PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Wheeler’s familiarity with Dale Hollow unbeatable at Stage Three - Major League Fishing
PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Wheeler’s familiarity with Dale Hollow unbeatable at Stage Three
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PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Wheeler’s familiarity with Dale Hollow unbeatable at Stage Three

Image for PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Wheeler’s familiarity with Dale Hollow unbeatable at Stage Three
Jacob Wheeler scored his eighth Bass Pro Tour event win with Stage Three at Dale Hollow. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Jacob Wheeler.
April 23, 2024 • Dave Landahl • Bass Pro Tour

BYRDSTOWN, Tenn. — Mercury pro Jacob Wheeler winning a bass tournament in a decisive manner shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows professional bass fishing. But Wheeler’s astounding eighth Bass Pro Tour win – at PowerStop Brakes Stage Three Presented by Mercury at Dale Hollow Reservoir – had a little added flavor. 

It wasn’t just that Wheeler won big (besting second place by 30 pounds), and it wasn’t that he employed some kind of secret, juicy bait or technique. The most interesting aspect of Wheeler’s astounding eighth BPT win was that it came on the lake that’s helped the Tennessee pro achieve so much in the bass tournament world.

Wheeler was quick to point out in postgame interviews that the massive amount of time he’s spent on Dale Hollow opened his eyes to how bass relate to cover, the patterns of baitfish associated with the cover and how much both bait and bass truly move around.

“Outside of my home lake, Chickamauga, I’d say I fish Dale Hollow the most; I know it very well,” Wheeler said. “I fish it about 15 or 20 times per winter. I’ll drive up, spend the day and head home at dark. Prior to this event, though, I’ve only fished it in the fall or winter.”

Although he’d never fished Dale Hollow in April prior to the start of practice for Stage Three, Wheeler’s extensive time on the lake armed him with a strong sense of the fishery’s nuances and some knowledge of where the bigger fish winter. Still, Wheeler was hesitant to get too hyped about the timing of the event. 

“If it was a February tournament, I would’ve been excited,” Wheeler said. “I wasn’t sure about April. I thought it would be a spawn event. Of course, the biggest thing is that all bass don’t spawn at one time.  We tend to think warmer weather and a new moon, flowers, trees, bass are in the rut, it’s time to go. Nope. Some populations were prespawn, some spawning and a lot of smallmouth were postspawn, so the lake really surprised me.”

Although Dale Hollow proved to be different than Wheeler anticipated, it’s still the lake that helped him master forward-facing sonar and how to find large groups of bass. That process of developing those skills started after one key event in 2020.

“The first time I fished a Toyota Series event at Dale Hollow, I started to learn about how bass related to bait,” Wheeler said. “I think I finished 13th in that event, but the next year I won a BPT on Champlain because the bass were doing the same stuff they were on Dale Hollow. Dale Hollow proved to be my initial testing grounds to understand bass movement, and to stay on my game with forward-facing sonar.”

Combining past knowledge with going with the flow helped Wheeler win Stage Three. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Wheeler now discerns between lakes where bass tend to be object-oriented and don’t gather in massive schools and lakes where they’re more pelagic in nature – roaming in sometimes-massive schools, ambushing and herding schools of bait into areas where they can feed at will.

“You have to be constantly changing with the conditions,” Wheeler said. “You check out an area, and sometimes nothing happens, but pelagic bass might still be there. They don’t just swim; they swim, rest, swim, hunt and feed. You always have to try to stay on top of the current movement of bass and bait.”

Wheeler started Stage Three fishing points and bluffs for a few shallow fish, but he never located the mega-schools he knew he needed to win the event. Then, the wind started to blow – Wheeler’s dedication to studying bass and bait movement was about to pay off.

“When the wind blew all the bait into a small 200-yard zone, it seemed that all the bass in about a half-mile zone (gathered) into one giant school,” he said. “I fished my two best places before the wind blew, but the wind made it even better. Initially, there may have been small groups of 10 bass here and there, but after the wind started, there had to be over a thousand bass.

“The areas I fished after the wind blew all had some sort of contour that allowed the bass to push the bait into one area. Some spots were subtle, others were 10-foot-high areas where the bass could ambush bait.”

Wheeler started each day of the tournament with a plan in mind but adjusted freely and frequently as conditions dictated.

“I was ready with all of the rigs and baits of various sizes ready to go,” he said. “I like to go with the vibe of what’s happening that particular day. No matter what happens in practice, the championship day is many days off. A lot can change. Learning to follow bass and bait and stay on top of them as they move was key. I really started to learn about this at Dale Hollow years ago. It’s a special lake to me.”