ALPENA, MI – One label that it’s nearly impossible to pin on MLF Summit Cup angler Jacob Wheeler is “slow starter”.
The Indiana-based Lew’s pro was the youngest angler to win a Bass Fishing League All-American and the youngest angler to win the Forrest Wood Cup. He also won the first two Bassmaster Elite Series events he ever fished, and claimed the Elite Rookie of the Year award. And he’s on pace to establish similar records in MLF Cup competition.
Wheeler was the first 2018 Summit Cup Sudden Death Round 1 angler to the 22-pound cut weight on Lake Winyah this week in Alpena, Michigan, propelling him into his second MLF Cup Championship in four events.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be able to dink around half the day like I did in my Elimination Round,” Wheeler said, referring to the sluggish start he endured in his first-round matchup on Hubbard Lake. “I wasn’t too worried that I wasn’t catching them right off the bat that day, but this Sudden Death format gives you a different kind of urgency. As soon as we got a look at this lake, I started thinking ‘largemouth’ and how to catch them quickly.”
Tommy Biffle, Kevin VanDam and Jason Christie were the first anglers on SCORETRACKER, but when Wheeler hooked his first fish of the morning in the more northerly of the lake’s two creek arms, it proved to be the right species and the right quality: a 4-pound, 10-ounce largemouth that bit a 3 ½-inch green pumpkin worm. Twenty minutes later, it was a near bookend fish – another 4-10, this one on a frog – that kick-started Wheeler’s race to the 22-pound threshold.
“I was sharing that creek arm with Wesley Strader and Bobby Lane, so all I wanted to do was maybe steal a couple of fish and jump-start my day,” Wheeler admitted. “Having that many guys in a pretty small area made it tougher to exploit the good cover as well as any one of us might have if we were there by ourselves.”
That pressure bogged Wheeler down at 13-7 for nearly two hours to end Period 1, allowing Biffle, Christie and Lane to creep closer to the cut weight, so Wheeler started Period 2 on the opposite end of the lake. The move paid off almost immediately as Wheeler dialed back in, hooking a 1-8 smallmouth and a 3-14 largemouth, and then eclipsing the 22-pound mark with a pair of nearly identical largemouth (a 2-6 and a 2-8) that bit a frog in the pouring rain.
“Biffle had caught a couple of quick back-to-back fish to start the period, and that clued me in that I should try a Biffle Bug,” Wheeler said. “I ended up catching the 3-14 on that bait, and that proved to be a pretty important fish. Classic junk fishing, but it probably wouldn’t have paid off if I hadn’t made that move.”
NOTES: Aaron Martens was second to the cut weight (24 minutes after Wheeler), followed by Christie and Lane … Lane had the heaviest total of the day with 25-08 but was the last of the four qualifies to the 22-pound mark.