Jacob Wheeler Wins First Ever BASSFest
June 15, 2014
DAYTON, Tenn. — Jacob Wheeler fished his way to victory Sunday in the inaugural Bassmaster BASSfest event. The 23-year-old angler from Indianapolis, Ind., finished up with 90 pounds, 6 ounces over four days of competition on Chickamauga Lake. 5 pounds and 10 ounces was the margin over Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kevin VanDam, who moved up from third place to finish as the runner-up.
After leading for two days, Wheeler brought in 22-1 on Sunday that won him a prize of $125,000 and a qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Wheeler had this to say about his victory: “To be the first BASSfest champion, and to do it in my first Elite Series event … I mean, these guys are the best in the world. I couldn’t feel more humbled. The stars lined up for me this week.”
Wheeler is no stranger to victory. At the young age of 21 he made a name for himself on the FLW tour by winning the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup making a name for himself among legends. The Classic qualification means as much to him as the event win, he said.. I’ve wanted to qualify for a Classic since I was 10 years old.”
The structure of BASSfest brought a new opportunity for Wheeler to earn a spot in the Classic. As one of the 33 anglers who came up through the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Series presented by Allstate to be a BASSfest qualifier. Without being a Bassmaster Elite Series pro, Wheeler’s only option to go to the Classic other than BASSfest would have been to win one of the Open events. Wheeler now must complete the 2014 Northern Open season to enter the BASSfest door to the Classic.
Wheeler launched on the waters of Chickamauga Sunday knowing that Elite pro Matt Herren and multi champion Kevin VanDam right behind him, that any poor decisions or mistakes could send him home in second or third place. Running and gunning to his spot that was located on a secondary ledge with a hard-shell bottom. This spot produced some big bass making Wheeler the most consistent competitor each day of the event.
“The key to getting those fish to bite was coming in on top the ledge, casting out, letting the bait fall in 20 feet of water, and bringing it up the ledge into 15, and they would eat it when it got to the top,” he said to Bassmaster writers during the initial interview. He had caught a total of 14 keeper bass on Sunday to cull to his best five bass for the 22-1 weigh in to victory.
Wheeler’s arsenal of baits that he used to tame the Florida strain bass of Chickamauga were a 6-inch Tennessee shad colored Basstrix swimbait rigged on a 3/4-ounce VMC Ike Approved swimbait head, a Rapala DT20 in disco shad and a homemade hair jig when things were slow..
Kevin VanDam moved up from third to finish in second place with 84-12. The final weight of 23-8 was more than 7 pounds shy of Wheeler's total.
“Anyone can have a monster day here,” he said. “I did get into a couple of flurries today, but it was not enough.” VanDam said as he recalled only bringing four fish to the scales on Saturday. “Yesterday I could catch only four fish,” he said. “It’s killing me now.”
Finishing in third place at 83-15 was Matt Herren of Ashville, Ala. He was only 1-1 behind Wheeler at the beginning of the day Sunday. “I fished a perfect game plan,” Herren said on stage at the weigh-in. His plan included hitting deep-water ledges as well as shallow areas. Sunday he was on a dock pattern that was foiled by the unforeseen TVA release that generated the current that was believed to have turned on schools of bass for Wheeler and VanDam late Sunday afternoon.
“G-Man” Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., finished in fourth place continuing his hot streak and his second consecutive Top 5 Elite Series finish with a final weight was 74-10.
The five-day BASSfest tournament and festival is a new summer addition to the Bassmaster events. The event started with 107 pros of the Bassmaster Elite Series and 33 anglers from the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens. After two days on Chickamauga Lake, the Top 50 anglers didn’t fish and set aside the day to meet fans at the Bassmaster BASSfest Expo while the remaining 90 anglers moved to Nickajack Lake for a shootout. The Top 10 from the shootout rejoined the Top 50 for Saturday’s semi-final round on Chickamauga. During the shootout anglers suck as the 2013 Bassmaster Classic Champion Randy Howell educated high school anglers in the Bass University that was part of the event. Only the Top 12 of those anglers competed Sunday for the trophy.
For more coverage of Bassfest and a complete list of rankings visit, //www.bassmaster.com/