“It’s like every day of every Bassmaster Elite Series tournament is like the post season in the NFL,” said Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tenn. “You don’t have a season full of games that allow for a few bad decisions. If you want a crack at fishing the Classic or winning Angler of the Year, you can’t have a bad tournament.”
The 26-year-old former FLW Cup champion said he worked harder this year than ever before. At the time of this writing, with a final day remaining in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Wheeler is in third place in points with a very long shot at winning the coveted title.
He knows that you get out what you put in.
“I had a bad first day at Okeechobee, and lost a really big fish at Ross Barnett,” he said. “Had I made better decisions then, I’m confident I’d be looking at the AOY title. But, that’s a part of this sport that separates it from all others: You really can’t make those types of mistakes and expect to have a shot at the end of the year.”
He’s always fully invested in every minute of pre-fishing and official practice days. If he can be on the water scouting beforehand, he’s out there no matter what.
“Bassmaster has a funny rule I’d like to see changed that limits the amount of practice time anglers can spend,” he continued. “Once official practice begins a few days before the first day of the derby, you can only fish each day until a specific time. I hate that.
“The NBA doesn’t restrict LeBron James on shooting free throws after hours before a game. But, it is what it is.”
While Wheeler believes in his point, he understands that keeping the entire field on a level playing field has its place.
While not considered a rookie by Bassmaster standards because of how much money he’s earned previously as an FLW Tour pro, he is satisfied with his first season.
“Nobody likes getting second or third place,” he said. “It’s easier to swallow a consistent year finishing in the Top 20 than it is to lose during the last day of the last event of the season. I know I had the opportunities to win AOY this year, but I didn’t capitalize when it mattered most, and I wish I had those decisions back.
“But, I really can’t complain. I’m very happy with how my season went. However, I can’t be satisfied — I have a lot of room to grow and improve.”
Wheeler won at Cherokee to kick the season off, 61st at Okeechobee, 10th at Toledo Bend, 53rd at Ross Barnett, third at Sam Rayburn, 20th at Dardanelle, 47th at St. Lawrence River, fourth at Lake Champlain, 22nd at St. Clair and is looking at a Top 5 or better at Mille Lacs.
Certainly a fantastic first year.
“The anglers that make up the Elite Series are the best in the game, and any where there’s a tournament, they’re going to catch them,” Wheeler said. “You can’t take a tournament off and expect to keep your momentum rolling. That’s why I work so hard, that’s why I care so much. But, I also keep it in perspective.”
Wheeler is also a dedicated whitetail hunter. He loves to recharge his fishing batteries during the offseason while sitting in a deer stand with a bow in his hand.
“After the dust settles, and the temperatures cool, I like to spend as much of my spare time in the deer woods,” he said. “I feel like taking that time is instrumental to a fresh and willing mindset once the next season begins. I reflect, contemplate next year’s objectives and hopefully shoot a big buck.”
And next year’s goals?
“When you get satisfied, you get complacent,” he said. “Of course, I want to win another Elite event or two — I love those blue trophies — plus, I want to win the Classic and AOY. Who doesn’t? But realistically, I want to become better at making better decisions during those game-time scenarios that can and will impact your entire season.
“With the fact that we have so few events until a world championship and Angler of the Year, we basically skip the regular season and go straight to the playoffs. That means there’s no wiggle room for bad decisions. That’s what I’m going to change next year. No bad decisions.”
And with that, the 2018 AOY title could be a real possibility.