How can an unseasoned 21-year old beat icons and legends that have more time in pro fishing than Wheeler’s been alive? Does he feel his youth gives him an advantage in any way? How does he go about winning so successfully? Was it easier for Wheeler to win at the sport’s entry and mid-levels? Did it become harder to win as he moved up the ladder? What changes has Wheeler made in the past 5 years as he moved up the levels? FINS’nTALES writer Tyler Brinks tells you.
Indianan Jacob Wheeler has already conquered two of the biggest events in bass fishing, the 2011 BFL All-American and the 2012 Forrest Wood Cup. Barely 22 years old, he is the youngest ever to win both of those prestigious events. His rise to the top has been swift and after his win at the All-American, he was proclaimed “The Next Superstar” by FLW Outdoors and graced the cover of their magazine. It was high praise and added pressure for a young angler, but Wheeler has proven he has the skills to back it up and this summer he added the Cup title and another magazine cover to his resume.
Talking with Jacob Wheeler, you can sense someone who is humble and excited about everything about fishing; he loves to be on the water and really it is all he has ever known. Behind the outgoing personality is a young pro that is fiercely competitive. “I do not like to lose, it could be fishing or it could be a competition to see who can throw a Frisbee the best, I want to win. That is what drives me and makes me want to be the best that I can,” adds Wheeler.
He recalls some of his early days fishing in the Junior Bass Fishing program with FLW Outdoors and B.A.S.S. where he won his State title four out of the six times he entered and won the Northern Divisional in 2008. Even with all of his early success he was not satisfied and you can get the feeling that he was almost disappointed that he never won a Junior Championship. This drive to be the best is like many at the top level of fishing, and motivates him to put in as much time as possible to reach his goals. “During practice, I am always on the water before safe light so I can get everything situated and ready to take off as soon as possible and I’ll stay out until dark. Some of my friends will call, ready to go out to eat after a long day on the water and I will still be out there,” mentions Wheeler. This determination has served him well and is part of the reason he has experienced success so early on in his career.
Jacob Wheeler’s Rise to the Top
2008 – Wheeler’s entry level into pro fishing via a first place finish in the Junior Northern Divisional
You’re Only as Good as your Competition
Jacob Wheeler has quickly realized that fishing the FLW Tour takes skill, instinct and a strong desire to win. In his words, “If you want to be the best, you have to fish against the best. That is the only way you are going to get better.”
He acknowledges that fishing BFL level events is a great way to start and there are some great local fishermen that fish those trails, but if you continue to fish at that level you will not be pushed to get better. An interesting side note is that he tied for the win in his first ever BFL tournament at age 19. The win led to a successful season and eventual qualification for the BFL All-American at Cross Lake, Louisiana in 2011. “I am glad I started fishing at that level because it put that drive in me to fish professionally. It forced me to make the jump and become a little fish in a big pond instead of being satisfied being a big fish in a small pond,” adds Wheeler.
The Youth Advantage
As a young angler in a sport full of older competition, Jacob Wheeler has found that youth has proved to be an advantage as well as a disadvantage. He feels that his young age and less experience can be hard to overcome at first glance. “Some of these guys have been fishing the same lakes for years and years and they have that experience on each of the different bodies of water we fish. They know what fish do in certain situations because they have seen it before,” mentions Wheeler. To overcome this, he realized quickly that he needed to put in extra time and effort in order to improve. Like he mentioned, he will practice daylight until dark, but after that the day is not over and he would often spend time studying maps to improve his chances. He admits that he still has much to learn and is eager to continue to improve his skills.
On the other hand, Jacob feels that his hunger to be the best and his youthful energy are advantages of being younger. “When you are young you just want to get after it and prove you can do it,” says Wheeler.
The Biggest Key to Tournament Fishing
Tournament bass fishing is a sport dominated by advanced equipment and the latest tackle, yet the mental aspect is something that cannot be bought or sold at the tackle store. Jacob Wheeler agrees with that and feels that, “Fishing is 98% mental, there’s no doubt about it. Everyone wants to win, but it’s the decisions you make during the day that separate those who win and those who don’t.” He mentioned David Dudley and Bryan Thrift as two of the best at making decisions during the day and added that those who win the events are the ones who figure out a pattern or something new during the tournament.
The Future is Bright
At such a young age, Jacob Wheeler has already accomplished a great deal in tournament fishing, but in his opinion it will not change anything about how he approaches each event. “The win at the Cup obviously gave me a little more security and established my name more, but I will not lose that drive,” says Wheeler. He feels that if you get too comfortable or start to lose that edge, you will begin to change how you fish each event and ultimately your performance will suffer.
Since his win this summer at the Forrest Wood Cup, Jacob Wheeler has been very busy, doing multiple interviews and appearances; adding more excitement to his now busy schedule. He is enjoying every minute of it and looking forward to his next chance to compete and do what he loves. He is no longer “The Next Superstar,” he is now officially there.