Wheeler Grabs Early Lead at MLF Stage One Presented by Power-Pole at Toledo Bend
Tennessee pro weighs in 91 pounds even to lead after Day 1 for Group A – Group B begins competition Wednesday

MANY, La. (Jan. 30, 2024) – Despite a three-way battle atop the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard Tuesday, pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee , weighed in 28 scorable bass totaling 91 pounds even to jump to the early lead for Group A after Day 1 of the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole. Pro Spencer Shuffield of Hot Springs, Arkansas, ended the day just 2 pounds, 15 ounces behind Wheeler with 29 scorable bass totaling 88-1, good for second place. Drew Gill of Mount Carmel, Illinois , began his rookie season on the Bass Pro Tour with a bang, weighing 26 scorable bass totaling 81-13 to round out the top three.

The six-day tournament, hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office of Tourism, showcases 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of $659,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Fishing Clash 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.

Link to Hi-Res Photo of Qualifying Group A Leader Jacob Wheeler

The 40 anglers in Group A will now have an off day from competition Wednesday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group B will begin their first day of competition. Group A will resume competition on Thursday.

It’s no secret that the past three years on the Bass Pro Tour have been defined by Wheeler’s dominance. During that span, the Tennessee pro has racked up 20 Championship Round appearances (in 27 total events) and four wins. He took home the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year title in 2021 and 2022 before finishing second to Matt Becker last season.

Wheeler wasted no time on Day 1 showing that his game remains as sharp as ever, boating a Toledo Bend giant less than 10 minutes into the first period. By the time Wheeler trailered his boat, other anglers had already peppered him with questions about the 8-pounder, asking whether he’d marked the fish during practice and run to his starting spot to find it. He insisted the giant caught him by surprise.

“I just happened to pull into a little area that I caught some fish (during practice), and my first bite just happened to be an 8-pounder,” Wheeler said. “And if that’s any telltale sign for how the year is going to go, I’m all about 8-pounders.”

While the longterm implications remain to be seen, his early success proved indicative of the pattern Wheeler ran throughout the day. He didn’t divulge many details but did say that once he found a spot with the right ingredients, he generally caught fish quickly and in bunches.

“It’s definitely a pattern where if I see what I’m looking for, it’s pretty quick to generate a bite,” he explained. “I’m hoping to have enough of that stuff because that’s really what it comes down to.”

With an advantage of more than 55 pounds over 11th place, Wheeler plans to use most of Day 2 for Group A exploring new water in hopes of finding more productive areas. That could prove key, as conditions are changing rapidly on Toledo Bend.

The region was hit hard by storms prior to practice, and swaths of muddy water are moving through the reservoir as a result. Wheeler said the lake fished differently than even a day or two ago — which might explain why the Day 1 weights were a bit top-heavy, with 19 of the 40 anglers falling short of 20 pounds. With more dirty water expected to reach the main lake and temperatures likely to warm in the coming days, Wheeler said he doesn’t believe he’ll be able to ride the areas he fished Tuesday through Sunday’s Championship Round.

“A lot of water is going to continue to move down the system,” Wheeler predicted. “So I think that’s definitely going to continue to be the trend, water continuing to dirty up and things continuing to change. It’s prespawn, spring fishing. When you have that kind of rain, it’s definitely going to change some things, and every day is going to be different.”

While Wheeler held the top spot on SCORETRACKER® for most of the day, both Shuffield and Gill challenged his lead at times. Those three have separated themselves from the rest of the pack; they each cleared 80 pounds on the day while no one else reached 50.

Gill wasn’t the only newcomer to get off to a strong start. Rookie Martin Villa sits sixth with 40-7, while fellow rookie Justin Cooper — who lives in nearby Zwolle, Louisiana, and guides on Toledo Bend — finished ninth with 36-14.

The top 20 pros in Group A after Day 1 on Toledo Bend are:

1st:          Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 28 bass, 91-0
2nd:       Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 29 bass, 88-1
3rd:        Drew Gill, Mount Carmel, Ill., 26 bass, 81-14
4th:         James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., 17 bass, 49-15
5th:         Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 19 bass, 49-13
6th:         Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 12 bass, 40-7
7th:         Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., 15 bass, 39-2
8th:         Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 14 bass, 39-1
9th:         Justin Cooper, Zwolle, La., 12 bass, 36-14
10th:      Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 10 bass, 36-5
11th:      Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 11 bass, 35-14
12th:      Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 11 bass, 35-3
13th:      Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 11 bass, 32-0
14th:      John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., 10 bass, 30-0
15th:      Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., nine bass, 29-15
16th:      Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., nine bass, 29-4
17th:      Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 11 bass, 28-9
18th:      Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 10 bass, 28-0
19th:      Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., eight bass, 24-5
20th:      Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., 10 bass, 23-7

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

Local favorite “Cajun Baby” Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part, Louisiana , earned Tuesday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award after an 11-pound, 1-ounce largemouth bit his crankbait in Period 1. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The 40 Anglers in Group A compete in their two-day Qualifying Round on Tuesday and Thursday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Wednesday and Friday. After each two-day Qualifying Round is complete, the anglers that finish first through 10th from both groups 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 Sunday’s Championship Round. In the final-day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. CT each day from Cypress Bend Park, located at 3462 Cypress Bend Drive in Many. Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the park, 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 SCORETRACKER® leaderboard and event 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. CT. MLFNOW!®  will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com  and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

On Friday, Feb. 2, Toledo Bend Lake Country will host an Education Day in conjunction with the tournament at Cypress Bend Park, where 260 eighth-grade students from local area schools will have the opportunity to learn about lake ecology, casting techniques and the Toledo Bend fishery. Bass Pro Tour pros will be onsite throughout the event providing instruction and working with students.

On Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 3-4, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. MLF invites fans of all ages to visit Cypress Bend Park for the MLF Watch Party. Fans can watch the action from the water live on the MLFNOW! big screen, enjoy free food, enter to win hourly giveaways and cheer on their favorite pros. The first 50 kids 14 and under will receive a free rod and reel from Pure Fishing each day. The final 10 Championship Round Bass Pro Tour anglers will be on hand at the trophy celebration on Championship Sunday to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies.

The B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole features the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers catch as much weight as they can each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament features anglers competing with a 2-pound minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division determines minimum weights for each body of water that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.

The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2025 championship.

Television coverage of the B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole Knockout Round will air as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 20 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering on July 27. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, StarBrite, Suzuki, Toyota and U.S. Air Force.


For complete details and updated information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at FacebookX,  Instagram and YouTube.

About Major League Fishing
Major League Fishing (MLF) is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, producing more than 250 events annually at some of the most prestigious fisheries in the world, while broadcasting to America’s living rooms on CBS, Discovery Channel, Outdoor Channel, CBS Sports Network, World Fishing Network and on demand on MyOutdoorTV (MOTV). Headquartered in Benton, Kentucky, the MLF roster of bass anglers includes the world’s top pros and more than 30,000 competitors in all 50 states and 17 countries. Since its founding in 2011, MLF has advanced the sport of competitive fishing through its premier television broadcasts and livestreams and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for bass through research, education, fisheries enhancement and fish care.
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