Jacob Wheeler at 21 has become the youngest angler to win the FLW Forrest Wood Cup. Jacob, a Team Evinrude member, had to put his fishing abilities and composure to the test in a wire to wire win on Lake Lanier. Taking a commanding lead in the opening round with a nearly 22 pound five bass limit, Jacob brought limit after limit to the scales through the four days of competition to lead each day and ultimately win.
Jacob has set out to be the youngest angler to accomplish many bass fishing achievements, and the Forrest Wood Cup was one of them. Going into this event, he knew full well that Michael Bennett had won the FLW Cup in 2008 at 24, setting the previous record. Jacob said, “I knew I had a couple years to make this happen, and I am stunned right now. Winning the Cup is amazing, but being the youngest angler to do it is so huge to me!”
As a spectator watching the 2012 Forrest Wood cup unfold, one might think that because Jacob drove so far up the river to flip shallow waters for largemouth, that maybe he elected to swing for the fences in an event that was dubbed as a finesse shoot out. After all, the rest of the anglers were fishing deeper water trying to find the giant spotted bass that Lake Lanier is famous for. However, Jacob said this was not the case. “I had deep fish near the area I was fishing as a backup plan. If I needed to, I just had to head back down river to get to them. So really I wasn’t swinging for the fence, I had a plan, and a lot of water to make it work. There was enough water that I could fish up there for weeks. My first prefish day I had 15 bites. I hooked two, and both were solid 2 and a half pound bass, other bites I shook off were also solid. I could see them swim off the cover and take my Trigger X Tube. So, no I wasn’t swinging for the fences I was after five quality keepers a day and had found a place to catch them.” In talking with Jacob, you could tell he was very confident that he had developed a quality pattern, there was no hoping, no guessing, no uncertainty at all.
I didn’t let Jacob off the hook that easy. My real question was why did he prefish so far up the river in the first place. Why commit a day of practice to a pattern that most would consider a waste of precious time on Lake Lanier. Jacob replied, “I would have never won this tournament if Kevin Hawk didn’t win the FLW Cup here in 2010. Kevin was fishing deep brush piles down the lake, and it gave the preconceived notion that, if you wanted to win, you had to do the same. This kept a lot of great shallow water anglers from targeting the same bass I was. I got here (Lake Lanier) and kept an open mind, and prefished the way I like to fish.”
Leading after the first days weigh-in, Jacob realized that he not only had the current lead, but he had the opportunity and potential to win the Cup. He went on to say “I felt like I just needed to catch 12 or so pounds a day and I should be able to pull this off.” I was curious if that kind of lead helps take some of the pressure off when you’re looking back at the quality of anglers like Scott Martin or Dion Hibdon. Jacob said, “Fishing against this kind of talent was not the real pressure for me. It was more that this is the biggest tournament of my life, and how important this win would be to my career.” Jacob talked about some of the sacrifices that he had to go through to become a Forrest Wood Cup winner. “I’ve spent months living off the dollar menu’s at fast food restaurants with only five dollars to my name, I’ve spent countless hours working on tackle while friends and family were out enjoying life. I’ve had to stay focused on bass fishing, so when my buddies are out hitting the town on a Friday night I’m at home tying jigs, re-spooling reels, and getting ready for the tournament on Saturday. This win makes it all worth it, and proves that if you want it bad enough you can do it.”
Tournament strategy was fairly simple. Jacob was targeting shallow water stumps and laydowns as far up the river as he could get. According to Jacob, “The biggest key was the current, the stronger the current was blowing into stumps and laydowns the better.” Using a Trigger X Tube and a vibrating jig, Jacob worked isolated cover. He continued by saying that the first day the bites were very aggressive, but as the tournament progressed the current up the river slowed down, as well as the bite. Jacob elaborated, “On the last two days, it was more difficult to catch the quality bass. I could work stumps the wrong direction and not get bites, but turn the boat around and work into the current, so my baits were moving with the current, and get strikes; something I didn’t have to do the first two days. As the tournament progressed, presentation became more and more important.”
After working his river targets, Jacob had over one hundred bluegill beds to choose from. Working his way back towards the weigh-in each afternoon, he would stop and toss a variety of surface prop baits at different beds. This helped up grade his weight each day. “When you found the right bluegill beds, with the right size of bluegill on them, there were larger bass patrolling them. If a bass would come up and look at my top water but wouldn’t take it, I could toss a wacky rigged Trigger X Flutter worm on top of them, and they’d engulf it.”
There is always one thing in a championship tournament that anglers do that puts them over the top; when I asked Jacob what his was, he explained a decision he made no day three of competition. Jacob made a call to travel an hour away from the weigh in to fish a stretch of bank that he knew was holding bass patrolling bluegill beds. He already had a limit in the boat but wanted a bigger kicker bass. A call many of us wouldn’t make for fear of mechanical failure, weather, who knows. In a tournament of champions, you have to go with your gut and his told him to make the run. “Most anglers wouldn’t have done it, I have such faith in my boat and Evinrude Engine that it wasn’t even a concern of mine. I wanted to fish this stretch of bank, and I went. Fishing at this level you have to keep your mind on the bass, not your equipment, Evinrude lets me do that.”
Jacob appeared as a seasoned angler; no one could rattle the steady push he made to the Forrest Wood Cup victory. The outstanding bass catching machines sitting on his heels, didn’t have a chance. Jacobs confidence in his bass, his abilities, and his equipment were unwavering.
Get the Net it’s a Hawg