Wheeler Runs Pattern to Grab Early Lead for Group B
Two-time Fishing Clash Angler of the Year jumps out to early lead with 13 bass weighing 53-8

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 21, 2024) – For the second time in as many events this season, the Bass Pro Tour is visiting a new fishery, with the Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes in Clarendon County, South Carolina. Once again, pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, wasted little time figuring it out.

Wheeler, whose six wins and 28 top-10 finishes in Bass Pro Tour competition are unmatched, is back atop the leaderboard through one day of qualifying for Group B. He boated 13 scorable bass for 53 pounds, 8 ounces Wednesday, 4 pounds, 11 ounces clear of Lake Havasu City, Arizona’s Dean Rojas who caught 16 bass weighing 48-14 to end the day in second place. Those two separated themselves from the rest of the pack – pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, California, caught 39-0 total to finish the day in third place.

The 40 anglers in Group B will now have an off day from competition Thursday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group A will wrap up their two-day Qualifying Round. Group B will finish their Qualifying Round on Friday.

The six-day tournament, hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce, 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.

Like most of the field, Wheeler emerged from practice on Santee Cooper a bit concerned about the dirty water and lack of bites. He rated his practice period a 4 out of 10. But, like many, his first day of competition left him pleasantly surprised.

“Obviously, catching 29 pounds for five and catching 50-something pounds of bass is one of the best days you could ask for,” Wheeler said.

While a small handful of the Bass Pro Tour anglers had prior experience fishing Santee Cooper before the spawn, conventional wisdom suggested this would be the type of tournament in which pros would be best served picking one area and combing it thoroughly. The navigational hazards and sheer amount of cover where fish could be living didn’t figure to suit a run-and-gun approach.

Wheeler turned that idea on its head. Taking advantage of the lack of wind, he hit several areas, looking for spots with the same key ingredients — a combination he figured out thanks to one clue during practice, then dialed in Wednesday.

“I constantly changed areas,” Wheeler said. “Because it was pretty calm today, it gave me an opportunity to run around. I didn’t stay in one area. I tried to run around and sort of look for that specific pattern, and that was what I did.”

While Wheeler mostly kept coy regarding specifics, he said he used a combination of forward-facing sonar and traditional, power-fishing tactics.

“I’m doing what I love to do, but I’m also sort of mixing a few things up," he explained. “I’m looking for something very specific, and when I can find it, I'm basically running a pattern on this lake.”

Nearly half of Wheeler’s weight came from one stop. During a 90-minute stretch in Period 2, he caught six bass totaling 26-11. That included a 4-4, a 5-5 and a 6-14 — his biggest fish of the day. With the chances of catching 20-plus scorable bass in a day being slim, Wheeler said triggering big bites and landing those fish is the single biggest key to contending on Santee Cooper.

“I had three really big bites today,” Wheeler said. “So that, to me, is everything. I knew going into this, after seeing what happened in Group A, Day 1, I had to be very calm, cool and collected and be very methodical, because it wasn’t like it was going to be fast and furious. It wasn’t a Toledo Bend. Big bites were going to be few and far between, but when you got ‘em, you better capitalize on every single one.”

Wheeler remains unsure if he’ll be able to ride his Day 1 pattern through the weekend. He predicted that, as the weather warms and the bass continue their prespawn transition, Santee Cooper will fish differently during the Knockout and Championship Rounds than it has during the first two days. In typical Wheeler fashion, he’s put himself in prime position to figure it out. As usual, he said he plans to take advantage of his fast start by using much of Friday to explore new water.

"To me, I utilized this day to the best of my ability, to be leading right now going into Day 2 and have a firm grasp right now,” he said. “I still gotta catch a few bass, probably, to solidify my spot in the Knockout Round, but I’m feeling really confident about that.”

The top 20 pros in Group B after Day 1 on Santee Cooper Lakes are:

1st:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 13 bass, 53-8
2nd:      Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 16 bass, 48-14
3rd:       Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 11 bass, 39-0
4th:        Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 12 bass, 38-9
5th:        Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., 10 bass, 37-0
6th:        Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., six bass, 29-4
7th:        Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala, 10 bass, 28-14
8th:        Marshall Robinson, Landrum, S.C., eight bass, 27-3
9th:        Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., five bass, 26-1
10th:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., seven bass, 25-10
11th:     Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., seven bass, 25-2
12th:     Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., eight bass, 24-12
13th:     Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., six bass, 22-8
14th:     Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., eight bass, 22-4
15th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., seven bass, 21-5
16th:     Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., six bass, 20-0
17th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., seven bass, 19-4
18th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, six bass, 14-9
19th:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, four bass, 14-5
20th:     Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., six bass, 14-4

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

Overall, there were 226 bass weighing 721 pounds, 13 ounces caught by the 40 pros on Wednesday. The catch included 16 6-pounders, three 7-pounders and two 8-pounders.

Pro Fred “Boom Boom” Roumbanis of Russellville, Arkansas, earned the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award Wednesday with an 8-pound, 6-ounce largemouth that he caught on a lipless crankbait in Period 2. 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. ET each day from the John C. Land III Landing, located at 4404 Greenall Road in Summerton. 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 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.

On Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 24-25, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. MLF welcomes fans of all ages to visit the John C. Land III landing for the MLF Watch Party. Fans can watch the pros 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 Suzuki Stage Two at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by Fenwick 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 1-pound, 8-ounce 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.

Bass Pro Tour anglers also compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) award and its $100,000 payday. Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide – is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League.

Television coverage of the Suzuki Stage Two at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by Fenwick will premiere as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Sept. 21 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering the following Saturday on Sept. 28. 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, Fishing Clash, 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 Facebook, X,  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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