Brothers Jesse and Jordan Wiggins of Cullman, Alabama, made the final cut when they fished the second Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open of 2014 at Smith Lake. Jordan finished 4th; Jesse was 2 pounds behind in 6th place.
When they weighed their final day’s catch at Bass Pro Shops in Leeds, Alabama, they wore identical camouflage shirts. The only logo on the shirts was an official B.A.S.S. patch held in place with a safety pin.
With their trimmed beards and Carhartt ball caps, they looked like members of the Duck Dynasty clan that had been to the barbershop.
The camo shirts had nothing to do with making a statement.
“They’re just comfortable shirts,” Jesse said.
The only reason the Wiggins brothers signed on to fish the Smith Open is because it is their home water. They regard Smith Lake as a piece of heaven that’s practically in their backyard.
Jesse also entered all three Southern Open events for 2014 just in case he won at Smith Lake. Anyone that wins a Bassmaster Open and fishes all three tournaments in that division (Southern, Northern or Central) qualifies for the Bassmaster Classic.
Jesse ventured to the first Southern Open at Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga last January with low expectations. It was the first time he had fished outside Alabama. He nabbed 15th place by using an offbeat pattern for that lake.
“I was catching 30 to 40 bass a day on a shaky head worm 10 to 15 feet deep in a man-made ditch,” Jesse said.
Before the Tohopekaliga Open, Jesse had not given much thought to qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series. After Toho, he realized that he could possibly finish among the top five in the year-end point standings and earn an invitation to join the Elite pros.
When the points were tallied after the Smith Lake Open, Jesse found himself leading the Angler of the Year standings in the Southern Division.
“That’s crazy,” he said, when he heard the news. “I’m leading the points and I’ve got a B.A.S.S. patch pinned to my shirt.”
The final Southern Open this year bodes well for Jesse. It happens in October at North Carolina’s Lake Norman. The timing and the lake are right in Jesse’s wheelhouse.
As with Smith Lake, Norman is clear and has a strong spotted bass population with healthy kicker largemouths. And Jesse gave up deer hunting in autumn so he could spend more time fishing Smith Lake.
“Jordan and I used to hunt in the fall until we found out how good the fishing is at Smith right through the winter,” Jesse said. “We fish Smith all year now.”
Jesse has started on a résumé to show potential sponsors should he qualify for the Elite Series. He will need support to make the leap from amateur to pro
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is fish,” Jesse said. “I’d regret it if I didn’t try to get sponsors for the Elites.”
At 24, Jesse could have a long professional bass career ahead of him. He currently works as a respiratory therapist at three hospitals. Some of the patients he is responsible for are on life support with a ventilator.
Jesse’s earliest memories are of his father, Craig Wiggins, taking him and Jordan fishing. He entered his first bass tournament with his father when he was 4 or 5 years old. His favorite TV show then was Power Rangers.
“I had to show my mom how to record Power Rangers for me so I wouldn’t miss an episode while I was fishing the tournament,” Jesse said.
That day his father caught a 4 1/2-pound largemouth. It earned them a $300 Big Bass pot.
“I remember that like it was yesterday,” Jesse said.
Craig Wiggins is a “crankbait and jig man,” and Jesse and Jordan have followed in his footsteps. Crankbaits, in particular, have earned the brothers a pile of cash while fishing team tournaments at Smith Lake. They’ve been at it since Jesse was 15. Jordon is 18 months older than Jesse.
Which Wiggins brother is the better fisherman?
“Jordan is better than I am,” Jesse said. “I work three 12-hour shifts and have more time to go fishing. Jordan works five days a week can only fish on weekends.”
Jesse credits Jordan for his high finish at the Smith Open. Two hours into the tournament on the first day, Jesse had yet to catch a bass. He was about to come unglued when he came across Jordan, who already had 15 pounds in his livewell.
“I started out throwing a crankbait,” Jesse said. “Jordan told me he was catching them on an Alabama rig.”
Jesse switched to an A-rig and immediately began sacking bass. That day he weighed a heavier limit than Jordan did.
“We both have the same passion for fishing,” Jesse said.