MANY, La. — For the second time in three tournaments this season, Jacob Wheeler is sitting atop the leaderboard.
The Indiana pro caught five bass that weighed 25 pounds, 1 ounce during Thursday's first round of the Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend presented by Econo Lodge.
Wheeler, who won the season's first Elite Series event on Tennessee's Cherokee Lake in February, leads Arizona pro Brett Hite (24-11) by 6 ounces. But the field has three days left to fish on a lake that has topped the list of Bassmaster Magazine's 100 Best Bass Lakes the last two years.
"I don't have much experience here, which might have helped me a little bit or might have hurt me," said Wheeler, who made the move to the Elite Series this year after a successful career on the FLW Tour. "I spent two days here in the fall one time, five or six days in pre-practice and then practice this week — and that's it.
"But I know there are a lot of big fish here, and everything worked out for me today."
With so much fishing left to do, Wheeler was tightlipped about how he caught his fish Thursday. He only said that he managed to catch a few good fish early to calm his nerves.
He said things could change on the 180,000-acre fishery as the week goes by, and the key to winning will be rolling with those changes.
"I think the biggest thing right now is to keep an open mind," Wheeler said. "I really don't know how I'm going to fish tomorrow. I've got to run around, fly by the seat of my pants, fish a few areas that look good. I'm definitely going to mix it up."
Many big largemouth bass are spawning on Toledo Bend. But the winds blew 15 to 20 mph Thursday, making it hard for some anglers to spot those bass in shallow water.
Like Wheeler, Hite didn't say how he was fishing. But he said the wind didn't hurt him at all.
"Where I'm fishing, I didn't have the big waves," Hite said. "A little breeze never hurts when you're trying to get them to bite.
"Dead-slick calm, post-front conditions would have probably been just right for the sight fishermen. But for what I'm doing, a little breeze always helps."
Hite said he started his day in the area where he had the most bites during practice, and it proved to be a good decision. One of his first fish was largemouth that weighed 7 1/2 pounds.
"I caught that big fish and had a limit that weighed probably 18 or 19 pounds and moved out of there," Hite said. "I made a little switch-up and caught a couple of big ones later in the afternoon. That definitely keyed me in on some stuff and how to fish it."
Toledo Bend didn't show out from top to bottom Thursday, but the Top 7 anglers all had at least 20 pounds. Behind Wheeler and Hite were Jamie Hartman (23-5), Jason Christie (21-5), Steve Kennedy (20-8), Todd Faircloth (20-2) and Matt Lee (20-0).
Christie's bag was anchored by a 9-10 largemouth that gave him the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week.
"That's the third-biggest fish I've ever caught in a tournament," Christie said. "I went to a place just thinking I could catch a limit fishing the shad spawn and caught that fish. I just went in there hoping to catch five, and I caught that one.
"It kind of helped the stringer a little bit."
Christie said he actually needed to sit for a moment and collect his thoughts after landing the big bass.
"When I hooked it I thought it was a 5-pounder," Christie said. "Then it came up and kind of wallowed and I thought maybe it was a 7-pounder. Then it came by the boat, and I knew it was a giant.
"Luckily, it was hooked good."
The tournament will continue Friday with takeoff scheduled for 6:45 a.m. CT from Cypress Bend Park. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m., with only the Top 51 anglers moving on to Saturday's semifinal round.
The event is hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country.