Reigning Bally Bet Angler of the Year (AOY) Jacob Wheeler of Harrison has six Bass Pro Tour wins – more than any other angler in Major League Fishing History – but he hasn’t hoisted a trophy since Stage Six of 2021. However, Wheeler caught 13 scorable bass Sunday, with his best five weighing 25 pounds, 6 ounces, to win the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour Toro Stage Four at Lake Guntersville presented by Bass Cat Boats and earn the top payout of $100,000.
Wheeler’s two-day total of 10 bass weighing 54 pounds, 15 ounces, gave him the victory by a 9-pound, 7-ounce margin over second-place finisher Jacob Wall of New Hope, Ala., who weighed in 10 bass totaling 45-8, good for $45,000.
“It’s truly special to win this event,” Wheeler said.
“The Tennessee River holds a very special place in my heart. It’s been good to me.”
Lake Guntersville has changed in recent years from a lake that featured typical TVA current, when baits such as a football-head jig and a crankbait were the norm. Eel grass has become prevalent, and it has cleared up the water – to the point where the bottom is visible in 7 to 8 feet of water in some places. Wheeler adjusted and went to a lighter finesse rig and dominated the field.
“I had a couple of places in my back pocket that I knew if I needed to get a bite, I could get one,” Wheeler said. “If I had 25 places, I bet you I caught a bass on 20 of them.”
Wheeler said he relied on a 7-foot medium-action Duckett spinning rod, a Shimano Vanford 2500 spinning reel, 8-pound-test Sufix NanoBraid Nanofilament Braid, and a Sufix fluorocarbon leader to boat his bass during the event. Wheeler said he also relied heavily on a bait he kept secret all week – a bait he said accounted for “99 percent” of his bass.
“I developed a soft plastic line with a company, and it’s really impressive,” Wheeler said. “The Freeloader has a really unique action. I spent a lot of time on this bait to get it to do exactly what I wanted it to do with the action. It has a shad profile, and a lot of these fish were eating threadfin shad. That bait did a phenomenal job of matching the hatch. It’s a fish catcher.”
The soft plastic Freeloader features a VMC hybrid jig head and a hybrid Spro hook. According to Wheeler, the bait will debut at ICAST in July and be available to the public sometime in the fall.
“It triggers big ones into biting,” Wheeler said. “And that really was the key this week. You throw it out and ‘shake and bake it’. The action of that bait just triggers the big fish.”
While Wheeler will savor the long-awaited victory, he isn’t going to be content with a lone win in 2023.
“I had a really great season last year and won Angler of the Year, but I never won an event,” Wheeler said. “And the goal every single year is to win an event. If you win an event, you try to win two, and if you win two, you try to win three… every single win is special.”
The final 10 pros from the Toro Stage Four at Lake Guntersville Presented by Bass Cat Boats are:
1st: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 10 bass, 54-15, $100,000
2nd: Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., 10 bass, 45-8, $45,000
3rd: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 10 bass, 43-11, $38,000
4th: David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 10 bass, 43-8, $32,000
5th: Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 10 bass, 43-0, $30,000
6th: Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 10 bass, 41-5, $26,000
7th: Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 10 bass, 37-0, $23,000
8th: Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., eight bass, 28-11, $21,000
9th: Randall Tharp, Port Saint Joe, Fla., six bass, 25-4, $19,000
10th: Ott Defoe, Blaine, Tenn., five bass, 24-8, $16,000
Overall, there were 77 scorable bass weighing 253 pounds, 11 ounces caught by nine pros Sunday.
Wheeler also earned Sunday’s Championship Round $1,000 Berkley Big Bass award with a 6-pound, 2-ounce bass he caught on the Freeloader in Period 2. David Dudley of Lynchburg, Virginia, earned the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass award for the largest bass of the overall event with his 7-pound, 9-ounce largemouth that he weighed on Day 4 of competition.