Schultz “figure-eights” a 5-pounder

DECATUR, Ala. – It’s an old tactic common in the muskie fishing world. When a fish follows a lure to the boat, and you’ve got no more line to reel in without lifting the bait from the water, you can move the lure in a figure-eight pattern and often entice a strike.

Bernie Schultz did just that with a 5-pound largemouth bass Friday at Wheeler Lake. It was a big moment in his 16-pound, 11-ounce day that has him in 23rd place. 

“I had a blowup on a (Zoom) Horny Toad about 10 feet from the boat,” Schultz said. “The fish missed it, but it didn’t (swim away). It kept tracking the bait, and I ran out of a place to reel it.

“I was on top of a mat. I could see the fish go up under the mat because it’s real loose grass. I could see the fish kind of suspended under the grass. I kept dragging the frog and she followed it. I turned it back around and went the other way. She spun around and destroyed it.”

The 69-year-old, Gainesville, Fla., has a professional fishing career that spans four decades. His first B.A.S.S. tournament was in 1982 at Florida’s Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. He’s also spent considerable time fishing for various saltwater species.

“I’ve figure-eighthed cobia, barracuda and big (northern) pike, but I’ve never done it on a muskie, and that’s what it usually works on. That’s the first bass I’ve ever done a figure-eight with. She wanted it. I don’t know how she missed it the first time.”

That 5-pounder helped Schultz improve from a 12-1 total on Day 1, which had him in a tie for 57th place, to 16-11 on Day 2, which moved him up 34 places in the standings.

Wetherell goes all-in – Alex Wetherell endured a rude welcome to the Elite Series. After winning the Northern Open points race in 2022, the Middletown, Conn., angler finished 88th in the 2023 Angler of the Year standings. But he showed his versatility with an 8th-place finish at the Sabine River, which is about as far away from his Connecticut home as the Elite Series gets these days.

However, Wetherell wasn’t “all-in” last year, when he finished last among his 10-angler rookie class. He is this year, and it shows. Wetherell finished Day 2 at Wheeler Lake in 9th place with a two-day total of 31-10.

“I was working full-time last year,” he said. “I would fish an event, drive home, and go work at Lunker City 40-plus hours a week. Then I would turn right around and come back (to the next tournament). It was affecting my fishing.

“I finally decided, hey, I made it this far, I might as well go all-in. I quit my job in November, and I’ve been doing this full-time now. It really makes a difference.”

Wetherell used that free time to explore Wheeler Lake in January. He was here for four days and didn’t put a lure in the water.

“I just drove around and scanned and tried to get an understanding of the lake. I think it helps a lot, just having a basic understanding of how to drive around. Knowing how to navigate, knowing where things are, it helps a lot.”

Wetherell came into this tournament ranked 47th in the AOY standings. Only your final place in the standings counts for AOY points, but if he can hold his 9th-place spot on Day 2, he could potentially move up to 34th place, well inside the top 40 cut for Bassmaster Classic qualification.

And then there were four — Coming into Lake Wheeler, stop No. 6 on the nine-tournament Elite Series schedule, seven anglers had made the Top 50/Day 2 cut in every tournament. That list dropped to four Friday as Chris Johnston (57th), Cory Johnston (88th) and Jordan Lee (92nd) fell off the list.

The remaining four are Angler of the Year points leader Trey McKinney, Cody Huff, Jacob Foutz, and Hunter Shryock.

Last year only two anglers made all nine Top 50/Day 2 cuts: Kyle Welcher, who won the AOY title, and Stetson Blaylock, who finished 10th.

Second verse same as the first — After three days of practice, the common comment from anglers was how tough the bass fishing was at Wheeler Lake. Many attributed that to the relative lateness in the year, past any hint of springtime bass spawn or shad spawn activities that typically make it easier to catch a bass.

However, in the numbers below you’ll see that Wheeler Lake is fishing, if anything, slightly better overall than it did when the Elite Series was last here on April 28-May 1, 2016. This is a comparison of the Day 2 weights:

2016 2024
1. 39-15 39-11
2. 35-8 37-3
3. 35-2 34-13
4. 33-10 34-8
5. 33-7 33-13
10. 31-8 31-9
20. 28-1 29-0
30. 26-9 27-14
40. 25-9 26-4
50. 23-12 24-2