A veteran of the FLW Tour, the Bassmaster Elite Series and Major League Fishing, Jacob Wheeler has notched victories at all levels of competition.
This year, however, Wheeler is writing a new chapter in his career history, as he and 79 other professional anglers embark on a journey with the MLF Bass Pro Tour.
As this year’s Tour calendar shifts into high gear, let’s talk to Jacob to learn more about his fishing roots and the techniques that have put him on top of a very exclusive club.
Q: How did you get started in professional bass fishing?
“If there’s one thing I loved more than anything as a kid, it was fishing. That was my passion at an early age; I just felt like it was my calling. As a second grader, I even went to career day at my school dressed as a professional bass angler – that’s what I wanted to do, and I was adamant about it.
“From the fishing perspective, something changed for me when I was about 16 years old: that’s when I felt like I had learned to pattern bass. I didn’t have to just fish spots anymore or chase distant memories. Now, I had the tools to go to an entirely new lake and figure it out for myself. That gave me the confidence to start fishing junior-level tournaments, and eventually put me into the position that I’m in today.”
Q: What do you like most about the MLF Bass Pro Tour format?
“It’s interesting – in basically every sport other than fishing, everyone playing the game knows the score. Whether you’re on the field, on the bench, or even in the stands, you know exactly what needs to be done to win. Now, consider fishing: in most of the major tour-level events, and basically all of the smaller ones, every angler is fishing in the dark while they’re on the water. They have almost no idea about how everyone else is doing, and they can’t use that information as part of their own decision-making process.
“What I like most about the MLF Pro Bass Tour format is that I know immediately where I stand compared to the rest of the field. During my time fishing in the MLF Cups, I could learn where I stood at a moment’s notice – am I behind the eight-ball; am I ahead – and that information helped make a lot of decisions for me. I truly believe that the MLF format allows anglers to adjust and make the decisions needed to get into the best possible position to win.”
Q: How do you prepare for a tournament?
“Before I get to the lake for the beginning of practice, I have already invested a full week – if not more – getting ready to hit the water. Part of that is tackle prep. I think carefully about the time of year that we’ll be fishing and the seasonal pattern that I expect. Then, I then dig deep into my notes and experiences from that lake – and similar ones – to start rigging my rods. I will prepare somewhere in the neighborhood of 35 Duckett rods, stringing them up with new Sufix line and tying on baits. I don’t like to burn valuable practice time just tying up, so I arrive at the lake with a big arsenal of pre-rigged rods. I’m sure that I spend a full day, if not two, just dealing with rods.
MLF Pro Tips: Jacob Wheeler
“Once my rods are ready, I shift to map study. I want to know the lake we’ll be fishing very well. Part of that comes from aerial photography and satellite imagery, like the pictures that any angler can find on Google Earth. Those images often tell me a lot about vegetation and how steep the banks are. The other part of map study comes from reviewing the topographic and depth contour maps that are available for the lake. Navionics maps and Lowrance C-Maps play a big part in my tournament preparation, and of course I rely on them during competition too. When the clock is ticking, I want to focus on areas holding the biggest concentrations of fish that are all doing the same thing – and detailed preparation before an event helps me to do that.”
Q: Imagine you could only rig three rods for a spring tournament. What would they be?
“Let’s assume this is an event where most of the bass are in the pre-spawn phase. That means there will be some fish deep, and other fish that have moved up shallow, closer to the bank.
“For my first rod, I’ll have a jerkbait or crankbait tied on. This will be for those deeper fish, the ones that are still staging off the bank. When the water is 55 degrees or colder, it’s hard to beat a Rapala Shad Rap, for both numbers and quality of fish.
“For my second rod, I’ll have a jig, which is probably the world’s most versatile bait. Something like a 1/2-ounce hand-tied jig in green pumpkin with a compact craw trailer. I can fish that bait in laydowns, along rock banks and by docks. No matter what my other options are, I’m always going to have a jig tied on and ready to fish.
“If there is any color or stain in the water, my third rod is going to be rigged with a Z-Man ChatterBait, either 3/8- or 1/2-ounce, in white or black. That bait makes such a great commotion, and in water that is too shallow for me to fish a crank or a jerkbait, I’ll reach for a ChatterBait to catch ’em instead.”