GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – Reigning Bally Bet Angler of the Year (AOY) Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, has six Bass Pro Tour wins – more than any other angler in Major League Fishing History – but he hasn’t hoisted a trophy since Stage Six of 2021. However, Wheeler caught 13 scorable bass Sunday, with his best five weighing 25 pounds, 6 ounces, to win the Bass Pro Tour Toro Stage Four at Lake Guntersville Presented by Bass Cat Boats and earn the top payout of $100,000.
Link to Hi-Res Photo of Toro Stage Four at Lake Guntersville Champion Jacob Wheeler
Link to HD Video – Fish-Catch Highlights of Championship Round on Lake Guntersville
Link to Photo Gallery of Championship Round Afternoon Highlights
Wheeler’s two-day total of 10 bass weighing 54 pounds, 15 ounces, gave him the victory by a 9-pound, 7-ounce margin over second-place finisher Jacob Wall of New Hope, Alabama, who weighed in 10 bass totaling 45-8, good for $45,000.
“It’s truly special to win this event,” Wheeler said. “The Tennessee River holds a very special place in my heart. It’s been good to me.”
Lake Guntersville has changed in recent years from a lake that featured typical TVA current, when baits such as a football-head jig and a crankbait were the norm. Eel grass has become prevalent, and it has cleared up the water – to the point where the bottom is visible in 7 to 8 feet of water in some places. Wheeler adjusted and went to a lighter finesse rig and dominated the field.
“I had a couple of places in my back pocket that I knew if I needed to get a bite, I could get one,” Wheeler said. “If I had 25 places, I bet you I caught a bass on 20 of them.”
Wheeler said he relied on a 7-foot medium-action Duckett spinning rod, a Shimano Vanford 2500 spinning reel, 8-pound-test Sufix NanoBraid Nanofilament Braid, and a Sufix fluorocarbon leader to boat his bass during the event. Wheeler said he also relied heavily on a bait he kept secret all week – a bait he said accounted for “99%” of his bass.
“I developed a soft plastic line with a company, and it’s really impressive,” Wheeler said. “The Freeloader has a really unique action. I spent a lot of time on this bait to get it to do exactly what I wanted it to do with the action. It has a shad profile, and a lot of these fish were eating threadfin shad. That bait did a phenomenal job of matching the hatch. It’s a fish catcher.”
The soft plastic Freeloader features a VMC hybrid jig head and a hybrid Spro hook. According to Wheeler, the bait will debut at ICAST in July and be available to the public sometime in the fall.
“It triggers big ones into biting,” Wheeler said. “And that really was the key this week. You throw it out and ‘shake and bake it.’ The action of that bait just triggers the big fish.”
While Wheeler will savor the long-awaited victory, he isn’t going to be content with a lone win in 2023.
“I had a really great season last year and won Angler of the Year, but I never won an event,” Wheeler said. “And the goal every single year is to win an event. If you win an event, you try to win two, and if you win two, you try to win three… every single win is special.”
The final 10 pros from Toro Stage Four at Lake Guntersville Presented by Bass Cat Boats are:
1st: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 10 bass, 54-15, $100,000
2nd: Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., 10 bass, 45-8, $45,000
3rd: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 10 bass, 43-11, $38,000
4th: David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 10 bass, 43-8, $32,000
5th: Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 10 bass, 43-0, $30,000
6th: Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 10 bass, 41-5, $26,000
7th: Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 10 bass, 37-0, $23,000
8th: Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., eight bass, 28-11, $21,000
9th: Randall Tharp, Port Saint Joe, Fla., six bass, 25-4, $19,000
10th: Ott Defoe, Blaine, Tenn., five bass, 24-8, $16,000
Full results for entire field can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 77 scorable bass weighing 253 pounds, 11 ounces caught by nine pros Sunday.
Wheeler also earned Sunday’s Championship Round $1,000 Berkley Big Bass award with a 6-pound, 2-ounce bass he caught on the Freeloader in Period 2. David Dudley of Lynchburg, Virginia, earned the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass award for the largest bass of the overall event with his 7-pound, 9-ounce largemouth that he weighed on Day 4 of competition.
After four events in the Bass Pro Tour regular season, Ott DeFoe of Blaine, Tennessee, is the leader in the 2023 Bass Pro Tour Bally Bet Angler of the Year (AOY) standings with 302 points. Pro Edwin Evers of Talala, Oklahoma, sits in second place with 260 points, while Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas, rounds out the top three with 254 points. Bally Bet will award $100,000 to the 2023 Bass Pro Tour Bally Bet Angler of the Year winner.
The next regular season Bass Pro Tour event will take place next month – Favorite Fishing Stage Five at Cayuga Lake Presented by ATG x Wrangler, June 6-11, at Cayuga Lake in Union Springs, New York.
Toro Stage Four at Lake Guntersville Presented by Bass Cat Boats featured pros competing using the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, with each angler’s five heaviest bass per day tallied as their day’s weight. Anglers strive to catch their heaviest five fish each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the live scoring SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. Minimum weights are determined individually for each competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.
The six-day event, hosted by Marshall County Tourism & Sports, showcased a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of more than $805,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters All-Star event and REDCREST 2024, the Bass Pro Tour championship.
Television coverage of the Toro Stage Four at Lake Guntersville Presented by Bass Cat Boats will air as two, two-hour episodes starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 14 on Discovery Channel. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.
Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, Ark Fishing, ATG + Wrangler, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bally Bet, Bass Cat Boats, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Black Rifle Coffee, Daiwa, Epic Baits, Favorite Fishing, Ferguson, Fox Rent A Car, General Tire, Grundéns, Humminbird, Lowrance, Minn Kota, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Power-Pole, Rapala, Star tron, T-H Marine, TORO, Toyota, U.S. Air Force, Yellowstone Bourbon, Yo-Zuri and Zoom Baits.
For complete details and updated information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.