScoreTracker at will. While it took 31 pounds, 2 ounces on the day to earn a spot in the Top 10 and a berth to the Championship Round, both Wheeler and Gill surpassed that mark within the first 90 minutes. Each eclipsed 50 pounds in Period 1 before easing off the throttle, saving as many fish as possible for what’s looking like a final-day prize fight.

Wheeler ultimately finished atop the leaderboard with 25 scorable bass for 79-13. That put him 3-7 ahead of Gill, with a sizable gap to Alton Jones Jr. of Waco, Texas in third place at 54-7.

Still, with several of the best anglers in the game at using forward-facing sonar to find and catch schools of bass (Jones Jr., Dustin Connell, Michael Neal, Spencer Shuffield) among the Top 10, the only sure thing entering Sunday is that whoever prevails will have to earn it.

When Wheeler won his seventh Bass Pro Tour trophy earlier this season at Santee Cooper, he quipped that he had to keep pace with Connell, his travel roommate and close friend who had won the prior event on Toledo Bend. So, after Connell prevailed again at last month’s REDCREST championship, there was some semi-serious speculation that Wheeler would have no choice but to win at Dale Hollow.

Suddenly, the possibility appears very real. While Wheeler is more focused on trying to add to his record BPT victory tally and consolidate his lead in the AOY competition, he’d be happy to continue the trend.

“It would be cool, obviously,” he said. “(Connell) won the first one, I won the second one, he won the third one. It’d be nice to win this one, for sure. Right now, the house is undefeated.”

Usually an ironclad lock to make the Championship Round (he’s now up to an astounding 31 Top 10s in 45 career BPT events), Wheeler admitted that it took him a bit longer than he expected to figure out the bass on Dale Hollow this week, especially considering that he visits the lake regularly. He started competition fishing around the bank, but by Saturday morning, he’d realized that the offshore, forward-facing sonar pattern that has dominated tournament fishing all year would once again be the way to win.

MLF/Garrick Dixon
Photo: MLF/Garrick Dixon

Rookie Drew Gill nearly kept pace with Wheeler in the Knockout Round and will post his second Top-10 finish of 2024.

“I really anticipated this tournament to be a shallow-water tournament,” he said. “It’s April, the trees are blooming. Now, this lake right here is well known for forward-facing sonar, and half my fish have come that way this week; the other half didn’t, I wasn’t looking at my screen. But I fully believe that it’ll be won doing that.”

That’s fine by Wheeler, who’s proven himself as effective as anyone with the technology. He started Saturday morning on an offshore school of largemouth. Using a jighead minnow, he put together a furious flurry that saw him boat 17 scorable bass totaling 53-13 in less than two hours.

“I thought it was going to take 50 pounds to probably make it, and I was able to catch that pretty quickly this morning,” Wheeler said. “And so, I was able to practice the rest of the day and look around and ultimately come up with a pretty solid game plan.”

Despite the fact that smallmouth accounted for the majority of the scorable bass caught by the field Saturday for the first time, 22 of Wheeler’s 25 fish were largemouth. That was by design.

“I was targeting largemouth for the most part,” Wheeler said. “I’ve spent a lot of time here in the wintertime, and I know the typical zones those bass live in.”

As good as Wheeler’s opening period was, he’s not committed to revisiting that spot to start Sunday’s action. In typical Wheeler fashion, once he amassed enough weight that he didn’t have to worry about the cut line, he spent the final five or so hours scouting new water. He found a few new areas that piqued his interest, and as the first boat to launch, he’ll have his pick of locales on the 28,000-acre reservoir.

“I was able to eliminate a lot of stuff,” Wheeler said of his afternoon. “Now, I still have some stuff that I need to go look at. I found some stuff late; I realized what was transpiring late. So, I’m going to have to practice tomorrow as well.”

While he might practice in the sense that he’ll continue searching for the winning fish, there will be no easing off his efforts to catch them during the Championship Round. Wheeler believes it will take at least 100 pounds to claim the trophy, maybe more.

“I think 100 pounds will probably win,” Wheeler said. “I mean, it could take even as much as 120 or more. Heck, I don’t know. Obviously, a lot of guys put some pressure on their fish, but a lot of guys are sandbagging, too.”

Britt Myers of Lake Wylie, S.C. caught a 5-3 smallmouth on a jig in the first period to claim Saturday’s Berkley Big Bass Award. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The final 10 anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. CT Sunday from Sunset Marina and Resort, located at 2040 Sunset Dock Road in Monroe. The takeout will be held at the marina beginning at 4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the ScoreTracker leaderboard and event coverage at .

The MLFNOW! broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on Sunday from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT. MLFNOW! is livestreamed on and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Knockout Round

(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish for the round)

1. Jacob Wheeler -- 79-13 (25) -- 4-12

2. Drew Gill -- 76-06 (25) -- 5-02

3. Alton Jones Jr. -- 54-07 (17) -- 4-07

4. Marshall Robinson -- 49-06 (17) -- 3-12

5. Spencer Shuffield -- 49-00 (18) -- 3-11

6. Dustin Connell -- 43-15 (16) -- 3-07

7. Michael Neal -- 43-00 (14) -- 4-10

8. Justin Lucas -- 39-03 (14) -- 3-08

9. Keith Poche -- 31-09 (10) -- 3-08

10. Alton Jones -- 31-02 (11) -- 4-06

The following anglers did not make the cut and will not advance to the Championship Round

11. Shin Fukae -- 26-05 (7) -- 4-11

12. Britt Myers -- 26-02 (8) -- 5-03

13. Jesse Wiggins -- 23-06 (9) -- 3-01

14. David Dudley -- 23-03 (8) -- 3-09

15. Grae Buck -- 19-15 (6) -- 4-00

16. Anthony Gagliardi -- 17-11 (7) -- 3-06

17. Casey Ashley -- 15-14 (6) -- 3-10

18. Jeff Sprague -- 12-05 (5) -- 3-00

19. Adrian Avena -- 12-01 (4) -- 3-05

20. Ott DeFoe -- 9-06 (4) -- 2-12