Big bass of Wheeler Lake

Steamy days in Alabama were thought to cool the bite in the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake, but several anglers found action as hot as the weather. None more than Cliff Prince, who averaged 20 pounds a day to win his first B.A.S.S. tournament in his 145th entry. Take a look at what landing big Wheeler bass meant.
John Crews picked up where he left off in the last Wheeler Elite in 2016, when he finished third. Crews, who turned 46 on June 11, started sixth with 18 pounds, 2 ounces. Crews had a 5-7 in Day 2’s 16-6 to move into fourth, but a stingy Semifinal Saturday (6-14) gave him a 20th-place finish.
On Day 1, 94 of the 99 anglers caught limits, with the average fish weighing 2-9. Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet saved his Day 1 with a 6-12 that looks like it could have eaten its livewell mate. Without the beast, Rivet, who stood 40th with 13-2, would have been deep in the standings. With 10-8 on Day 2, he wound up missing the cut in 59th, but he only dropped four places to 20th in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings.
Tim Dube of New Hampshire had a pair of overs in his Day 1 bag of 16-9 (13th place), which saw the rookie climb into the Classic bubble. It popped on Day 2 when he had one fish to drop to 81st in the event, losing 68 points to drop to 68th in AOY. Dube and Ben Milliken (45th AOY) are the only two rookies — out of 10 — outside the top 40 who earn automatic berths to the 2025 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors, but there are three events left.
Alabama rookie Wesley Gore was on the big bite, bringing in this 5-15 in his eighth-place limit of 17-9. The rookie from Clanton, Ala., was looking for his fifth cut in the sixth Elite stop of 2024.
Prince, a 54-year-old from Palatka, Fla., stood 100th in points coming into the event. Coming in without preconceived ideas, Prince was asked his plan of attack after practices. He said he was relegated to fishing the pair of spots he found on popular Decatur Flats, which others said wasn’t producing. Well, Prince produced. He started in fourth place with 19-4, including a 5-2. Bigger things were to come.
Matty Wong, beginning the week 48th in AOY, caught an opening round 19-6 to stand third. The 36-year-old B.A.S.S. Nation champ from Hawaii suffered slower rounds to end up 13th, but that put him just inside the cut to make his second Classic at 39th.
John Garrett of Union City, Tenn., winner in April’s Elite at the Harris Chain, showed his prowess on Tennessee River fisheries with 19-7 that put him second. Catching limits in the teens the next three rounds, the 28-year-old rookie celebrated his first Father’s Day with a fourth-place finish. Garrett jumped six spots to sixth in AOY, increasing his share of the $578,000 in bonus money Progressive offers this year.
Off the BassTrakk grid on Day 1, John Cox frogged up the big bag of Day 1 at 22-2, including one that matched Rivet’s 6-12 for big bass of the day. Cox fell on Day 2 then had two limits topping 17 pounds to finish third with 70-8. That moved the Florida pro, who won the Forrest Wood Cup on Wheeler in 2016, nine notches up to 12th in AOY, making him a virtual lock for his seventh Classic.
Greg Hackney disappointed both Rivet and Cox as the Louisiana veteran topped them for Phoenix Boats Big Bass with this 7-9. With 18-5, Hackney stood fifth. Bags of 11-15 and 10-0 had him finish 25th, inching up two AOY spots to 40th as he seeks his 19th Classic appearance.
On Day 2, Tyler Williams caught quite the oddity, a slam of four species – largemouth, smallmouth, spotted bass and meanmouth, a hybrid of a largemouth or spotted bass mating with a smallmouth. Without a kicker, or a limit on Day 3, the rookie from Belgrade, Maine, finished 47th, but he remains in good Classic standing, only losing three AOY spots to 16th.
Rookie Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., once again left with the AOY lead. Since becoming the youngest Elite winner at 19 years, 1 week at Lake Fork in March, McKinney has taken the past five $1,000 Progressive big checks for leading after an event. Starting 43rd after 12-14, McKinney momentarily fell outside the cut on Day 2 — and his points lead dwindled to around 22 — before catches like this 4-pounder helped him climb back to 32nd with 14-9. On Semifinal Saturday, his 13-12 limit gave him a 22nd-place finish. He came into Wheeler with a 30-point lead in AOY, and he left with 560 points, now 59 ahead of second-place Justin Hamner.
Georgia’s Marc Frazier was grateful for this 5-1 on Day 2, which helped him salvage 19 points and only fall three spots to 55th in points. It was twice the weight of the average bass on Day 2, when 88 Elites landed limits. Without that fish, Frazier would be standing in the 60s with more anglers to leapfrog in his bid to reach his third Classic.
Seth Feider kept his Classic hopes alive, adding 15-3 to his Day 1 15-14 behind these bass. A slower third day had the former Angler of the Year finish 21st, which saw him climb from 90th to 71st in points. Yes, there’s a chance for the smallmouth expert.
A 4-15 helped Bernie Schultz to 16-11 on Day 2, giving him a rise of 34 spots and a check. The Floridian, who turns 70 in September, finished 34th to move up one click to 99th in AOY. His hopes of reaching his 10th Classic lie at the St. Lawrence River, the season finale that affords a berth to the winner.
Bob Downey of Detroit Lakes, Minn., is attempting to qualify for his fourth Classic after missing an event for the berth of his child. Downey started Day 1 at Wheeler in 85th to fall to 87 in AOY. A 5-5 in his Day 2 16-0 limit rallied him inside the cut at 49th. He then moved up to finish in 40th and climb to 63rd in AOY, which gives him a shot to make the championship.
Japanese second-year Elite Kyoya Fujita also required a comeback after starting 93rd with 7-4. This 5-5 in his 15-9, the best Day 2 bag among those who missed the cut, salvaged 31 points and 12 places. Fujita is 54th in AOY with smallmouth events at Lake Champlain and St. Lawrence, where he finished first and third, respectively.
Call Jacob Foutz Mr. Consistency after limits of 14-2, 14-5 and 14-1 produced a 14th-place finish for the Charleston, Tenn., pro. Foutz, who turned 26 on June 9, has made nine consecutive Elite cuts, and he stepped up three places to fourth in AOY as he vies for his second Classic.
Hunter Shryock of Ooltewah, Tenn., was also a picture of consistency at Wheeler. After 14-6, he moved up to 16th with 15-5, aided by the big in his left hand. He posted a 6-pounder on Semifinal Saturday and came in with 15-10, but he was a pound shy of the Top 10 with 45-5. Finishing 11th pushed him nine spots up the AOY standings to 14th.
Alex Redwine credited road roommate Jay Przekurat with their shared hotspot. However, the third-year Elite from Blue Ash, Ohio, didn’t have to show him up. Redwine brought in Day 2’s third largest limit at 19-8, jumping from 36th into the Top 10. Another solid 16-3 kept him there, but he ended 10th after 8-6. Redwine, who turns 25 in August, rose 12 spots to 33rd in AOY in his efforts to make his first Classic.
The aforementioned Przekurat, who posted Top 10 AOY finishes in his first two seasons, is there once again. He started Wheeler a spot behind Redwine with 13-8, but jumped up to 10th after 18-1 on Day 2. With 16-12 and 16-4, the Stevens Point, Wis., pro finished sixth with 64-9, moving up seven notches to 10th in AOY, something else he can celebrate when he turns 25 on June 21.
Gore was back on the big bite. A 5-13 earned the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 2 and helped him weigh 15-2 to stand eighth. With 16-9 and 13-10, Gore, 23, matched his Elite best seventh-place finish at Lake Fork. That finish moved him up two spots to eighth in AOY and to second in the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race, although 100 points behind McKinney.
After a solid 16-11 had Justin Hamner 10th, the Classic champ jumped up to second with Day 2’s best bag of 20-8. His plan to catch more bigs from the Lake Guntersville tailrace didn’t pan out on Semifinal Saturday, but his 10-2 was enough to make the Top 10. He finished ninth with 58-10, which moved the 33-year-old from Northport, Ala., four places to second in AOY. Hamner cut his 72-point deficit to 59 and has another event in his home state at Smith Lake before the Northern Swing.
Cliff Prince took over the lead after his Day 2 bag of 20-7, including a big of 4-14. With 39-11, he held a 2-8 lead over Hamner. He exited the weigh-in stage hoping his area still held fish. Boy did it.
After 13-2 and 16-5, rookie Logan Parks made his fourth two-day cut and was within range of his first Elite Top 10. Saturday’s 17-8 gave him the final spot, and a solid 15-12 tied his best B.A.S.S. finish at eighth. Just as important, he moved up 13 spots into Classic contention at 36th in points, days after turning 25 on June 8.
Alex Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., had a decent Day 1 with 16-3 and moved into the Top 10 with 15-7. On Semifinal Saturday, the 31-year-old stayed there with his biggest bag of 17-8.
Wondering if he left any fish, Prince found out in a flurry. Leading since 8:03 a.m. on Day 2, Prince caught 15 pounds within the first half hour of Semifinal Saturday. Then he culled, and culled and culled, finally catching what he called a “Gift from God.”
Ray Hanselman of Del Rio, Texas, also experienced flurries on Day 3. After limits of 15-8 and 17-12 put him sixth, the 51-year-old moved into second with 20-7.
Problem was, Prince had put on a clinic as he alternated between a bladed jig and worm on his hard spots surrounded by vegetation. Entering his biggest as a 6-12 on BassTrakk, and with a total estimated around 22 pounds, Prince came in with the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the event at 26-2. Included was a 7-9, the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 3, that shared the overall title with Hackney’s. They split the $2,000 overall bonus. Prince went into Championship Sunday with 65-13, blowing away pre-tournament estimates and giving him a lead of 12-2.
In his second Championship Sunday, Wetherell produced the third-largest limit at 17-11 to climb over two others and take fifth. Wetherell’s best Elite finish propelled him 16 spots up the AOY standings to 31 with great hopes of qualifying for his first Classic.
Down but not out, Hanselman rallied with big two 5-pounders in the first hour of Championship Sunday while Prince’s fish shrunk. Hanselman, who’s made seven Top 10s in 79 Bassmaster entries, got within around 3 pounds of Prince after posting a 5-8 and a 4-0 for 22-11 on BassTrakk. Hanselman turned what looked like another sure blowout into a one-bite difference.
Prince wasn’t done, however, catching a 4-0 around 1 p.m. that had him pumping his fists. While Hanselman’s 5-3 took Day 4’s Phoenix Boats Big Bass, his 23-5 bag left him with 77-0. Needing 12-4, Prince got his first win when his five tipped the scales to 15-2. Prince’s 80-15 total was 3-15 better than Hanselman. Hanselman did improve his Classic hopes by catapulting 30 spots to 49th in AOY, while Prince (97th) needs to win at St. Lawrence to reach his fourth championship.
It was a popular victory for the well-liked Prince, who had come close several times. With wife, Kelley, and children, Gracie and Syler Lane, Prince celebrates his long-awaited title. The victory might mean more to him than the $100,000 first-place money and $2,000 bonuses from CrushCity and Phoenix Boats, but it should spend well.