After four tournaments on the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour schedule, Jacob Wheeler leads the Bally Bet Angler of the Year race. Wheeler was the winner of that title in 2021 and leads 2020 winner Jordan Lee by 16 points with three events to go. In advance of the season's fifth event on Watts Bar in Tennessee, we caught up with Wheeler to get his thoughts on repeating as Angler of the Year and the rest of the schedule.
Wide Open Spaces: You're not far from Watts Bar; how do you feel about the next tournament?
Wheeler: It's close to where I live, but I haven't spent much time at all there. I'm keeping an open mind and it's going to be great to fish a new lake that's not very well known to most of us. From what I know about it, it's a good fishery but doesn't have the giant fish like Lake Chickamauga (one lake above Watts Bar) does. I like fishing new bodies of water and it will be good to try to break it down without any preconceived notions.
Wide Open Spaces: After Watts Bar, Cayuga Lake in New York and Mille Lacs in Minnesota follow. What are your thoughts on the rest of the schedule?
Wheeler: They are three of the most different fisheries you can have and it will be a real test for us. We have a TVA lake followed by a northern largemouth grass fishery followed by a smallmouth factory. They are all so different, and I'm looking forward to them.
Wide Open Spaces: How focused are you on the points race?
Wheeler: I know where I am at all times, but I'm not obsessed with it. It's still early in the season and there are so many variables with three events left and worrying about it would be a waste of time. At the last event, if I'm still in contention to win AOY, it will be different, and I'll be paying close attention to how everyone else finishes each day.
Wide Open Spaces: How important would winning another Angler of the Year title be for your career?
Wheeler: My Angler of the Year title last year is something that I will always cherish more than any single win. It's not about the money; it shows that you were the best angler for an entire year. It's not a fluke to win one because you have to have consistency day in and day out on a variety of different fisheries and for all bass species. That's very important to me personally. The sport puts so much emphasis on winning championship events, but I'd rather have 10 AOYs. To me, that's the pinnacle of our sport.
Wide Open Spaces: Is winning Angler of the Year the most important thing for you every season?
Wheeler: It's definitely my goal to win every year. When I started fishing professionally on the FLW Tour, my goal was to cash a check at each event. Once I felt like I was safe to get a check at a tournament, I didn't push as hard because I was happy getting a check. Then, my goal was to get Top 20s. Now, it's Top 10s because if you can advance to the final day at each event, you have a 1-in-10 shot at winning and earn some great points. Goals change and now it's getting Top 10s and trying to win AOY titles.
Wide Open Spaces: What do you think it will take for you to win it this year?
Wheeler: I think I'll have to average a Top 15 finish for the rest of the year; that's my mindset.
Wide Open Spaces: You're leading but have some incredible anglers right behind you. How do you feel about having Jordan Lee and Andy Morgan right there? They've both proven they can win Angler of the Year titles.
Wheeler: I have a lot of respect for the guys at the top. Last year, I was around 15th in the points at this point in the season after a bad tournament at the Harris Chain, so I'm not counting my chickens before they hatch and know that a lot of guys still have a shot at winning it. I know the rest of the year will be a battle, and Jordan and Morgan can make a run, and Jesse Wiggins is right there, too. It's way too early and all I can do is look at the next tournament and prepare for them one at a time.