Wheeler's Mindset Carried Him to win on St. Lawrence River - Major League Fishing

Wheeler’s Mindset Carried Him to win on St. Lawrence River

'You either deal with (discomfort) and have a chance to win, or you don’t.'
Image for Wheeler’s Mindset Carried Him to win on St. Lawrence River
Jacob Wheeler's Stage Five win was as much a testament to the will to win as a bait or pattern. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Jacob Wheeler.
July 5, 2021 • Dave Landahl • Bass Pro Tour

Tennessee pro Jacob Wheeler pulled off one of the most impressive victories – and overall displays of bass-fishing prowess ever at a professional tournament – in winning the General Tire Stage Five Presented by Berkely on the St. Lawrence River in New York.

The details of the baits that Wheeler used in his fourth Bass Pro Tour win are well publicized in another article on this site, but this time out, the “pattern inside the pattern” wasn’t a specific lure, line or technique.

It was about Wheeler’s mindset.

“A lot of anglers talk about giving it their all, fishing hard and grinding it out, and I truly try to do that in every event,” Wheeler said. “There were a lot of factors that played into this win, and my mindset and determination were a huge part of that.”

Wheeler Ground it out in the Wind

Wheeler was battered by waves as he searched for fish with the flogger. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Wheeler’s baits weren’t much different than those that the other 79 anglers used on the St. Lawrence. The style of fishing was about the same as well: spotting fish on beds with a flogger and dropping the bait to them. It was how Wheeler approached the situation that set him apart.

“Coming to the St. Lawrence this time of the year, pretty much everybody knew what to look for,” Wheeler said. “The tournament was going to be won with smallmouth, and they were going to be on the beds. We’d either be casting to them or sight fishing. I knew in practice that about 60 miles from the takeoff was the cutoff point for most guys – that’s far as they’d be willing to run. I went further. I knew I’d be fishing for fish that most of the field wouldn’t be.”

Wheeler also decided to stick to his guns and take a physical beating to succeed if necessary.

“I knew the wind was going to be a factor,” Wheeler said. “I was looking for fish in the wind during practice and during the tournament. As soon as I knew I’d win the Qualifying Round, I spent a lot of time in the wind, in the roughest, unprotected water. I knew most guys wouldn’t fish these areas, they’d get out of the wind.

“It’s a mindset thing. It’s part of the job, you just have to do it – you can’t let the difficult situation bother you.”

Wheeler’s positioning in the wind made for some demanding fishing, though

“I couldn’t always get the bait down, and it was hard just holding the flogger (while you’re fishing),” he admitted. “It was definitely a physical and mental challenge. But at a certain point, you either deal with that and have a chance to win, or you don’t.”

Developing the Mindset to Win

Wheeler’s fourth Bass Pro Tour win came with some discomfort. Photo by Rob Matsuura.

Like many other top-tier professional athletes, Wheeler wasn’t born with his current mindset. But there is something unteachable when it comes to all greats – a will to win – and Wheeler discovered he had it years ago.

“I feel like I’ve had this mindset for several years,” Wheeler confirmed. “It’s something I’ve always had inside of me. I remember fishing a BFL regional out of the Kentucky Lake Dam and running to New Johnsonville. I thought I filled up the boat with gas, but apparently (the pump) clicked off (before it was) full. I’m running down and realize I have about a third of a tank of gas. I didn’t panic. I went to Paris and filled up. While waiting around, I cast a swim jig around and caught a keeper. I ended up going to the All American. I was 19 and still stayed calm. You can’t teach that. Sure, some things are meant to be, but if life gives you lemons, make lemonade”

With the stoutest field of talented professional bass anglers ever assembled competing in the Bass Pro Tour, several other anglers clearly have that championship mojo. Yet Wheeler continues to improve, year after year.

“It’s all about the will to win,” Wheeler said. “It’s all a challenge. I refuse to let barriers stop me. I always ask, ‘Can I be efficient enough to win? How can I win? What do I need to do to win?’ We always hear about, read about, or watch about what the location was and what techniques an angler used to be successful. But, in reality, it’s the mental side of the game, the champion mindset. It can’t be taught. You have it or you don’t.”

Positivity seems to be the driving factor of Wheeler’s mental approach to the game.

“It’s easy when things get hard to say ‘It’s too tough’, or ‘I can’t do it’ – we all do that sometimes, but you can’t allow negativity to rule,” Wheeler said. “I look for solutions. I don’t dwell on things. You need to endure and figure it out on your own. I can help teach a pattern and how to catch a few more fish, but if you’re negative and are mentally not strong, it won’t work. I’m super positive. (The) glass is always half full. You’ll never see me hit the ‘I quit’ button. 

“As far as the St. Lawrence, I worked my backside off for that one. I earned it with hard work and a positive, winning mindset.”