By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
You'd think that a guy who finished 1st, 2nd and 2nd and pocketed $195,000 in three appearances on a particular tour last year would be frothing at the mouth to compete under that banner again. But Jacob Wheeler, the No. 1 angler in the BassFan World Rankings for the past 18 months, will decline the opportunity to fish the MLF Pro Circuit and will focus strictly on the Bass Pro Tour in 2021.
"I'd love to fish it, but with COVID and everything else going on and a little one at the house, it just wasn't the right time," he said. "The schedules are a little bit hectic, going here and there in back-to-back weeks, and that's something I enjoy, but what it comes down to is I've got family at the house and I need to spend time with them. It would also limit my ability to do something for a sponsor, like an outdoor show appearance or a photo or video shoot, and my ability to shoot content for my YouTube channel, which is a pretty big deal for me.
"Selfishly, I'd like to fish as many tournaments as possible. But as I get older I'm realizing that you have to pick and choose certain things and there's more to life than work and competing. There's more moving parts and you've gotta take the time to enjoy yourself a little bit, too."
A Really Nice Haul
Wheeler, who's vacationing with wife Alicia and daughter Olivia (who'll turn 2 later this month) in Mexico this week, had a phenomenally profitable year in 2020 for a guy who didn't win a championship event. He pocketed $144,500 in five Bass Pro Tour events and nearly 200 grand from the three Pro Circuit Super Tournaments that were opened up to BPT competitors after their season was shortened due to the pandemic.
Throw in the $40,515 he won in the Toyota Series Central Division and the $22,000 from the MLF Cups and his total take was just over $400,000. He posted victories on three different tours – at Lake Eufaula (BPT), Lake Chickamauga (Pro Circuit) and Pickwick Lake (Toyota Series).
He finished 3rd behind Jordan Lee and Ott DeFoe in the BPT points standings, with a 43rd-place showing at Lake Fork just before the three-month COVID shutdown serving as his undoing. His other BPT placements were 1st, 3rd, 9th and 17th.
He has a championship title to his credit (he won the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup following his first professional season, a year after capturing the BFL All-American), but his ledger still lacks an Angler of the Year crown. That's something he wants badly.
"To me that's the biggest thing and I've been so close so many times," he said. "To me, the most valuable title is the AOY and it's something I haven't gotten yet. I had the one tough tournament at Fork last year and it cost me, but that's how it goes. You just can't have a bad one."
Ready for Redcrest
Wheeler's first major event of 2021 will be the Redcrest Championship at Lake Palestine out of Flint, Texas. The tournament was relocated from Oklahoma's Grand Lake after the accompanying outdoor expo, which was to be held in Tulsa, was canceled due to the pandemic.
"The thing I love about it is there's not a lot of tournament history there and not a lot of knowledge," he said. "Places that we go to over and over again, they fish differently in different years, but normally the same areas always play and it gets old fishing the same stuff.
"Palestine has some big fish and it's arguably one of the Top 10 lakes in Texas, but that blueprint that everybody has for certain bodies of water doesn't exist and that's really cool. Guys are going to have to look at the water and keep an open mind and make decisions, and to me, that's a big part of the fun of being a pro angler – trying to think outside the box and break down a body of water. That kind of challenge is what I enjoy; it's what I get out of bed for."
The BPT regular-season schedule, which gets under way in March, includes a trio of stops that he's eagerly looking forward to. Those consist of Heavy Hitters, which will be contested on three lakes out of Raleigh, N.C. (he finished 2nd there in a 2019 derby), Lake Champlain and Chickamauga (near his home in Harrison, Tenn.).
"I'm really pumped to go back to Raleigh and I'm super-pumped about Champlain – it's probably my favorite fishery in the country because it's so diverse and it has so many big largemouth and smallmouth that can be caught so many different ways. And Chickamauga, I'll be able to sleep in my own bed, so those are the three I can't wait for."