Wheeler Earns Group A Qualifying Round Win at MLF Bass Pro Tour General Tire Stage Six at James River

Two-time Bass Pro Tour Angler of the Year boats two-day total of 107-9 to win Group A Qualifying Round, Top 10 pros advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round

RICHMOND, Va. (June 27, 2024) – Followers of the Bass Pro Tour know Jacob Wheeler’s MO by now. The two-time winner this season wants to catch as much weight as he can during the first day of Qualifying Rounds, then use the second day to explore new water and dial in his pattern in preparation for the Knockout and Championship Rounds.

The Harrison, Tennessee pro has used that strategy to rack up more victories, Angler of the Year (AOY) titles and earnings in Bass Pro Tour competition than any of his peers, and so far at the Major League Fishing (MLF)  General Tire Stage Six Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts on the James River, he’s following the same blueprint. Wheeler, who amassed a big lead over the rest of Group A when he stacked nearly 80 pounds on SCORETRACKER® on Day 1, added 15 scorable bass for 29-1 Thursday. That brought his total to 107-9, 23-4 ahead of Zack Birge of Blanchard, Oklahoma.

Behind Wheeler, the weights remained tightly bunched throughout the day, allowing three anglers who started below 10th place to climb above the cut line and secure spots in Saturday’s Knockout Round. The battle to stave off elimination was so close that it took a tiebreaker to determine the final spot in the Top 10, with Andy Montgomery of Blacksburg, South Carolina, prevailing over Jared Lintner of Covington, Georgia , after both totaled 70-10.

Link to Hi-Res Photo of Qualifying Group A Winner Jacob Wheeler
Link to HD Video – Fish-Catch Highlights of Group A Qualifying Round Day 2 on the James River
Link to Photo Gallery of Group A’s Day 2 Qualifying Round Highlights on the James River

The top 10 anglers advancing from Group A will now have an off day from competition Friday, while the 39 anglers competing in Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 10 anglers from each group advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

No surprise, Wheeler’s focus Thursday was less on adding to his weight total and more about learning the nuances of the fishery. However, there was one difference from his typical script. Instead of running new water once he felt he’d amassed enough weight to make the Knockout Round, the tidal nature of the James led Wheeler to revisit out several of the same spots he fished during practice and Day 1 on a different tide.

“Some places that I really thought looked good and I never got a bite in practice, I had to re-check them during a different tide and make sure, and I caught some fish,” Wheeler said. “It was a really good learning day just to understand what’s going on. It truly does make such an impact what tide you have and where the fish are at. It was definitely a learning experience for the future of understanding tidal fisheries.”

Like many in the field, Wheeler feels like he has a solid grasp of how to generate bites around low tide. The challenge has come when the water is high. Avoiding a high-tide lull will be increasingly important as the event progresses, with high tide scheduled to arrive right around lines in during the Knockout Round and shortly thereafter during the Championship Round.

Thus, Wheeler focused his efforts Thursday on finding spots that could hold groups of fish during high tide. He said he’s had more success with winding baits amid high water, whereas he’s slowing down and targeting “pinpoint locations” when it drops.

“The higher water is definitely a little bit tougher,” he explained. “It's harder to generate a bite. There’s just so much more cover available, and you just spread so many more fish out. That’s why it gets a little bit more difficult with the higher water, and that’s something that I’ll have to figure out — at least shoot par, if you will, on the higher water come Saturday.”

The other unknown that Wheeler and the rest of the Knockout Round field will have to contend with is fishing pressure. With much of the field congregated in and around the Chickahominy River, Wheeler found himself sharing water with more competitors Thursday. It remains to be seen how his spots will hold up to the pressure — and whether there are even more boats in the mix come Saturday.

“I feel good about it; I feel like I can catch some bass,” Wheeler said. “But I just don’t know until you put 10 more boats on that body of water what is going to be available to fish. Plus, local anglers, Saturdays, it gets a little bit more difficult.” 

Despite those unknowns, Wheeler is optimistic about his chances of advancing to a sixth Championship Round in eight events this season. Having another day to learn the fishery couldn’t have hurt.

Starting strong typically bodes well for Wheeler’s end result. The Qualifying Round win marks the 10th time he’s won his group during his Bass Pro Tour career, easily the most of any angler. During five of his eight BPT victories, Wheeler led his group after at least one of the two qualifying days.

“I’m hopeful,” he said. “With the conditions and the tides changing, it’s hard to say for sure, but I’m hoping that I added a few more things to my rotation.”

Thanks to its live scoring, the Bass Pro Tour is no stranger to drama around the cut line, but it doesn’t get any closer than Thursday’s scramble to finish among the Top 10. For most of the third period, seven or so anglers grappled for the final two spots. Then, after Skeet Reese of Auburn, California, went on a tear that saw him add 22-2 to his total in less than an hour, the bubble shrunk to one spot.

Lintner looked like he would claim the final Knockout Round berth when he caught a 1-12 with 11 minutes before lines out, then followed it up with a 1-8 shortly thereafter. However, Montgomery came through in the clutch, boat-flipping a 1-11 with less than 2 minutes remaining. That fish tied him with Lintner in total weight, and Montgomery won the tiebreaker, which was determined by each angler’s biggest bass of the round. A 4-9 caught by Montgomery during the first period Thursday bested Lintner’s 3-3.

Montgomery, who began the day in 15th place, rocketed up SCORETRACKER® with 19-7 in the opening period then did just enough to hold on. Most of his 17 scorable bass, including the buzzer beater, ate a Strike King Thunder Cricket.

“They bit the Thunder Cricket today,” Montgomery said. “That was the difference. I was able to lay it in my hand and roll with it.

“I may take the Thunder Cricket for ice cream tonight. I’m getting ice cream; I may take the Thunder Cricket with me.”

The top 10 pros from Group A that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on the James River are:

1st:         Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 48 bass, 107-9
2nd:        Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., 34 bass, 84-7
3rd:         Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif., 35 bass, 84-2
4th:         Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., 37 bass, 83-6
5th:         Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 38 bass, 82-13
6th:         Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, 36 bass, 82-4
7th:         Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 39 bass, 81-6
8th:         Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 36 bass, 79-15
9th:         Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 32 bass, 76-11
10th:       Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., 31 bass, 70-10

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:      Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., 36 bass, 70-10
12th:      Justin Cooper, Zwolle, La., 31 bass, 68-5
13th:      Drew Gill, Mount Carmel, Ill., 30 bass, 67-15
14th:      Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 32 bass, 65-4
15th:      Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 30 bass, 64-6
16th:      Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., 28 bass, 64-4
17th:      Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan., 30 bass, 63-9
18th:      Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 30 bass, 63-4
19th:      Grae Buck, Green Lane, Penn., 25 bass, 51-10
20th:      Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 20 bass, 51-3
21st:      Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., 20 bass, 50-2
22nd:     Britt Myers, Lake Wylie, S.C., 21 bass, 49-12
23rd:      Cliff Crochet, Pierre Part, La., 23 bass, 49-3
24th:      Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 21 bass, 47-10
25th:      Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, 22 bass, 47-6
26th:      Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 21 bass, 44-9
27th:      Shin Fukae, Osaka, Japan, 21 bass, 44-1
28th:      Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, 21 bass, 41-10
29th:      Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 18 bass, 40-9
30th:      Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 18 bass, 38-12
31st:      Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 16 bass, 38-11
32nd:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, 20 bass, 38-10
33rd:      Jacopo Gallelli, Florence, Italy, 19 bass, 38-6
34th:      Josh Bertrand, Queen Creek, Ariz., 16 bass, 34-3
35th:      Keith Carson, DeBary, Fla., 12 bass, 31-3
36th:      Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 12 bass, 29-12
37th:      David Walker, Huntingdon, Tenn., 14 bass, 28-7
38th:      Matt Lee, Cullman, Ala., 13 bass, 28-5
39th:      Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., 12 bass, 24-9

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 455 scorable bass weighing 1,014 pounds, 13 ounces, caught by 39 pros Thursday, which included one 6-pounder, seven 5-pounders, and 12 4-pounders.

Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Florida, earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with a 6-pound largemouth that he caught on a drop-shot rig during Period 3. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

Wheeler isn’t making things easy for his pursuers in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race. The two-time AOY winner arrived at the James River with a 14-point cushion over Alton Jones Jr. of Waco, Texas , meaning as long as he finishes in the top 14 of the Knockout Round, he’s guaranteed to hold the lead entering the final event of the season on the St. Lawrence River. Oh by the way, the last time the Bass Pro Tour visited the St. Lawrence, Wheeler won.

Jones and Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, who sits third in the points, will try to join Wheeler in the Knockout Round when Group B returns to the water Friday.

The six-day tournament, hosted by Richmond Region Tourism, showcases 78 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of $659,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2025, the Bass Pro Tour championship.

Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. ET each day from Osborne Landing, located at 9530 Osborne Turnpike in Richmond. Due to long boat runs, tides and high temperatures, MLF has enacted the Trailering Policy for the entirety of the event, meaning pros can trailer their boats and drive them to any ramp on the fishery closer to where they plan to start fishing. Pros taking advantage of the trailering policy will leave Osborne Landing at 6:45 a.m. ET daily and will begin fishing at 8 a.m. ET (Lines In) with the full field.

Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the landing, beginning at 4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLFNOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on the final four days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET. MLFNOW!®  will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

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