By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
(Editor's note: In observance of the Presidents Day holiday, the top story will not be updated until Tuesday, Feb. 18.)
Read more: http://bassfan.com/news_article/4175#.XkbSTS2ZPYU#ixzz6DwszyEjJThe majority of the competitors at the Lake Eufaula Bass Pro Tour were convinced that the 2020 season-opening event would be won from close proximity to the shoreline. Jacob Wheeler was among that contingent – even after dominating his initial qualifying round offshore.
The prevailing theory was that extremely muddy water, which most of Eufaula contained due to heavy rain in the days leading up to the event, wasn't conducive to an offshore program; it breaks up the schools of fish and sends them in all directions. Shallow-water patterns are usually more reliable under such conditions.
To Wheeler's surprise, he had a second spectacular day out in the open water – this time in the Championship Round. From about halfway through the second 2 1/2-hour period until midway through the third, he used a spinnerbait to wreak havoc on a huge congregation of 2- to 4 1/2-pound largemouths that were holding on an underwater point in 8-12 feet of water.
"I was shocked because I didn't think that was going to be the deal toward the end," he said. "I think what ended up happening was that a lot of those fish got used to the water color changing and they didn't leave – they just stayed out there."
He ended up catching 24 scoreable fish for 68 pounds even in the Championship Round. Only runner-up Bryan Thrift (13 for 40-11) caught even half of Wheeler's keeper total and only Thrift and 3rd-place Ott Defoe (10 for 34-09) amassed more than half of his weight.
He became the first angler to win two BPT events (he triumphed last year in the second outing at Table Rock Lake). It was his second Major League Victory at Eufaula – he also won the 2017 Challenge Cup there.
Set Stage Early
Wheeler caught 15 fish for 42-05 in the first Group B qualifying round, which was about 10 pounds more than anybody on the water with him that day managed. Two days later, he added three fish for 9-01 to claim the group victory and its accompanying berth in the Championship Round (group winners this year bypass the Knockout Round and go straight to the finals).
He focused his efforts on the lower portion of the lake – from Barbour Creek on down. That end contains fewer tributaries, which translated into less mud. He pinpointed several locales (brush piles, points, rocks, etc.) during the 2-day practice session that were serving as staging areas for pre-spawn fish.
Cranking and casting a jig were his go-to tactics early on once competition got under way. By his second day on the water, however, the fish began to show disdain for those offerings; thus his extremely light haul in that round.
Midway through the Championship Round, he pulled up on a large underwater point and was thrilled to see his graphs (he has five on his boat made by three different manufacturers) light up with fish icons. He estimated there were at least 150 of them there.
"I'd visited that place several times earlier and never weighed a fish, but there were more of them than I saw on any other day," he said. "I think I said to the camera, 'If we can make them bite, we could win this thing,' but what I was really thinking, even though I didn't want to say it at that time, was that I just won this tournament.
"It was a really good place for them to set up in the pre-spawn. They had lots of places nearby to go up and spawn here in a month or so."
As soon as he tried a 1-ounce spinnerbait on them, the rout was on.
"I threw out there on my second cast and they were fighting for it on the fall. There was 4 inches of visibility, so they couldn't have been coming that far to get it, so that proved how many of them were in there. It was unbelievable.
"On one cast I got four different bites. I'd hook one and it'd come off, then another one would get it."
He took the lead early in the third period and then just kept extending. He went past the 50-pound mark, which was more than he needed to win, with well over an hour left in the day and surpassed 60 pounds about 20 minutes later.
"I certainly couldn't ask for a better start to the season. Now I'm pumped up and excited to get to Okeechobee."
Winning Gear Notes
> Spinnerbait gear: 7' medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Jacob Wheeler Signature Series rod, Duckett Fishing 320 casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Sufix Advance fluorocarbon line, 1-ounce Accent Ole Big spinnerbait (spot remover), 3.8-inch Googan Baits Saucy Swimbait trailer (white pearl shad).
> He said the slower gear ratio on the reel was critical because he had to keep the bait low in the water column. "The strike zone got very small as the water got dirtier," he said.
> Cranking gear: 7'11" medium-heavy Duckett Fishing Micro Magic Pro rod, Duckett Fishing 360 casting reel (5:1 ratio), 12-pound Sufix Advance fluorocarbon, Rapala DT14 or DT16 (Caribbean shad).
> Jig gear: 7'6" Duckett Fishing Jacob Wheeler Signature Series rod, Duckett Fishing Paradigm casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 17-pound Sufix Adavance fluorocarbon, 9/16-ounce ER Lures jig (black/blue or brown/pink), Googan Baits Bandito Bug trailer (black/blue).