Elite Analysis Day 3 – Wheeler Lake

Get an in-depth analysis of Day 3 of the Whataburger Elite at Wheeler Lake.

In an era of information democratization, when every angler has immediate access to the full panoply of tools, history and technology, I’d fully expect Elite Series winning margins to get smaller. Fortunately, Vegas doesn’t take bets on such things, because once again we have a runaway leader at a regular season tournament.

The past three Elite events have all been won by double-digit margins. At the Harris Chain, John Garrett extended his Day 3 lead of 6-9 by 4 pounds on the final day to win by 10-9. At the St. Johns, Cory Johnston took a 14 pound lead into Day 4 and grew it to a remarkable 21-2. Finally, at Murray, Patrick Walters won by 12-11 after carrying  a lead of 8-4 into Sunday.

Cliff Prince looks to continue that trend. His Day 3 lead of 12-2 is only the second highest this season, but on sticky-hot Wheeler, it should be enough. Today on Live, referring to his past near-wins, he said, “I beat myself and that’s not going to happen this week.”

For reasons I can’t quite figure out, the recurring theme is that the rich get richer as these derbies go on. Everyone else is just competing for second place. The only thing we haven’t seen this year is someone ordering a pizza to the dock. Given the temperatures this week, that doesn’t seem like a wise dining choice, but if Prince gets lucky a water borne ice cream truck may make a showing. A hundred grand buys a lot of push pops and snow cones.

Once again, I sat in my air-conditioned information center and watched how the day played out on Wheeler. Here’s what I saw, heard and thought about it:.

Another Slap in the Face of Expectations – At a time of year when most of us expected forward-facing sonar to play a greater role than in earlier tournaments, it seems to be a substantially smaller factor this week, at least amongst the Top 10. We’ve seen lots of flipping, frogging and Chatterbaiting and not much of the minnow.

Old Guys Rule – While rookies and technology have been the ever-present themes this year, score one for Generation X this week. Both first place and second place competitors Cliff Prince and Ray Hanselman were born in the 1970s – the early 70s. Prince turned 54 in January and Hanselman turned 51 in March. Of the eight anglers immediately behind them, five are in their twenties and three are in their thirties. For what it’s worth, 23 year old Wesley Gore is the only one with a “2” at the beginning of his year of birth. Through five tournaments, we had three winners in their twenties, one in his thirties and one in his teens. Their average age was just over 28.

Playing the Middle – Given Ray Hanselman’s (2nd, 53-11) reputation (another highly-accomplished Elite pro once told me that Hanselman is the most skilled all-around outdoorsman he’s ever met), along with his track record on other circuits, I’ve been surprised that he hasn’t made more of a splash on the Elites since joining in 2018. It’s not that he’s been bad, but rather that his successes have been unremarkable. For example, he’s never earned fewer than four checks in a season, and in 2019 never finished below 50th in any tournament, but he just hasn’t been exceptional. Indeed, while in bowling they say that “strikes are for show and spares are for dough,” in fishing it’s top tens and Classic berths that make you a household name. In five of six full years on tour he’s finished between 43rd and 61st in the AOY standings. This year is a coming out party of sorts for the Texan, the first time he’s made two Elite Top 10s, with a chance for more. He still finds himself at about the midpoint of the AOY leaderboard, but there’s time to fix that. If he holds his position or improves at Wheeler, it’ll mark his best Elite Series finish – his previous best was 3rd at the Harris Chain in 2022.

Fiscal Cliff – At one point the Elite Series’ hundred or so anglers included three with the name “Cliff P.” – Pace, Pirch and Prince. According to my assumed US Census Bureau statistics and back of the napkin math, there’s an infinitesimal chance of that happening. Two of them remain on tour and one is trying to make it back. More aligned with expected statistics, there has never been another Hanselman in the Elite Series ranks.

Ups and Downs – Prince, Hanselman and Logan Parks (10th, 46-15) are the only members of the top ten who’ve seen their weights go up every day. No angler competing on Sunday has seen his weights decrease each day. Nine of the top ten had over 16 pounds on Saturday. Among the other 40 competitors, Lee Livesay’s 16 pounds was the top catch. He finished 12th with 45 pounds.

International Division – Tough week for the eight non-American competitors in the field. All three Japanese anglers missed the cut, with an average finish of 69th. Three of four Canadian anglers missed the cut, with Cooper Gallant the sole one to make it. He finished 32nd and their average finish was 58th. The lone Australian, Carl Jocumsen, finished 39th. This marks the second consecutive Elite event and the third in the last four where no foreign anglers made it to Day 4.

Other Famous Princes (non-royalty division) – Prince Rogers Nelson, Prince Fielder, Taurean Prince (Freddie Prinze and Freddie Prinze Jr. disqualified for spelling-based reasons).

Ronnie Moore on Prince’s Big Fish – “There were some sunny side up eggs for eyeballs.”

Alex Redwine (5th, 49-6) on Fishing Next to Road Roommate Jay Przekurat (8th, 48-5) all tournament — “We just can’t get away from each other, I guess.”

How Hot Was It? – Ray Hanselman, who’s from about as far south as you can go in the continental US, said “I drank 16 gallons of water and Gatorade today.”

Come and Take It – “Texas is hotter, though,” said Clark Wendlandt (33rd, 38-13), unwilling to give up any bragging rights.

Jason Christie (89th, 17-4) Celebrates the Old School – “I’ve seen more bass caught on a Carolina Rig this season that I have in the last 10 seasons.”

$100k Buys a Little Red Corvette – Davy Hite on Prince’s plans for tomorrow: “You win, you change your name to a symbol.”

Random Semi-Verified Fast Food Fact – The crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia took Whataburger cookies into space in 1999.

Tyler Williams (47th, 33-5) on his Multispecies Catch – “I kept running upriver and they kept changing color, but they also kept getting smaller.”

Justin Hamner (9th, 47-5) — “Shout out to whoever was on the bank. Y’all wore ‘em out on that live bait.”

Bernie Schultz (34th, 38-10) on Friend Cliff Prince – “He’s a lot better angler than the record shows.”

In-Demand Tackle Item – Berkley Swamp Lord Frog

Fashion Statement – John Garrett’s old time Strike King logo hat. He probably isn’t old enough to remember when that emblem was in use, although Prince and Hanselman surely do.

Dave Mercer on John Garrett – “He doesn’t have a pulse. He’s the grim reaper.”