By Todd Ceisner
Jacob Wheeler felt comfortable enough with how his day went that he began switching out a bent-up prop with time remaining in competition. Sure, it was roughly a minute or so, but it spoke to the level of confidence he’s currently operating with.
The winner of the last Bass Pro Tour event at Table Rock Lake, Wheeler didn’t give up any ground in the closing moments as he rolled up his pant legs and stepped into the shallow water to begin swapping out props. He’d already posted another strong start as he topped Group B during today’s Shotgun Round at Lake Winnebago with 33 fish for 51-04.
It’s the third time this season Wheeler has won his Shotgun Round and the sixth time overall his name has been at the top of the leaderboard at the end of a day of competition.
“I feel like it’s natural and easy right now,” said Wheeler, who has caught 30 or more fish in his last four Shotgun Rounds. “I’m not stressed. I’m not worried about Redcrest or the Angler of the Year. I’m just going out and having a good time and trying to win. That’s why we get up in the morning. We don’t get up to finish second.”
While Wheeler didn’t necessarily need to pile up the weight today – he’s already locked into the Redcrest championship via points – several others had to post decent numbers in order to position themselves for a run at the Knockout Round, which would secure Redcrest berths. Among them were Takahiro Omori and Cody Meyer, who both had strong opening rounds.
Omori, who was 29th in points, caught 31 bass for 47-14, which has him in second. Meyer, meanwhile, came in one spot behind Omori in points and swung 23 fish aboard for 39-08, good enough for fifth. Russ Lane and Bobby Lane (no relation) occupy the third and fourth spots, respectively, after catching 44-02 (26) and 43-08 (27).
With both groups now having completed the Shotgun Round, the pressure on the Angler of the Year contenders will intensify over the next two days.
Jeff Sprague, who came into the week trailing leader Edwin Evers by three points, finished today in 25th with 23-11, including the first 5-pounder of the tournament. He’s just 1 1/4 pounds out of 20th. Evers, meanwhile, will start the Group A Elimination Round on Thursday in 26th place, 6 1/2 pounds behind Andy Montgomery in 20th.
Nothing can be settled until the end of the Group B Elimination Round on Friday and if both Evers and Sprague falter in their Elimination Rounds, it could open the door for Michael Neal to make up ground. Neal is third in points, 44 points behind Sprague and 47 back of Evers. He finished the Group A Shotgun Round in fifth place.
The wind that purred out of the west on Tuesday wasn’t much of a factor today and allowed the water in several areas along the western shore to clear up, giving anglers a better visual feel for what they’re casting at. There’s a chance for some afternoon thunderstorms on Thursday with south winds in the 10- to 15-mph range.
Jacob Wheeler broke the 50-pound mark in the Shotgun Round for the fifth time this season today.
Omori was known throughout his Elite Series career as someone who put in countless hours and days pre-fishing venues before they went off limits. This year, though, he hasn’t been able to visit any of the BPT sites ahead of time due to scheduling. Having never seen Winnebago before this week, he’s thrilled with how things got started.
“It feels awesome,” said Omori, who eclipsed the 30-fish mark in a Shotgun Round for the second time this season. “It came at the right time.”
He was the leader after period 1 with 24-07, but dropped to second by the second intermission. That didn’t bother him, though. He tacked on 14-06 in the third to hold onto the second spot.
“I knew I had to have a good tournament, so I went to where I had the most bites in practice,” he said. “I just fished where the fish are. It was way better than I thought it would be. I just don’t know this place.”
He feels comfortable and confident going into the Elimination Round, but he doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. With the Knockout Round slated to be contested on neighboring Lake Butte des Morts, he won’t be trying to conserve any spots on Winnebago.
“I feel really good about it for Friday even though I might only need a couple fish,” he said. “I’m not going to back off for sure. It’s going to get tough, though. Group A is going to fish the same stuff, so the weights might go down. I think I have enough weight to keep up and move into the Knockout Round. I feel really good.”
Meyer, meanwhile, didn’t have many positive things to say about Winnebago after practice, but after scratching together a solid total today, his tune has changed.
“Today was awesome for Winnebago,” the California native said. “I have a lot more confidence now compared to how I started the day off.”
He said the change in wind direction from practice allowed much of the dirty water that was lashing the west shore to clear up and that was a key to his success.
“It cleared up by two feet for today,” he said. “These northern fish are such visual feeders and when that wind direction changed, it made a world of difference.”
He said the only negative about today was the fishing pressure at every stop he made. It didn’t seem to bother the fish, though.
“I fished half the morning with Takahiro and Wheeler and I have a ton of confidence now compared to where I was at. I saw a lot of fish in here and when it cleared up I could actually see a lot of fish swimming, but I have a feeling Group A fished a lot of the same water as us. Takahiro and I crossed paths and we caught fish behind each other. It made me wonder if we are catching the same fish or there are just that many in here.”
Wheeler, who entered the week as the BPT leader in fish caught and total weight this season, picked up where he left off at Table Rock. He was eighth after the first period and surged into the lead with 26-06 (18 fish) during the second. He tacked on 11-10 in the third before he turned his attention to the business end of his outboard late in the day. It’s the fifth time this season he’s caught 50 or more pounds in the Shotgun Round.
“I did have a moment in the second period where I figured out a key presentation,” he said. “I went down a stretch and that clued me in on an adjustment I needed to make. I’d say 70 percent of my fish came off that, so that was a big deal. I had 20 rods in the box, but I didn’t have it tied on. I had to change it up and it turned out to be the deal.”
> Thu., June 27 – Scattered T-Storms - 82°/67°
- Wind: From the S at 5 to 10 mph
> Fri., June 28 – Mix of Clouds and Sun - 84°/68°
- Wind: From the E at 5 to 10 mph
> Sat., June 29 – Mostly Cloudy - 87°/65°
- Wind: From the SW at 5 to 10 mph
> Sun., June 30 – Mix of Clouds and Sun - 81°/66°
- Wind: From the E at 5 to 10 mph
Group B – Shotgun Round Results
1. Jacob Wheeler -- 33, 51-04
2. Takahiro Omori -- 31, 47-14
3. Russ Lane -- 26, 44-02
4. Bobby Lane -- 27, 43-08
5. Cody Meyer -- 23, 39-08
6. Terry Scroggins -- 21, 38-01
7. Andy Morgan -- 21, 34-15
8. Jason Christie -- 21, 33-03
9. Marty Robinson -- 19, 32-14
10. Zack Birge -- 17, 32-06
11. Adrian Avena -- 20, 31-01
12. Cliff Pace -- 24, 30-13
13. Randall Tharp -- 19, 29-05
14. James Elam -- 16, 28-04
15. Ish Monroe -- 18, 27-15
16. Jared Lintner -- 20, 27-12
17. Randy Howell -- 17, 27-04
18. Wesley Strader -- 16, 25-10
19. Jason Lambert -- 13, 25-03
20. Britt Myers -- 15, 24-15
21. Timmy Horton -- 16, 24-10
22. Aaron Martens -- 14, 24-08
23. Tommy Biffle -- 15, 24-05
24. Fred Roumbanis -- 16, 23-12
25. Jeff Sprague -- 16, 23-11
26. Fletcher Shryock -- 17, 23-04
27. Justin Lucas -- 14, 22-02
28. Mark Rose -- 17, 21-09
29. Chris Lane -- 14, 19-15
30. Jacob Powroznik -- 11, 19-04
31. Jordan Lee -- 14, 19-03
32. Keith Poche -- 12, 18-06
33. Dean Rojas -- 9, 17-05
34. Luke Clausen -- 13, 16-12
35. Shin Fukae -- 11, 16-03
36. Stephen Browning -- 13, 16-02
37. Mike McClelland -- 9, 12-08
38. Shaw Grigsby -- 7, 10-06
39. David Walker -- 6, 9-06
40. Jonathon VanDam -- 3, 7-02