When Jesse Wiggins won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open held Jan. 19-21 on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes, much ado was made about the champion’s choice of clothing that day.
Wiggins sported a plain red T-shirt which was adorned with nothing more than a B.A.S.S. shield and an insignia for Jenco Fishing – the maker of the crankbaits he used to catch most of the fish in his 59-pound, 4-ounce creel over the three-day tournament.
It was a far cry from the usual pro jerseys that have sponsor logos printed from lapel to sleeve tip, and the plain T-shirt was plain to see as Wiggins nervously paced across the stage before hoisting the championship trophy.
What was less evident to the crowd was that Wiggins caught his final day’s limit in a borrowed boat.
Turns out that Wiggins turned to his old friend Matt Lee for help the evening after the field had been culled to the Top 12. Wiggins was in fourth place at the time, and Lee (who is a Bassmaster Elite Series pro) was well down the list in 93rd place.
Wiggins, who will make his Elite Series debut on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake in a couple weeks, approached his friend where they were rooming at the Quality Inn in Leesburg.
“I went to him and asked if there was any way he would let me use his boat,” Wiggins said. “My old boat doesn’t have Power-Poles, and I thought they would be important to help me win the tournament. He said, ‘Absolutely. You have a chance to win this thing. Treat it like it’s yours.’
“He took out a few of his boxes; enough for me to put my stuff in. And that’s how that happened.”
For about 30 minutes after dinner on Jan. 20, Lee showed Wiggins the finer points of his boat and how to run the Power-Poles on it. Wiggins has run boats with Power-Poles before, but he wanted to learn the intricacies of Lee’s rig.
The loan came in handy on the final day of the Southern Open, for sure. Wiggins was fishing a 20-foot drop in Lake Eustis for much of the tournament, but he was having to work his trolling motor constantly to stay far enough away from the place where he wanted to cast. With the Power-Poles, he settled in about 6 feet of water a few yards away, and threw back to the drop. He caught his biggest fish of the tournament that morning a Shaky Head Zoom Trick Worm (Green Pumpkin color).
And the Power-Poles were down.
“That might have been the fish that won the tournament for me,” Wiggins said. “I was able to put the poles down and sit still while I locked down on that drop. I was in the right place and it worked out.”
For his part, Lee trailered Wiggins’ boat back to Alabama after he failed to make the cut on Jan. 20. Wiggins, 27, lives in Cullman. Lee, 28, lives about 45 minutes away in Guntersville.
“It’s not like I live in Minnesota and he would have had to bring the boat all the way to me up there,” Lee said. “We live close by one another, so it was easy.”
Lee said he had no problem loaning his boat to Wiggins. The Alabama boys have known one another since they fished together in a Weekend Bass Series tournament nearly a decade ago.
“He was my co-angler for one tournament right when I was getting started as a boater,” Lee said. “We talked there, and we’ve gotten to know one another a lot better since then. He would have done the same thing for me had I needed a boat that day. So I was happy to do it.”
Lee said he’s looking forward to seeing what Wiggins will do on the Elite Series (since this will be Wiggins’ first year on tour, it’s part of the reason he’s waiting on delivery of his pro fishing jerseys and a new boat to arrive).
His new rig will have Power-Poles, by the way.
“(My brother and fellow Elite Series pro) Jordan and I have been joking that Jesse may win Angler of the Year, or he might not catch a fish,” Matt Lee said. “He reminds me a lot of Jordan. I’m organized. My truck is clean, I check my email and I’ve got everything scheduled out. Jordan doesn’t know what he’s having for dinner. Wiggins is like that. He’s not too organized, but man, can he whack ‘em.
“He just knows how to catch fish. It’s instinctual. He fished the final day in my boat, but he probably could have done it in his own. Either way, I’m so happy for him.”
Wiggins won $51,400 in cash and a boat package for his win at the Southern Open, the first Bassmaster tournament of the 2017 season.
Before he brought Lee’s boat from central Florida to Guntersville, he did make one stop.
“I put a full tank of gas in it,” Wiggins said. “That was the least I could do for him after loaning me his boat.”