WHEELER KEEPS ROLLING
Story and photos by Matt Pangrac
Duluth, GA – Entering the second day of competition at the Forrest Wood Cup on Georgia’s Lake Lanier, 21-year-old Jacob Wheeler controlled his own destiny. After opening a 5-pound, 6-ounce lead on Thursday, the biggest Day One lead in Forrest Wood Cup history, the Indiana pro knew that he needed to keep his foot on the gas to take the lead into the weekend.
While Wheeler didn’t pull away from the field on Friday, he maintained his lead after bringing in a limit weighing 11-12 to boost his two day total weight to an impressive 33-11. Rapidly approaching in his rearview mirror is Oregon veteran Jay Yelas, who boxed the day’s heaviest limit weighing 18-4 to finish the day in 2nd place and move within 3-pounds, 3-ounces of Wheeler.
Defending Forrest Wood Cup champion, Scott Martin, also crept up the leader board on Friday, besting his Day One effort of 14-9 by two-ounces to finish the day in 3rd Place with a total weight of 29-4, and Scott Canterbury and Dion Hibdon tied for 4th Place to round out the Top Five with a total weight of 29-0.
1st Place: Jacob Wheeler (11-12, 33-11)
On leading the Forrest Wood Cup: “You really can’t comprehend what’s happening right now. It’s sort of like when I won the All-American. You don’t realize what’s happening during that moment at all. When you look back, you’re like, ‘Wow, look what just happened.’
“Right now, I’m just in the moment and fishing. That’s all that I have to worry about. It’s really hard with all these distractions that come with the Forrest Wood Cup. You’re thinking about the money, you’re thinking about the Cup, you’re thinking about the prestige, and you’re thinking about what it means. You have to worry the fish – that’s it.”
On losing several good fish early in the morning: “It was something that I had to put behind me. My sister wrote a little sentence on a piece of paper that said, ‘Jacob, stay 100% and always believe in the Lord.’ That was something for me that I could look at on my console when I got down. That calmed me down every time."
Recapping the day: “I caught them early yesterday, but today was a grind and I worked all day. I worked for every bite that I had. They got used to the prop bait that I was throwing, so I switched to an X-Rap prop bait. The biggest one that I caught today was on a bluegill bed.”
Exploring other patterns: “I definitely have some fish down lake, and I haven’t even gone down lake yet. I don’t know if I’d say that I’m saving them, I just haven’t made the run to them yet. They might not even be there anymore because so many people have been fishing shallow; you just don’t know what’s been hit and what hasn’t.
On his plan for Saturday: Today I was more worried about making sure that I caught five and stayed consistent. Yesterday, I caught them early so I could gamble a lot. I couldn’t do that today because with the position that I’m in, you have to be careful. You have to gamble just a little and stay consistent.
“It’s the same game plan tomorrow. If I can catch one big bag around 15 or 16, I feel like it might give me enough ‘umph’ so that I only have to catch 11-pounds on the last day.
Remembering when Michael Bennett won the cup at age 24 in 2008: “I followed that tournament. I’ve actually thought about the fact that I’m younger. Winning the All-American and being the youngest ever to do it was a goal, but then I thought that (being the youngest) to win the Cup would be awesome. I think that I was like 16 or 17 when he did that. It’s definitely something that I’ve thought of.”
2nd Place: Jay Yelas (18-4, 30-8)
Deciding between two patterns: “It all boils down to decisions. I found two different patterns before the tournament started. One is flipping way up river, and that’s what I did today. The other is down the lake with more main lake fish.
“The upriver fish are bigger, but there aren’t as many. Down the lake, there are a lot of fish but you’re not going to catch a six-pounder like I did today. The $500,000 question is if you should go after those big ones or play it safe.
“Yesterday was a really conservative day because I wanted to get my timing down. Tomorrow, I have to decide what the best plan of attack is. I have to go back and try for those big ones, but I’m not going to die up there. I only had six keepers today. I may use a one-two punch.”
On the boat traffic: “Where I’m fishing, it’s so far up river that you can’t even get on plane. I’m not worried about boat traffic up there. My spot down the lake, the fish come up schooling a little bit and a lot of boats running over the top could keep the bait down. I think that boat traffic could make it tougher there.
“That’s a huge variable going into the weekend and everything changes going into the second half. It’ll be a zoo out there.”
On his practice: “I shook off some good ones (up the river) in practice. I made a bad call on the first day and made the call to stay down the lake. I’d seen some big fish come up schooling and I thought that I had a good chance to catch them. That wasn’t a wise call, because the bigger ones are easier to catch upriver.”
On the overall increase in weights: “Right now, it’s 10-pounds heavier than in 2010. Two years ago, the largemouth were a no-show because the lake was high and full and there were stick-ups everywhere. There was so much flooded cover that you couldn’t find them.
“This year, the lake is down and the river is more of a factor because it’s down eight-feet. The largemouth fishermen have been able to use the lower lake levels to their advantage.”
3rd Place: Scott Martin (14-11, 29-4)
On how the tournament is unfolding: “What I visualized was consistency winning this one. So far for two days, I’ve been pretty consistent. I just have to go out there tomorrow and catch everything that I can catch. My fish are coming in everything from the shoreline out to 40-foot. You just have to make adjustments on the water the whole time.
"I think that Jacob Wheeler is going to keep catching good bags, I think that Jay Yelas is going to keep catching good bags, and I have to keep catching good bags. At the end of Sunday, we’ll see what happens if I make it that far. It’s going to take 15- to 16-pounds a day. I need to step up to the plate and catch a bigger bag tomorrow.”
Friday on the water: “It was consistent today. Yesterday wasn’t as consistent and I didn’t catch them in the morning. I think that I got dialed in a little bit better and I caught them more frequently. It was the same technique, but I’m running some new water.
“I broke off a giant one today when I was fishing new water. Today wasn’t a good schooling day, but they like the sun so I’m expecting them to school more tomorrow.
On the differences between last year’s Cup: I’ve ran a bunch of stuff this year – probably 40 places. Last year, I probably caught 60% to 70% off of one area. This year, I’m running. I actually think that the sun and the boat traffic here might make them bite.
“The places where I caught them the best yesterday, I only caught one fish today.”
4th Place (Tie): Scott Canterbury (12-7, 29-0)
Friday on the water: “I had five keeper bites all day and I was blessed to catch another one of those big ones. I’m around the big fish, I just have to keep the bait in there and get two or three of those big bites. It was so tough today that I don’t know if I might need to change – I really don’t know what I’m going to do.
“I’m catching them out of brush piles. I probably picked my trolling motor up 50 or 60 times today. My legs are about as tired as they’ve ever been from fishing. The first fish that I caught today as a 2-pound largemouth, the rest were spots.”
On getting enough big bites: “If I could catch five of them, it’d be great. I know where the big ones are, but I don’t know where the all are. I just know what water column the big fat ones are in. It’s just hard to find enough stuff in that water column to catch them.
On fighting the spotted bass: “I’m use to catching strong spotted bass on the Coosa River, but these fish are stronger than the smallmouth that you catch up north. These are the strongest fish that I’ve ever caught on a spinning rod, for sure. They’ll take 25-feet of line off of a spinning rod in three seconds – they’re that fast."
4th Place (Tie): Dion Hibdon (14-1, 29-0)
Friday on the water: “I had a very fortunate day today, and I only lost one. Doing what I’m doing, that’s pretty lucky. I’m tickled to be in the hunt. I probably had around 10 keepers, and today wasn’t any different from yesterday.
“It really wasn’t a lot different for me. The mornings are kind of hard for me. I only had one at around 9:30. From 10:00 to 11:00, I caught them pretty steadily."
On the largemouth bite: “I’m fishing shallow. There are more largemouth here, and they’ve come back. I really think that a lot of the locals don’t mess with the largemouth as much. When we show up, we fish for what we think is going to win. 90% of us don’t have any preconceived notion, especially the ‘old-timers.’ If you give me five or six days on any body of water, I’m going to figure something out.”
On his bass replenishing: “My spotted bass area is close to where I caught a 4- and a 6-pound largemouth yesterday. After I fished my spotted bass area, I decided to go through the (largemouth) area again because I had missed one in there yesterday.
“I really didn’t think that there were more fish in there, and I ended up catching my limit in 30-minutes. For largemouth in the summertime, very seldom will I go back and fish over a spot where I caught them the previous day. The crazy thing is that I’ll probably go back and try it again tomorrow.”
DAY TWO STANDINGS
1st: Fatheadz pro Jacob Wheeler, Indianapolis, Ind., 10 bass, 33-11
2nd: Chevy pro Jay Yelas, Corvallis, Ore., 10 bass, 30-8
3rd; National Guard pro Scott Martin, Clewiston, Fla., 10 bass, 29-4
4th: Straight Talk pro Scott Canterbury, Springville, Ala., 10 bass, 29-0
5th: Chevy pro Dion Hibdon, Sunrise Beach, Mo., 10 bass, 29-0
6th: Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 10 bass, 27-7
7th: Cody Bird, Granbury, Texas, 10 bass, 27-2
8th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 10 bass, 25-6
9th: Castrol pro David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 10 bass, 24-5
10th: Troy Morrow, Eastanollee, Ga., 10 bass, 24-5
11th: Kettle Brand Chips pro Dan Morehead, Paducah, Ky., 10 bass, 24-3
12th: Chevy pro Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., 10 bass, 24-3
13th: Cody Meyer, Auburn, Calif., 10 bass, 23-11
14th: Clent Davis, Montevallo, Ala., 10 bass, 23-8
15th: Folgers pro Scott Suggs, Bryant Ark., 10 bass, 23-8
16th: Clark Wendlandt, Leander, Texas, 10 bass, 23-0
17th: Cheez-It pro Shinichi Fukae, Palestine, Texas, 10 bass, 22-0
18th: Rayovac pro Jason Christie, Park Hill, Okla., 10 bass, 21-6
19th: National Guard pro Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 10 bass, 21-2
20th: Dr Pepper TEN pro Glenn Browne, Ocala, Fla., 10 bass, 20-15