Jacob Wheeler did it again, taking down the second stop on the 2024 Bass Pro Tour at Santee Cooper Lakes. While Wheeler’s win list is becoming too lengthy to keep track of, this may have been his most notable. For it shows the true paradigm shift in competitive bass fishing that has occurred in the last three years.

Forward-facing sonar is here to stay, as we’ve noted in previous columns, and is in the process of completely overwhelming the methods used to win bass tournaments, as I predicted early on. Believe it or not, I still hear from anglers and fans alike the notion that FFS is a seasonal tactic, or useful only in specific scenarios or under the right conditions. And that may be true for those who aren’t well-versed in its use. But, for the competitors who are embracing FFS and continuing to learn ways to apply it, the sky’s the limit.

If the Santee Copper event doesn’t demonstrate this, nothing will.

For a while, I thought we’d see a more traditional approach take the title. Shallow, dingy water. Prespawn fish. A lake so full of cover that any bass in its right mind would ignore jighead minnows and spinning rods and demand to be fished for with a jig-'n-pig and goat rope.

It looked promising. Dean Rojas employed a dock-skippjng technique that flew under the radar of most. The guy’s always been a true athlete. His ability to skip lures is some of the best on tour, especially with a casting rod; thousands of hours of skiing frogs will do that for you. Rojas is easy to root for and gives the veterans hope.

Jesse Wiggins brought out the cranking rod and wound a ChatterBait around the cypress. Old-school cool.

And it was good to see Deve Lefebre in the mix. Talk about old-school; Lefebre resorted to a Texas-rigged lizard for a few key fish. Who evens carries a lizard in their boat anymore? Lefebre, that’s who. But it wasn’t meant to be .

Nope, it was another dominating win by a competitor pushing the envelope of everything we know about bass fishing.

Wheeler is simply on a different plane. Call it instinct, luck or simply recognizing a competitive advantage, his ability to buck the trends and focus on his strengths are truly inspiring. Forty years ago, we heard Rick Clunn say “there are no limits in bass fishing.” Today, Wheeler is again proving that to be true.

Part of his win can be credited to forward-facing sonar, but only in terms of adaptability of his technique. Remember, it was Wheeler winning, and dominating, in the days before FFS, too. Throughout his time at Santee, Wheeler made a number of important decisions that led to his victory.

First, after researching the venue and checking noted areas, Wheeler determined that much of the field was thinking the same thing. Immediately, this set off an alarm. Fish management and strategy are imperative to Wheeler’s technique, and that requires special attention. Just that fast, he was gone, while much of the field fought it out amongst themselves.

Next, Wheeler decided to concentrate on areas that others specifically would avoid. It’s important to remember that the well-known areas get that way for a reason. Good places are good. Lots of cover and bass. Conversely, Wheeler’s chosen locations are often remote and specific, holding fewer fish, so Wheeler needs more places. To accomplish this, he moves incessantly.

Finally, Wheeler often practices without ever making a cast. He’s a master at all forms of electronics and credits side-imaging for his scouting prowess. Once fishing, his utilization of FFS keys him in to productive tactics immediately, of which his arsenal is well stocked. While we hear the reports of winning lures, often a number of tactics are responsible for piling up the numbers.

Oh, and one more thing: Wheeler continuously gains more valuable practice time than the others because he comes out of the gates strong. On numerous occasions, Wheeler has spent much of his competitive days actually practicing, assured of his qualification to the next round due a huge initial performance. This is a monumental advantage.

So is it forward-facing sonar that’s winning these tournaments? No, it’s Jacob Wheeler. It’s a combination of taking advantage of the format, combining with the latest technology, and pushing yourself further as an athlete. Forward-facing sonar is simply allowing guys like him to get it done more easily.

There’s an old saying in bass fishing. “A good flipper,” they say “can look at a shoreline and tell you everywhere there’s a bass.” Jacob Wheeler does that with his electronics. And who can blame him?

But, more than that, the Santee victory demonstrates an entire system that has been years in the making, and continues to evolve daily. This week, Wheeler’s again competing at West Point Lake, one steeped in offshore history. How fast can he dial it in, and how will a five-fish format change his chances? We’ll just have to wait and see.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)