Wednesday, January 31, 2024

2024 MLF B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented by Power-Pole Bass Pro Tour on Toledo Bend: Wheeler Rockets to Lead of Group A

Mitchell Forde 

BASS PRO TOUR Press Release 

MANY, La. — The past three years on the Bass Pro Tour have been defined by Jacob Wheeler’s dominance. During that span, Wheeler 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 a season ago.

When the 2024 season kicked off Tuesday, he wasted no time showing that his game remains as sharp as ever.

Less than 10 minutes into the first day of the Qualifying Round for Group A at B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented by Power-Pole, Wheeler boated a Toledo Bend giant. The 8-pound, 3-ounce largemouth ignited a run that saw him put 28 bass for 91 pounds even on SCORETRACKER®. He leads Spencer Shuffield by 2-15 entering the group’s second day of qualifying.


Wheeler’s pattern produces early and often

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. “So 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 is 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 to explore 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 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 time. 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 BPT rookie Drew 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.

Safe to say the Bass Pro Tour stage isn’t too big for the 21-year-old Gill. He did what he does best — targeting fish with forward-facing sonar — to boat 26 scorable bass for a total weight of 81-13 during his first day of BPT competition.  

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

What’s next for Stage One

Which anglers advance to the season’s first Knockout Round will be decided Thursday, when Group A returns to Toledo Bend for its second day of qualifying. Justin Lucas currently sits in 10th place — the final spot above the Toro Cut Line — after weighing in 36-5 on Day 1. He’s just 7 ounces clear of Ryan Salzman in 11th. All the action Thursday through Sunday will be streamed live on MLFNOW!

Wednesday, the 40 anglers in Group B will hit the lake for their first day of qualifying. Keep up with the action on SCORETRACKER® and

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