Wheeler Rolls to Top of Knockout Round as Okeechobee 'Saved the Best for Last' - Major League Fishing

Wheeler Rolls to Top of Knockout Round as Okeechobee ‘Saved the Best for Last’

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Jacob Wheeler rolled into another Championship Round thanks to a stout performance on Lake Okeechobee. Photo by Jesse Schultz
February 25, 2020 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

OKEECHOBEE, Fla. – It took until the Knockout Round for Lake Okeechobee to finally wake up at Bass Pro Tour Favorite Fishing Stage Two Presented by Bass Cat. All week long, the anglers, fans, and MLF NOW! analysts have been waiting for the bite to turn around, and today’s results showed a drastic improvement.

Before today’s Knockout Round, the best catch total for a day was 110 bass, and today, the anglers pulled in 190. Jacob Wheeler, Jeff Sprague, Michael Neal, Stephen Browning, and Zack Birge all caught 10 bass apiece.

If the trend continues for tomorrow’s Championship Round, it will take a memorable day to take home the title of Stage Two champion.

Wheeler Rolls through the Knockout Round

Wheeler continues to make it look easy in the MLF competition format, and he does it no matter what type of fishery he’s on. Less than two weeks after taking home the champion’s trophy at the 2020 season opener on Lake Eufaula, Wheeler effectively locked up his berth in the Championship Round with a 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth during Period 2 as he crossed the 30-pound mark for the day.

Once Wheeler had a large cushion, he effectively shut it down and started to look for additional areas. Wheeler landed one more bass over the final four hours of competition time, finishing his day with 10 fish for 35-1.

There’s no telling what he could have caught today at full-speed, but he knows he won’t be able to slow down in the Championship Round.

“It’s going to take a lot of weight to win tomorrow,” Wheeler predicted. “The big ones are starting to move up and it’s going to be fun. The ‘Big O’ saved the best for last.”

Birge’s Long Run Pays Off Again

Just getting this far in the competition was a significant accomplishment for Birge, as he posted a zero the first day of the event. On his second day on the water during Group A’s Qualifying Round, Birge managed to rise to third place thanks to a big gamble and a long run to somewhere he had never been.

He returned to that area today and caught 10 bass for 32-12.

“I had a good day,” Birge said, adding that his success helps ease the pain of just coming up short at Lake Eufaula, where he missed the Knockout Round by a single place. “I cleared my mind and went fishing with one rod on my deck rod all day long.”

Sprague Stays Steady

Sprague had a consistent day, spreading 10 bass over all three periods. The highlight of his Knockout Round was a 5-0 and 5-4 in the span of three casts. Those two fish greatly helped his total of 31-08.

Like Wheeler, Sprague believes the final 10 are in for a treat tomorrow on the ever-improving fishing.

“The weather has been stable the last few days and I feel like more and more fish are coming in,” Sprague said. “Now that the weather is a little better, we can also fish more efficiently instead of having to hunt for them.”

Looking ahead, he likes his chances of winning the event.

“I’m in an area with a lot of fish; I just need to capitalize on it,” Sprague said.

Elam’s Flair for the Dramatic

James Elam connected with just over 6 pounds of fish in the final 30 minutes to make it into the Championship Round. Photo by Phoenix Moore

The only reason James Elam even had the chance to launch his boat for today’s Knockout Round was because of his late-day flurry in his final Qualifying Round. Elam scored three clutch catches in the closing moments on Monday to finish 18th in Group B.

Elam started strong in the Knockout Round, and held the lead for a time during Period 1 with an early catch that included a 7-5. But late in Period 3, he was below the cutline and scored a 4-0 and 2-0 in the final 10 minutes to advance to seventh and into the Championship Round.

Looking Ahead

The Top 8 from today will join Takahiro Omori and Jordan Lee to vie for the win tomorrow. The 10 qualifiers will be fishing during yet another weather change, as the prediction is for a high of 83 degrees with scattered thunderstorms.

Daily Notables

  • Alton Jones connected with the biggest fish of the day, an 8-3.
  • Wheeler, Sprague, Neal, Browning, and Birge tied for the most fish on SCORETRACKER® with 10.

How, When, Where to Watch

Watch all three periods of the Championship Round via the MLF NOW! live stream beginning at 7:45 a.m EST on February 26th. Available for free on MajorLeagueFishing.com, the MLF app or the MyOutdoorTV app.

The General Tire Takeout begins at approximately 4:15 p.m. EST after competition.

Watch Live Now!