OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – He said all week that if he just closed his eyes, he thought he was home on Smith Lake in Cullman, Alabama. That comfortability paired with the right bait and right location proved to be the winning formula for Jesse Wiggins, as he won the Bass Boat Technologies Stage Four Presented by Bass Cat on Lake of the Ozarks.
It’s Wiggins’ first Bass Pro Tour win of his career, making him the third first-time winner on the tour this season along with Alton Jones Jr. and Bradley Roy. Wiggins held off Dean Rojas by just 2 pounds, 7 ounces to claim the $100,000 prize.
Wiggins grew up learning how to fish with a shaky head and was able to locate bedding bass all week around docks and get them to bite his 5-inch Jackall Flick Shake on a 1/8-ounce homemade shaky head. The St. Croix Rods pro caught 11 bass in the Championship Round for 27-11 to give him the third win of his career and his first Bass Pro Tour Championship trophy.
Wiggins admitted that this week set up well for him in fishing his strengths. While he hails from the Yellowhammer State, he felt right at home in the Show Me State.
“I’m just a freaking redneck from Alabama that likes to fish,” an emotional Wiggins said following his victory. “I love to throw a shaky head. I grew up just wanting to throw a worm. I get here to Lake of the Ozarks and the turkeys are gobbling, the banks look identical to Smith Lake, and the fish set up identically. I felt like I could win all week because of that. I felt like I was home.”
Wiggins led at the end of each of the three periods on Lake of the Ozarks on Thursday — although he had to regain it a couple of times. The day of fishing was not easy, thanks in large part to steady rain in the Lake of the Ozarks area over the past few days. Much of the day was a struggle for a lot of anglers, including Wiggins.
In the final period with Rojas gaining ground, Wiggins was able to catch three bass — a 3-14, 2-5 and 2-9 — to build his lead to an insurmountable advantage. Rojas added a 3-4 in the final hour to get 2-7 behind but would be unable to catch another scorable bass.
It’s not uncommon to see a first-time winner on the Bass Pro Tour let his emotions out, and Wiggins certainly won’t be the last to shed a few tears after winning $100,000. But his appreciation for his family and friends back home in Alabama was something he couldn’t let go without mentioning.
“My family sacrifices so much and I’m gone so much,” Wiggins said through tears of appreciation. “We have an amazing support system back home and it’s crazy how much they all sacrifice just so I can go out here and chase these fish. To finally get a win and against this group of anglers, it don’t get any better than that.”
The Bally Bet Angler of the Year race is going to be quite the battle in the final three events of the season. Jacob Wheeler will head into Stage Five on Watts Bar Lake as the leader with 300 points after earning a fifth-place finish on Lake of the Ozarks. Jordan Lee falls into second with 284 points after finishing in 23rd this week. Andy Morgan jumped to third with 255 points and Wiggins is now fourth with 251.5 points.
“I never had the lead in the AOY race until the final day of the season when I won last year, so it feels good to have it now,” Wheeler said. “It’s all about taking it one tournament at a time now because we have a lot of tournaments left. I’m really happy with another Top-10 finish, especially on a fishery where I haven’t spent a whole lot of time, but my work is far from done.”
There are three events left in the 2022 Bass Pro Tour season: