FLW Lake Lanier Forrest Wood Cup Baits, Gear & Patterns

Jacob Wheeler's Pattern, Baits & Gear

It may take a while for Jacob Wheeler to fully appreciate what he accomplished last week in winning the Forrest Wood Cup as a 21-year-old FLW Tour rookie. Not only did he become the youngest angler to win the Cup in the tournament’s 17-year history, he outsmarted 45 other anglers by employing a two-pronged approach to dupe enough quality Lake Lanier bass into biting and win by 7-05, by far the largest winning margin ever. Offshore brush piles, which were the focus of many anglers in the field, held plenty of quality fish in the 30- to 40-foot depth zone, but they were mixed in among lesser specimens and were harder to target. Instead of playing the dropshot game and exposing himself to the myriad of recreational boaters down lake, Wheeler went shallow and caught everything out of 10 feet of water or less. He’s convinced that the lake being 8 feet lower than its typical summer pool level made it easier to work in skinny water as the fish had less cover to run to.

He focused on current breaks – wood mostly – well up the Chattahoochee River and bluegill beds down lake. Coming into the event, a lot of pros felt a daily average of 15 to 16 pounds would give someone a strong chance of winning. As it turns out, they were spot-on (no pun intended). Wheeler averaged 15 pounds a day and closed with 60-01 to win comfortably. Wheeler's preparation wasn't as intense as Kevin Hawk's when he won the 2010 Cup at Lanier. Hawk had relocated temporarily to the area near Lanier and lived a spartan existence while he picked apart countless offshore brush piles with a dropshot presentation as well as a Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin – a Lanier staple. Wheeler knew he had to do something different this time around as the entire field had wised up to where the best piles were. He used a jet boat for 2 days during a scouting trip prior to the off-limits period to examine areas of the Chattahoochie that were inaccessible by bass boat. He found quality fish in the upper parts of the river and that told him there must also be decent ones down below.

“There were a lot of nice-sized spots up that way," he said. "I only fished in the area I could fish with a bass boat for a couple hours during pre-practice and caught about 11 pounds. I saw some big fish there and I knew right then that there were enough fish up there to at least catch a couple limits throughout the tournament." Opting not to fish brush piles, for which he had plenty of waypoints, wasn't a tough call to make. He knew there was no killer pattern to be uncovered at Lanier – it was going to be a grind, shallow or deep. "There wasn't any whacking ‘em," he said. "There wasn't any going out deep Kentucky Lake-style and throwing a jig out there and catching one every cast. I love that – I got a Top-10 at Kentucky Lake this year fishing deep – but I'm not going to go to a lake and fish deep when you're either going to eek out five deep or five shallow. I'll go shallow every single time."


While Wheeler's massive 21-15 catch on day 1 changed the whole complexion of the event, he knew similar days were unlikely as the areas in the river he was fishing were not going to replenish with new fish. So he had to work through each stretch carefully, making sure to pick apart specific pieces of wood. "I fished every little nook and places not everyone knew about," he said. "It was all about stumps for me. The big largemouth were on that wood. It wasn't anything special. The fish just live there.

"The river was an area I felt like I could go to and I could flip, I could throw a topwater, I could throw a moving bait and catch five fish." Current and clarity were big factors for his river fish. During pre-practice, the areas he was in were literally mud water, but it didn't take too long for it clear up. "On day 1, I ran up to above the Lula Road bridge," he said. "Everything was blown out from the Lula Bridge north. A lot of fish are up past there, but it was blown so I wouldn't have been able to catch them. "I came back down to where the water started to clear up and transitioned from a mud to a stain. When I went to the stained water, that's when I caught three big largemouth."He had his limit by 9:30 and the giant bag set the tone for the weekend, forcing everyone else to play catch-up.

His weight fell off more than 10 pounds on day 2, but he was able to unlock the bream-bed portion of his approach. He had four fish when he left the river around 12:30 and stuck two good ones on a topwater prop bait to helped him retain a 3-pound cushion on Jay Yelas entering the weekend. He boxed a quick limit on day 3, prompting an hour-long run to fish two particular banks below the Brown's Bridge. He caught a near-3-pounder that got rid of a squeaker that helped him take a 5-pound advantage into the final day. With everything on the line on the final day, he played it safe and put a variety of baits to work. Not having to share water with Yelas in the river as he had on days 2 and 3 helped as well. He spent the morning in the river before heading down lake where he sealed the win with a kicker largemouth caught near a bluegill bed around 2 p.m. "I was really methodical," he said. "I fished slow and picked everything apart. That's not me normally, but I knew the circumstances and I knew what I needed to catch so I was going for five bites no matter what they were. I was very methodical, but that's normally not how I fish. It was hardcore junk-fishing."

Winning Pattern:

He noted the largemouths seemed to eat bulkier baits and that he didn't catch more than one fish off the same piece of cover. "If it was one stump or log, that'd be the only fish there," he added. "Fifteen or 16 of my keepers each came off separate pieces of cover."

Winning Gear:

Flipping gear: 7'1" heavy-action G. Loomis NRX casting rod, Shimano Core 100MG7 casting reel (7:1 ratio), unnamed 20-pound monofilament line, 1/4-oz. VMC tungsten weight, 4/0 VMC straight-shank hook, 4" Trigger-X Goo Bug (green-pumpkin).

Bladed jig gear: 7'2" medium-heavy G. Loomis GLX Senko rod, Shimano Core 50MG casting reel (7:1 ratio), unnamed 20-pound monofilament line, custom-made 1/2-ounce bladed jig (blue/green/chartreuse blue).

Prop bait gear: 6'9" medium-action G. Loomis jerkbait rod, same reel as bladed jig, unnamed 15-pound monofilament line, Rapala X-Rap Prop (yellow perch).

Main factor: "The common peace I had with my family and my sister praying over me every day and God giving me that calming peace every day to be able to go out there and fish with confidence and not worrying about what happened."

Performance edge: "During pre-practice, I'd have Google Maps up on my cell phone in the satellite view and I could zoom in with my GPS so I knew where all the logjams were and the stumps and how they stood out. I caught a couple key fish that were out more in the middle of the river that weren't on stuff close to the bank. They were on the stuff that you couldn't see and nobody knew about. When it got more pressured and more pressured, I knew about that stuff."

Bryan Thrift's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Scott Canterbury began the tournament fishing shallow up the Chestatee River, but spent most of it plying deep brush on the main lake. He didn't get a lot of bites compared to some in the field – averaging less than 10 per day – but there was always at least one 4-pounder among them. His two-pronged attack consisted of a buzzbait with a Zoom Horny Toad trailer and various dropshot setups. When he could see fish on his graph, he usually employed a double -ropshot rig with one bait about 4 feet up the line and the other less than a foot above the weight. He said that was particularly effective on the well-known areas that were part of multiple anglers' rotations. "I caught them as shallow as 22 feet and as deep as 34, and the biggest ones all came out of 30 to 32," he said. "I had a couple of little ditches I found where I'd be idling along and see a little gut in them and I'd fish that, but most of the places were just brush that people had put out." He came up with the double-dropshot idea on his own during practice. "It was something I never dreamed I'd use in the tournament. I just wanted to see which bait would catch more fish, and sometimes I'd get them on the bottom and sometimes on the top, and I even got a double or two. After that, it didn't make any sense to change."

Droshot gear: 6'6" medium-heavy TigeRodz spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 6- or 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/4-, 3/8- or 1/2-ounce Tiger Tungsten dropshot weight, 1/0 unnamed dropshot hook, Jackall Cross Tail Shad (violet shad) and Jackall Flick Shake worm (tsunami). He said the tsunami color, which isn't marketed in the U.S. yet, is a sandy hue with some blue and red glitter mixed in. He nose-hooked the Crosstail Shad because it generally stayed above the brush. The Flick Shake, which often penetrated the piles, was Texas-rigged.

Buzzbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Veritas rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel, 65-pound Berkley FireLine Braid line, unnamed 3/8-ounce buzzbait, Zoom Horny Toad trailer.

Main factor: "I was fortunate to get some big bites, and I was blessed to land them."

Performance edge: The (tsunami-colored) worms. I caught a bunch of fish on them and I only had two left on the last day, and I ran out of them after about 10 drops. I don't know if they would've made a difference the rest of the day, but they got me there and I was happy."

Bryan Thrift's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Bryan Thrift has been one of the most consistent anglers in the game for awhile now and his performance in this event was a microcosm of that as there wasn't even a pound and a half worth of variance among his four bags. He pulled all of his fish from deep cover on day 1, then got them all shallow on day 2. He stayed close to the shoreline the rest of the way as he realized that the skinny-water fish held the greatest potential. Many of his weigh-in fish over the final 2 days were enticed by topwater offerings. He also caught some from a dock on a shaky-head on the final day and picked up a couple on day 1 on a 1/2-ounce jig. "Color didn't matter at all," he said. "Those fish were biting."

Topwater gear: 6'3" medium-heavy Damiki rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel, 15-pound Berkley Trilene Big Game monofilament line, Damiki D Pop 70 or Barry's Prop Bait.

Shaky-head gear: 6' medium-action Damiki spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce unnamed jighead, Damiki Finesse Miki (craw frog).

Main factor: "Decision-making. They weren't all good, but I did make enough right ones to catch five every day."

Performance edge: "Probably my Evinrude motor. I burned $170 in gas every day for 4 days straight – I was all over that lake and I went some places twice – and I had no problems whatsoever."

Kerry Milner's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Martin, the defending Cup champion, was the only member of the final Top 5 who spent the entire derby in pursuit of spotted bass in water that was at least 20 feet deep. He was in the running for his second straight triumph at the event until the final weigh-in. With the water level about 8 feet lower than normal, brushpiles at the right depths were hard to find, but he located a good deal of quality fish that were relating to standing timber in the 27- to 40-foot range. "I didn't have a lot of places out there, but the grade of fish was a little bit better for me in practice," he said. "I was after 10 to 12 bites a day and I struggled to get those, but the ones I got seemed to weigh a little bit more." He relied primarily on a dropshot, but also used a Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin, a topwater and a shaker jig. Those latter baits were important on the final day when the dropshot bite fizzled, and he'd also throw the Fish Head Spin or the Dude on his initial approach to a waypoint in an attempt to pick off an outside fish or two before going to work with the dropshot.

Dropshot gear: 6'9" medium-light Okuma Citrix rod, Okuma Helios spinning reel, 7-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 3/8- or 5/16-ounce River2Sea dropshot weight, 1/0 Lazer Trokar straight-shank hook, Bruiser Baits Finesse Worm (morning dawn). in addition to the Fish Head Spin, his other day-4 baits were a Sworming Hornet Dude shaker jig and a River2Sea Rover topwater. His other rod-and-reel combos were all matching Okuma Helios setups (7'6" medium-heavy for the Fish Head Spin, 7' medium for the dude and 7' medium-heavy for the Rover). He used 12-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line for the Fish Head Spin and the Dude and 50-pound Daiwa braid for the topwater.

Main factor: "My Garmin GPS. Running that many waypoints, it was real important for that to be very accurate."

Performance edge: "I was up on plane probably more than anybody and my Ranger/Evinrude got me everywhere I wanted to go. I'd stay in one place for 7 to 8 minutes max, then it was off to the next one."

Larry Nixon's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Two-time reigning Angler of the Year David Dudley determined in practice that he wouldn't venture far from the shoreline. "I figured out that it could be won shallow," he said. "I caught tons of fish out deep, but they didn't compare to what I could do shallow, so I dedicated myself to that. "I just fished random shallow stuff – the deepest was 3 feet. They were in the dirt, and when they're up that shallow at this time of year they've got one thing on their mind, and that's eating." Most of the fish he boated came via a shaky-head. He lost a bunch of big ones on bluegill-pattern topwater baits, including more than 20 pounds worth on day 3 alone. "They'd eat no matter what you threw – I just elected to use a shaky-head. I don't know what (those topwater fish) were doing, if they were just slapping at it or hitting it to kill it or what. That's just one of those mysteries that we'll never figure out."

Shaky-head gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Verdict spinning rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% fluorocarbon line, 1/8-ounce unnamed jighead, Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper worm (watermelon).

Main factor: "Fishing shallow."

Performance edge: "The Revo spinning reel. It has a very smooth drag."

Forrest Wood Cup Winning Pattern Bassfan 8/14/12 (Todd Ceisner)

Forrest Wood Cup Patterns 2-5 Bassfan 8/15/12 (John Johnson)

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