After Jesse Wiggins’ second Open victory in as many years, fans might expect an encore or two. And he’d love to give several, because staying on the Bassmaster Elite Series is his new goal.
“When I began the Opens, I took the mentality that if you catch them, you get to keep going,” Wiggins said. “If I don’t catch them, then I don’t get to fish anymore. It’s up to me now.”
So far, so good, but the big test begins in the Elite Series opener on Cherokee Lake, Feb. 9-12. Wiggins, 27, who said he’s wanted to fish professionally all his life, had been somewhat anxious to start the year. Winning the Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #1 Saturday on Florida’s Harris Chain on Saturday eased his mind.
“I was a little worried about the year – I didn’t know if I could compete,” said the Cullman, Ala., resident. “I knew I was going to be struggling financially if I didn’t catch anything. This win is the biggest thing that has happened in my fishing career. It freed me for this year and potentially has given me a shot at a second year.”
Paying much of his own way for now, Wiggins needs to keep cashing checks. He’s seven of eight so far in B.A.S.S. events, with two wins, five top 15 finishes. Oh, and he’s made two Classics.
“I was telling my brother, I’ve qualified for two Classics and I ain’t even fished in my first one yet,” Wiggins said. “I don’t know if that’s ever been done before.”
Definitely not, and it’s unlikely to be duplicated.
Smith Lake, his home water, has played a big part in his career. He finished sixth there in 2014 and won there last year, which helped him qualify for the Elites. He decided to fish the Southern Opens again because Smith hosts another Open in September.
“I like any tournaments really, but they just seem to jump in the boat in these Southern Opens,” he said. “I’m playing with house money. I don’t have to win at Smith now.”
Wiggins, who’s nicknamed “Crank” due to his lure of choice, will have two Elites under his belt before the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, and he’s the first to qualify for the 2018 Classic at a site to be determined.
With that nifty feat, Wiggins has been discussed as the odds-on favorite to win Rookie of the Year on the Elites. He’ll go in on a high, which also gave him a boost in confidence that he can compete on unfamiliar fisheries.
Yet Wiggins isn’t thinking he can go into the Elites swinging for the fences in every event. Open wins and securing a Classic spot early can lead to a go-for-broke approach, which often leads to wins but can backfire in a missed cut. Wiggins just wants to give his best performance each time out.
“I strive to win every single tournament. I’m going to feel embarrassed if I don’t cash checks,” he said. “I’m going to fish all of them to win. I never thought I’m going to try to get 50th, because you end up in 70th. I’m just trying to win money to make a living.
“This is what I always wanted to do. If I catch some on the Elite series, represent myself well, surely I can figure out a way to make it. Figure out a way to keep fishing.”