Wheeler dominates on Dale Hollow for second win of season - Major League Fishing
Wheeler dominates on Dale Hollow for second win of season
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Wheeler dominates on Dale Hollow for second win of season

Image for Wheeler dominates on Dale Hollow for second win of season
Jacob Wheeler claimed his eighth Bass Pro Tour event win with 39 bass weighing 116 pounds, 6 ounces. Photo by Garrick Dixon. Angler: Jacob Wheeler.
April 14, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

BYRDSTOWN, Tenn. — Before making a cast in the Championship Round at PowerStop Brakes Stage Three Presented by MercuryJacob Wheeler knew he was about to send Dale Hollow Lake’s bass into a feeding frenzy. He even warned MLFNOW! viewers not to expect much commentary from him, as he planned to be too busy boating bass.

It took less than two minutes for Wheeler to make good on his promise with a 3-pound, 7-ounce largemouth. That sparked a bass barrage for the ages.

Wheeler followed that fish with another 3-pounder, then a 2-3 and a 2-8 — all in the first 10 minutes. In the opening hour, he stacked 14 scorable bass for 43 pounds, 3 ounces on SCORETRACKER®. By the end of the first period, he’d amassed 70-6, all but burying the other nine anglers on the water.

Wheeler would cruise to a 116-6 total on 39 scorable bass – more than 30 pounds clear of Michael Neal in second place. The victory marked the second of the season for Wheeler, who also took home the title at Stage Two on Santee Cooper. He also added to his Bass Pro Tour-best win total, hoisting his eighth trophy since the inception of the league in 2019 and doing so on one of his favorite lakes in the country.

“This is like my lake; this is my home away from home,” the Harrison, Tennessee, native said of Dale Hollow. “My wife literally jokes that we should have moved to Dale Hollow, you like it so much, like giving me crap about it. And I just love it, man. … First big, national tournament on the lake, to get that win, it means a lot.”

Here’s how the Top 10 anglers finished up the Championship Round. Complete results can be found here.

  1. Jacob Wheeler — 116-6 (39 bass)
  2. Michael Neal — 85-10 (28)
  3. Spencer Shuffield — 85-5 (29)
  4. Drew Gill — 78-8 (27)
  5. Alton Jones Jr. — 74-0 (23)
  6. Marshall Robinson — 61-14 (21)
  7. Dustin Connell — 60-14 (20)
  8. Justin Lucas — 38-4 (13)
  9. Keith Poche — 36-12 (14)
  10. Alton Jones — 20-7 (7)

Capitalizing on an epic morning bite

Jacob Wheeler maintained the lead throughout the day. Photo by Tyler Brinks

Wheeler sowed the seeds for his Sunday morning blitzkrieg days earlier. As noted above, he spends quite a bit of time fun-fishing on Dale Hollow, so he knew to check the area during practice — which he described as a flat, main-lake drain protected by an island cluster. The islands act like a funnel, concentrating baitfish, and the flatter topography serves as fruitful spawning territory, making it a bass magnet.

“Basically, you had a cut-through between an island, and there’s current flow that comes out of the Wolf (River) that goes through there,” Wheeler said. “So, water comes through there; there’s current flow that funnels through there. It’s a great prespawn, postspawn place for these fish to set up.

“It’s a shallow, flat drain. There’s not a lot of flat drains on Dale Hollow, and that place is like one of five main flat drains. And what I mean by that is they’re literally creek channels, but they’re flatter. There’s more room for the fish to spread out. There’s a lot of spawning habitat right there around that area.”

Wheeler caught a handful of fish from the area during the two-day Qualifying Round. At that point, he saw a few small groups of bass roaming offshore. But, showcasing the strategic acumen that separates him from his touring peers, he spent as much time as possible during his first two days on the water in practice mode, scouting new areas and keeping tabs on where the fish were moving. When he saw baitfish, and thus bass, concentrating in windblown, offshore areas, he knew he needed to return to the spot.

“The wind blew on (Friday), and it tightened up, and there was literally groups of 100 bass schooled up,” Wheeler said. “It was absolutely insane. The wind congregated the bait in there, and they went crazy.”

Wheeler planned to start there during the Knockout Round. However, when he arrived Saturday morning, he found Drew Gill already in the area. Undeterred, Wheeler turned to Plan B, heading to a school of largemouth he figured could produce enough weight for him to make the Top 10, but likely not enough to win the Championship Round shootout. He caught more than 50 pounds out of that school in the opening period, keeping pace with Gill’s torrid start, then eventually nipped Gill by 3 pounds for the Knockout Round win.

With first pick of starting spots, Wheeler made a beeline for the pocket where he’d found Gill the day prior. Gill, by far his closest competition during the Knockout Round, fished within sight. 

In the bass fishing version of a drag race, Wheeler proved that he could outduel the hottest young angler on tour at his own game, using forward-facing sonar and a yet-to-be-released Rapala CrushCity Mooch Minnow to catch bass at will. The highlight of his heater was a 5-pound largemouth that earned him an extra $1,000 as the day’s Berkley Big Bass. Gill stacked up 35-15 during the opening period — nothing to sneeze at but only about half of Wheeler’s weight.

Airtight efficiency, another Wheeler hallmark, was key to taking advantage of the calm, low-light morning conditions and amassing his gaudy weight in a hurry.

“I’m big on throwing heavier line for my leader,” he said. “I throw 10-pound fluorocarbon leader so I can really reel those fish in. If I’m throwing 8 or 6, I’m going to have to retie a lot. And so I’m more about generating a lot of bites and doing it as fast as I possibly can and getting those fish to the boat. Also, I didn’t spend a lot of time on (MLFNOW!) explaining things early on because I knew how important that first period was. I just went straight to work, and I put my head down and I caught them as fast as I possibly could.”

Soaking in another win

Wheeler also won Stage Two earlier this season. Photo by Garrick Dixon

As incredible as his opening flurry was, Wheeler truly separated himself from his nearest competition once the bite slowed. Neal started nearly as strong, racking up 56-7 in the opening stanza. At one point late in Period 1, he climbed within 6 pounds of Wheeler’s total.

But when the action ground to a halt for Neal (and just about everyone else), Wheeler steadily added to his total. He caught 10 scorable bass for 28-5 during the second period. While modest compared to his morning, that expanded his cushion beyond 30 pounds. 

Wheeler pointed to his precise jighead selection as one reason he was able to generate bites even when the bass weren’t actively feeding. He kept an array of spinning rods on deck rigged with “a hodgepodge of heads” ranging from 1/8 to 5/8 ounce, opting for the lighter options to entice finnicky fish or heavier ones when he needed to get his bait in front of a group moving quickly.

“I slowly learned what was the right jighead weight for the right scenario,” he said. “Obviously, when they were moving really fast, I might throw a 1/2-ounce out there and get it to them. If there’s 50 of them there and I throw a 1/2-ounce, I get it to them; otherwise, if you throw a 1/4, you’re missing them. It’s all about efficiency. But then I might throw a 1/8 on a single fish that’s 10 feet down, because he’s not going to bite a 1/2 — it doesn’t have the best action.”

By the start of the third period, everyone else on the water knew they were fishing for second place. Wheeler spent the final few hours basking in his win, his wife, Alicia, among a flotilla of friends and supporters cheering him on from the water. His final tally marked not only the best single-day weight caught by any angler on Dale Hollow this week, but the biggest day all year in Bass Pro Tour competition.

Wheeler has grown accustomed to lifting BPT trophies. In addition to his eight wins, he’s now up to an absurd 31 Top 10s in 45 events, earning more than $1.6 million from Bass Pro Tour competition. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down — if anything, he’s accelerating. Since the start of the 2021 campaign, he’s racked up 24 Top 10s and six wins in 32 events. He’s made all four Championship Rounds in 2024 and technically won back-to-back Bass Pro Tour regular-season events, with a sixth-place finish at REDCREST between his triumphs on Santee Cooper and Dale Hollow.

All that success hasn’t made him numb to winning, though. Instead, it’s taught him to appreciate the moment. Wheeler assured he’s not taking this one for granted.

“I told Dustin (Connell) this when we talked about it last night: When you’re on this streak of just winning, you don’t have the opportunity to really celebrate those moments,” he said. “You go, and then you go onto the next one, you think about the next one. You have about a 6-hour period where you’re celebrating, you’re pumped up, and you’re like, alright, what’s going on next? What are we going to do in Oklahoma? What’s going to happen at Eufaula? But this one, to me, is super, super meaningful.”

Fishing Clash Angler of the Year

Oh, by the way, Wheeler not only added to his prodigious trophy collection and winnings total at Dale Hollow; he padded his lead in the chase for another trophy and $100,000 payday. Wheeler now leads the season-long Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race by 17 points.

Overcoming that deficit will be a tall task for his pursuers. Wheeler, who won AOY in 2021 and 2022 before finishing second in 2023, has been an exceptional closer in recent years, never finishing worse than 11th and notching three wins in stages four through seven across the last three seasons. Connell now sits second with 222 points, closely followed by Alton Jones Jr. (219) and Jesse Wiggins (218).

Fishing Clash, an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide, is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. You can download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play, or log on to www.fishingclash.game for more information.