Wheeler Jumps to Early Lead at MLF Bass Pro Tour Favorite Fishing Stage Three on Lewis Smith Lake Presented by Mercury
Mar 3rd, 2022 by Keith Worrall
Modified Mar 3rd, 2022 at 12:22 AM
Tennessee Pro Leads Day 1 for Group A by 26-Pound Margin – Group B Begins Competition Thursday
CULLMAN, Ala. (March 2, 2022) – In spite of high water levels and clarity issues prompting anglers to switch tactics throughout the day, it was another runaway day for Academy Sports + Outdoors pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, who boated 30 scorable bass totaling 57 pounds, 1 ounce to grab the early lead for Group A on Day 1 of the Favorite Fishing Stage Three on Lewis Smith Lake Presented by Mercury in Cullman, Alabama.
The six-day event, hosted by Cullman Parks, Recreation and Sports Tourism, Cullman County Parks and Rec and the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, features 80 of the top professional bass-fishing anglers in the world competing for a total event purse of $805,000, including a top cash prize of $100,000 to the winner. The tournament is livestreamed each day at MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MOTV app and filmed for broadcast later this fall on the Discovery Channel.
Wheeler brings a massive lead into Friday’s second day of competition for Group A, with a 26-pound margin over second place angler Costa pro Casey Ashley of Donalds, South Carolina, who caught 13 bass totaling 31-1. After leading at the end of the first two periods, Favorite Fishing pro Zack Birge of Blanchard, Oklahoma finished the day in third place, with a total of 16 bass weighing 30 pounds, 5 ounces. Pro Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee , sits in fourth place with 14 bass for a total of 28-14, with Berkley pro Josh Bertrand of Queen Creek, Arizona rounding out the top five with 12 bass weighing 28 pounds, 4 ounces.
With only 3 ounces of separation between 20th and 21st places on the Toro Cut Line, it will be a thrilling finale to see which 20 anglers will be moving on. The 40 anglers in Group A will now have an off day from competition, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will begin their first day of competition Thursday. Group A will resume competition on Friday.
Wednesday marks the eighth time that Wheeler has “won” Day 1 of his Qualifying Round of competition out of 26 total Bass Pro Tour events. Zack Birge and Michael Neal are the next closest anglers in contention, each with three Day 1 wins. If Wheeler can maintain his lead and win his Qualifying Round on Friday, it will mark the seventh time that Wheeler has won his two-day Qualifying Round.
Just when Wheeler seems to have shown bass-fishing fans everything he has to offer, he pulls out a “new” trick and goes on a flurry to catch 29 pounds, 9 ounces in the third period alone – nearly as much as Ashley’s 2nd place total for the day, and more than 38 of the other 40 anglers’ entire day total.
“That was a fun day of fishing,” said Wheeler. “I learned a little bit, and I’m not going to lock myself into one thing, but I definitely wanted to make hay when I could – obviously today worked out to perfection.
“It really came down to an old-school technique – a Rapala Jigging Rap,” said Wheeler. “I’ve caught some fish on this over the last several years, and it has become a major player with forward-facing sonar.
“It’s something a lot of people may not have heard about, but this is a No. 9 jigging rap,” continued Wheeler. “I’ve been throwing it in white and gold, just trying to really bury it. I’ve also thrown it in black and silver – it doesn’t seem to matter as long as you get it to the fish.”
The bait was actually designed as an ice-fishing bait and is well-known for its ice-fishing prowess, but has gotten popular over the years with suspended fish in open water.
“I didn’t know exactly how today was going to play out, but I’m obviously pretty happy about it,” said Wheeler. “Overall, it’s been an awesome day and I’m really excited to come out here again on Day 2 to see what we can do.”
After starting the third period in sixth place, Ashley wrapped up with a third-period flurry as well, catching nearly 13 pounds in the final period to move up to second place.
“It was a good day, but if it wasn’t for this one little ditch right here, it would have been a grind for me today,” said Ashley. “I caught everything today on a Zoom Trick Worm in Green Pumpkin on a 3/16-ounce Greenfish Tackle Casey Ashley Clean Up Shakey Head.
“I don’t know what it is about this ditch, I’ve fished a bunch of them, but this one has a lot of fish in it. I got to catching them, but there was no way I could run Wheeler down,” continued Ashley. “I fished that area earlier in the day but made the decision to come back to it. You never know if the fish will still be there on Friday when we fish again, or if it will get pressure between now and then. So, I wanted to get enough cushion that I wouldn’t have to catch much on Day 2.”
Ashley said he will probably start Day 2 exactly where he finished.
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to catch them there again, but I’m going to try. Hopefully we get a little wind – that’ll make them bite the spinnerbait even more. I still think that bite is going to get a lot better as the week progresses. The water is getting more stable, and the fish are getting used to it and wanting to move up more, so it should continue to improve.”
The top 20 pros in Group A after Day 1 on Lewis Smith Lake are:
1st: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 30 bass, 57-1
2nd: Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 13 bass, 31-1
3rd: Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., 16 bass, 30-5
4th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 14 bass, 28-14
5th: Josh Bertrand, Queen Creek, Ariz., 12 bass, 28-4
6th: Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 10 bass, 24-1
7th: Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 12 bass, 23-11
8th: Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala., eight bass, 21-15
9th: Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., 12 bass, 20-13
10th: Randall Tharp, Port St. Joe, Fla., nine bass, 18-4
11th: Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., seven bass, 18-0
12th: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., eight bass, 16-15
13th: Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., nine bass, 16-11
14th: Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., eight bass, 16-6
15th: Russ Lane, Prattville, Ala., seven bass, 16-3
16th: Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., seven bass, 13-10
17th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., seven bass, 13-3
18th: Jason Lambert, Michie, Tenn., five bass, 12-7
19th: Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., six bass, 12-5
20th: Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan., five bass, 11-5
A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 262 scorable bass weighing 548 pounds, 9 ounces caught by 38 pros Wednesday.
Bass Fishing Hall of Famer and MLF co-founder Gary Klein of Mingus, Texas , caught a 5-pound, 2-ounce bass that earned him the first $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award of the event. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.
The 40 Anglers in Group A compete in their two-day qualifying round on Wednesday and Friday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Thursday and Saturday. After each two-day qualifying round is complete, the anglers that finish in 2nd through 20th place from both groups advance to Sunday’s Knockout Round, while the winner of each group advances directly to Monday’s Championship Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 38 anglers compete to finish in the top 8 to advance to the Championship Round. In the final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.
Anglers will launch each day at 7:30 a.m. from the Smith Lake State Park, located at 403 County Road 386 in Cullman, Alabama. Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the park, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
The Favorite Fishing Stage Three on Lewis Smith Lake Presented by Mercury features anglers competing with a 1-pound, 8-ounce minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. 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 Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, competing for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2023 championship.
The MLF NOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee, Marty Stone and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action on all six days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT. MLF NOW!® will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.
Television coverage of the Favorite Fishing Stage Three on Lewis Smith Lake Presented by Mercury will premiere at 7 a.m. ET, Oct. 1 on the Discovery Channel. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on the Discovery Channel, with additional re-airings on the Outdoor Channel. Each two-hour long reality-based episode goes in-depth to break down each day of competition.
Proud sponsors of the 2022 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, A.R.E. Truck Caps, B&W Trailer Hitches, BallyBet, Bass Cat, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Covercraft, Favorite Fishing, Garmin, General Tire, Googan Baits, Grundéns, Guaranteed Rate, Humminbird, Lowrance, Luminox, Mercury, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak, Nitro Performance Boats, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Power Stop, Rapala, Starbrite, Toro, Toyota, Wrangler, Yellowstone Bourbon and Zoom.
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.
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Major League Fishing (MLF) is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, producing more than 250 events annually at some of the most prestigious fisheries in the world, while broadcasting to America’s living rooms on CBS, the Discovery Channel, the Outdoor Channel, CBS Sports Network, the World Fishing Network, and on-demand on MyOutdoorTV (MOTV). Headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with offices in Benton, Kentucky, the MLF roster of bass anglers includes the world’s top pros and more than 30,000 competitors in all 50 states and 13 countries. In 2019, MLF expanded its portfolio of catch, weigh, and immediately release events to include the sport’s strongest five-biggest-fish format tournament circuits. Since its founding in 2011, MLF has advanced the sport of competitive fishing through its premier television broadcasts and livestreams and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for bass through research, education, fisheries enhancement, and fish care.
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