Wheeler flirts with 30 pounds, heads into final day with 5-1 lead on Guntersville - Major League Fishing
Wheeler flirts with 30 pounds, heads into final day with 5-1 lead on Guntersville
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Wheeler flirts with 30 pounds, heads into final day with 5-1 lead on Guntersville

Image for Wheeler flirts with 30 pounds, heads into final day with 5-1 lead on Guntersville
Jacob Wheeler will begin the Championship Round with a lead of 5 pounds, 1 ounce. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Angler: Jacob Wheeler.
May 20, 2023 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – On a day when 11 anglers crossed the 20-pound mark at Lake Guntersville, Jacob Wheeler one-upped the field in the Knockout Round of Toro Stage Four Presented by Bass Cat. His 29-pound, 9-ounce total has him 5-1 over second-place angler Ott DeFoe heading into Sunday’s Championship Round on this famed Tennessee River fishery.

Wheeler caught fish consistently from lines in, catching 16 fish over 3 pounds and dropping a trio of 6-pounders on SCORETRACKER® to seize control of the day. 

Wheeler rolls to a near “dirty 30” 

It took Wheeler about two hours to crack the 20-pound mark this morning and he didn’t stop there, continuously upgrading throughout the day. His final five fish included a 6-8, 6-6, 6-0, 5-10, and 5-10 during a banner day of fishing where his next-best five fish weighed just over 22 pounds. Wheeler also culled out several quality fish in the mid-3-pound range throughout the day, fishing offshore with a soon-to-be released lure.

“It was an incredible day on the water and I was fortunate to get the right bites,” Wheeler said. “Hopefully, I can repeat it tomorrow because anyone left in the field can drop a 30-pound bag at any time. Coming into the tournament, I thought it would take a weight in the mid 50s to win. I’ll need to have at least 25 pounds to give myself a good chance to win – anything less and I’m leaving the door wide open.”

So far, Wheeler has been relying on just a handful of locations on Guntersville, many of them community holes. 

“I bounced around quite a bit, but the majority of my weight has come from a couple of places,” he said. “They’re community holes, but they are that way because bass live there. I’ve just been fortunate to find a way to make them bite.”

Wheeler has been guarded all week about his primary bait and the technique he’s using to catch his fish but started to share a little more information about his hot lure – a soft plastic bait from a lineup that he’s been working on for the past two years.

“I’ve been tiptoeing around it all week,” he said. “All of my fish today came on a new bait called the ‘Freeloader’ and it will be out at ICAST. It’s really special and has been working very good this week.”’

Ott DeFoe had a rough start at Stage Four, but now he’s entering the Championship Round closest to the top. Photo by Phoenix Moore

DeFoe continues great run

After a less-than-stellar first day of qualifying on Guntersville, he’ll enter the Championship Round in second place. It’s a testament to DeFoe’s ability to bounce back and adjust on the fly. He finds himself just 5 pounds behind Wheeler heading into the final day. The Tennessee pro failed to catch a limit his first day of fishing and was mired in 38th place, before catching the day’s best bag on Day 2 to make the Knockout Round.

No matter what happens tomorrow, DeFoe will keep his lead in the Bally Bet Angler of the Year points race.

News and notes

Since the inception of the Bass Pro Tour, the Knockout Round has nearly always been one of the most exciting. That was the case again today as a brief-but-heavy cloudburst turned on the bite late in the day, causing a flood of bigger fish to arrive on SCORETRACKER®. Those kickers helped several anglers cement their spots in the Championship Round.

In the final 45 minutes of fishing, Edwin Evers, David Dudley, and Randall Tharp all caught 6-pounders to secure their spots in the final day, finishing fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. There were more big catches at the end of the day, but those three stood out in the afternoon flurry.

The deep bite has garnered most of the attention this week, but anglers fishing shallow have also continued to fare well. The final 10 fishing the Championship Round are pretty evenly split, with six anglers fishing traditional offshore ledges and the remainder fishing shallow water (either grass, around bluegill beds or both). 

What’s Next

The remaining anglers will battle it out in tomorrow’s Championship Round for the first-place prize of $100,000. The MLFNOW! live stream starts at 7:45 a.m. CT and will end 30 minutes after lines out at 4 p.m. CT. The action can be seen on the MLF website and app, and on MOTV. Official live scoring updates are available throughout the day on SCORETRACKER®.