Harrison's Jacob Wheeler Earns Group A Qualifying Round Win

  • Saturday, February 3, 2024

Group A pros faced a stingier Toledo Bend Thursday as conditions began to change across the fishery, with many of the pros weighing considerably less scorable bass on their second day of competition. But less was still good enough for Harrison's Jacob Wheeler, the two-time Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) winner.

He maintained his spot atop the leaderboard to win the Qualifying Round for Group A at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One At Toledo Bend.

Wheeler caught 91 pounds of scorable bass on Day 1 for Group A, and added 60 pounds, 7 ounces on Thursday for a two-day total of 47 bass weighing 151-7.

The top 10 anglers advancing from Group A will now have an off day from competition Friday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 10 anglers from each group advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Wheeler’s objective during Group A’s second day of qualifying on Toledo Bend wasn’t really to catch bass. The Tennessee pro had already secured a spot in Saturday’s Knockout Round by catching 91 pounds on Day 1. Thursday was all about exploring new water in preparation for the weekend.

Still, no one caught more weight on the day than Wheeler. He added 19 bass for 60 pounds, 7 ounces to SCORETRACKER®, bringing his two-day total to 151-7. That topped Gill by 11-12 on the day to lead the way in Group A.

Wheeler said he wasn’t necessarily trying to stay atop the leaderboard. He fished only water that he hadn’t visited on Day 1, and his 19 scorable catches were simply a product of sampling each new area.

“There’s a lot of junk fish out there, catfish and everything else, or they’re smaller bass,” Wheeler explained. “If I was going to pull into a new area, I wanted to catch one or two to know, okay, yes, this is 2½-- or 3-pounders, or this is all catfish.”

On a day when both total numbers and weights dipped across the board, that should be a scary thought for the rest of the field.

While Wheeler estimated about a third of his Day 2 weight came from areas he won’t revisit this week, he felt like he achieved his goal of expanding his pattern and identifying some options he can turn to if conditions change in the coming days.

“I feel like I definitely can catch ‘em, and I feel like I found a couple areas that I definitely would like to fish a little bit more,” he said. “A lot of stuff I was just fortunate to catch a fish or two on, and I won’t be going back, so it just depends on what’s really going down and how those fish are acting come Saturday.”

Wheeler said he caught virtually all his fish on a Rapala CrushCity Freeloader after pinpointing them on forward-facing sonar. While it’s been on the market for less than a year, the minnow-style soft plastic should be familiar to Bass Pro Tour fans, as Wheeler used it to dominate on Lake Guntersville last season. Key this week, he said, has been experimenting with jighead size. He’s affixed the bait to ball heads ranging from 1/8 ounce to 1/2 ounce.

Wheeler is far from alone in his approach – each of the top five finishers in Group A caught the bulk of their weight using a jighead minnow and forward-facing sonar. At this point, he feels confident that “there’s a good chance the tournament is going to be won doing what I’m doing.”

But while it might look like it to viewers on MLFNOW!, the technique isn’t as simple as scanning the depths until you see a bass, then casting to it and reeling it in – especially given the number of anglers that will likely be doing the same thing during the Knockout and Championship Rounds. Wheeler believes his day of exploration allowed him to further dial in the subtleties that could make the difference down the stretch.

“That’s literally the goal to start the week,” Wheeler said. “If you can make a Top 10 cut in one day, you better dang well do it, because that’s going to give you the time and opportunity to go check some other stuff out.”

The top 10 pros from Group A that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on Toledo Bend are:

1st:          Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 47 bass, 151-7
2nd:        Drew Gill, Mount Carmel, Ill., 42 bass, 139-12
3rd:         Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 44 bass, 130-3
4th:         Justin Cooper, Zwolle, La., 27 bass, 80-9
5th:         Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 31 bass, 80-0
6th:         James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., 26 bass, 76-14
7th:         Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 23 bass, 73-2
8th:         Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 23 bass, 72-3
9th:         Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., 25 bass, 69-6
10th:       Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 26 bass, 67-3

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:      Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 21 bass, 66-2
12th:      Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 16 bass, 58-12
13th:      Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 21 bass, 57-15
14th:      Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 16 bass, 57-4
15th:      Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 19 bass, 54-14
16th:      Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 17 bass, 51-0
17th:      John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., 15 bass, 49-2
18th:      Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 15 bass, 47-9
19th:      Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., 16 bass, 47-8
20th:      Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 18 bass, 46-5
21st:      Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., 20 bass, 45-14
22nd:     Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 13 bass, 43-0
23rd:      Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part, La., nine bass, 40-0
24th:      Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 14 bass, 37-5
25th:      Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 11 bass, 29-6
26th:      Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., nine bass, 26-15
27th:      Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, 10 bass, 26-12
28th:      Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., nine bass, 26-5
29th:      Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 10 bass, 26-5
30th:      Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., 10 bass, 26-5
31st:      Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, eight bass, 26-4
32nd:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., eight bass, 26-4
33rd:      Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, 10 bass, 26-0
34th:      Keith Carson, DeBary, Fla., nine bass, 24-5
35th:      Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., five bass, 22-13
36th:      Scott Suggs, Alexander, Ark., eight bass, 21-5
37th:      Boyd Duckett, Guntersville, Ala., seven bass, 16-5
38th:      Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., four bass, 10-6
39th:      Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., four bass, 9-4
40th:      Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., zero bass, 0-0

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