Thursday, June 6, 2024

2024 U.S. Air Force Stage Five Presented by WIX Filters on Chowan River Group B: Wheeler Blasting Again!

Jacob Wheeler leads Group B by a margin of more than 16 pounds over second place with 18 bass weighing 47-5. Photo by Phoenix Moore. Angler: Jacob Wheeler.

By Tyler Brinks 


EDENTON, N.C. — It was more of the same for Group B on the Chowan River at U.S. Air Force Stage Five Presented by WIX Filters, with plenty of bass caught and beautiful scenery to enjoy. Also the same, Jacob Wheeler took a commanding lead after one day of fishing with 18 bass for 47 pounds, 5 ounces.

Wheeler, who’s already won twice this season, has proved he doesn’t have a specific type of fishery on which he shines; in reality, it’s anywhere bass swim. He’s a threat to win any tournament, any time. The Chowan River was a mystery to nearly everyone in the field before this week, and Wheeler appears to have figured it out fairly quickly.

He was in command most of the day and has a lead of more than 16 pounds over Matt Becker, who tallied 13 bass for 30-14, including a 6-7 catch in the second period. That stood as the Berkley Big Bass until Marshall Robinson’s 7-5 midway through the third period.

Like his friend and roommate Dustin Connell yesterday, Wheeler easily outpaced the field after one day of Group B competition. The two have a friendly rivalry, and each has won twice this year. Both look like solid favorites to add to that winning résumé. For the record, Connell led his group by 16-5 and Wheeler by 16-7, but where it really matters will be how the rest of the week unfolds.

With a solid cushion over the field, Wheeler has one plan for Friday when he returns to the Chowan River.

“Practicing: That’s what I’ll be doing Friday,” Wheeler said. “My goal for today was to catch as much as possible and give myself a cushion, and I think I did that. The cut weight is a little more than half of what I had today, which takes some of the pressure off. I can come back out Friday, have fun, and I shouldn’t have to worry about catching too many of them. It feels good.”

One of the best on tour at playing the strategy game, Wheeler is already looking ahead to the Knockout and Championship Rounds. 

“Weather is going to be a huge factor in a place this big,” he said. “The wind will dictate where you can fish; if it’s calm, you can fish it all. That will be part of my plan for Friday as I look for new areas for the different wind directions.”

Wheeler did visit the Chowan River before it went off-limits, and some of that helped, but he’s looking for more recent data as he seeks yet another Bass Pro Tour win.

“I came down before it went off limits for a day and a quarter and mainly just ran around,” he said. “I covered a few hundred miles and liked what I saw, but I still didn’t know what to expect this week. Much of what I saw then and even what I found in practice becomes irrelevant because these events are so long from when we start practice to the final day. Having a cushion over the cut and a chance to look (around) Friday is a huge deal because it’s the most up-to-date information possible.”

Unwilling to give up much of the goods this early in the event, Wheeler did share that he’s fishing a large area rather than just one spot. Also, his primary technique seems to be working for both numbers and quality of fish.

“It’s a big zone of 25 or 30 miles that I’m fishing, and I feel like I can catch a lot of fish doing what I’m doing,” he said. “This event will be all about those bigger bites and won’t be won catching big numbers of 1-8 and 1-9 bass. You’ll need some mid-grade fish between 4 and 6 pounds to win. I feel good about today because I had three over 4 pounds today.”

What’s next for Stage Five

Thursday is moving day for Group A with 39 anglers returning to the Chowan River. Ten will advance to the Knockout Round and 29 more will head home. 

Connell leads his group by a commanding margin over second place Mark Daniels Jr., but it gets interesting the further you go down SCORETRACKER® with tight weights that are setting up for anglers who struggled the first day to rebound into the Knockout Round. 

James Elam holds down 10th place with 17-9, and Bass Pro Tour rookie Colby Schrumpf is 20th with 13-2. Keep up with the action on MLFNOW! Thursday through Sunday from 7:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. ET each day.

Fishing Clash Angler of the Year

Wheeler had a solid 23-point lead in the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race heading into this event and could be poised to widen the gap even further. His closest pursuers also had strong starts to the event, so the rest of this tournament will be critical and help shape the race with just two events remaining after this week.

Alton Jones Jr. was second in the points behind Wheeler and finished in seventh after one day of fishing in Group A. Connell was just behind Jones and led his group yesterday, and Bass Pro Tour Rookie Drew Gill was behind Connell and finished up in third today. It’s still too early to tell, but the top anglers who have done well all season have come to play this week in Edenton.

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