DULUTH — The Forrest Wood Cup has never gone to a winner more than once. Four anglers had a shot at becoming the first repeat winner on Sunday, but a young gun made sure that a second-time champ remained uncrowned.
After taking a commanding lead after the first day of competition, 21-year old rookie Jacob Wheeler led from wire to wire, securing the $500,000 prize by bringing in a limit of 11 pounds, 15 ounces.
Those five fish ran his four-day total to 60-1, putting him a solid seven pounds, five ounces ahead of Scott Canterbury (second place at 52-12), and made him the youngest winner in Cup history.
"From the first day on, it's been unbelievable," Wheeler said. "It was a struggle today as I only had six keeper bites."
Wheeler opened up a huge lead on Day 1 with the biggest sack of the tournament, bringing in five largemouths at 21-15.
He stumbled a bit on Day 2 with only 11-12, getting a huge challenge when Jay Yelas scored five keepers for 18-4 to get within three pounds of the lead.
But a strong 14-7 on Day 3 resecured his lead back at six pounds, giving him the cushion he needed to hold off the field in the final day.
Wheeler also went against conventional tactics for summertime fishing an Lanier by spending most of his time up the Chattahoochee River arm of the lake. He caught his fish on a variety of lures, but keyed in on bedding bluegill for his bigger fish.
"I caught fish on so many different baits," Wheeler said. "I caught a couple of big ones flipping creature baits and some on a vibrating prop bait.
"The (Chattahoochee) river was one area I felt I could go to flip and crank and catch five fish. I always fish better when I have five fish in the livewell becauseit takes that pressure off my back."
Wheeler used a jet boat in practice to reach as far up river as he could and had success, getting a limit of over 10 pounds in about 90 minutes.
However, jet boats aren't allowed in competition, and he had to find an outboard that would get him as far up as possible.
In a lake where fishing deep in the summer is the norm, Wheeler's decision to go as shallow as he could worked to the tune of $500,000.
"Fishing was so phenomenal," Yelas said, who finished sixth at 48-4. "It was so much better that in 2010."
The nine anglers trailing Wheeler did everything they could to mount a comeback as eight of the remaining nine brought limits to the scales.
The top weight on Sunday was caught by current Angler of the Year David Dudley, whose five came in at 14-6.
His five weren't good enough to take the Cup, but it did move him up from ninth to fifth at 49-13.
The two anglers that had the best chance of stealing the Cup were Bryan Thrift and Canterbury. Thrift, who came into Sunday in third, brought in five bass at 12-5, running the entire lake from the dam to both rivers. However, his efforts left him in third at 52-4.
Canterbury also had a limit on Sunday, but couldn't find the kicker he needed, finishing with 10-7 on the last day and settling into second place at 52-12.
The only Georgian in the finals was Troy Morrow, who finished fifth in the 2010 tournament. Morrow also had a limit in the final day but wasn't able to get on the big fish, ending the tournament in eighth place.
Next year's Forrest Wood Cup will be held in Shreveport, La. on the Red River, beginning on Aug. 15.
Forrest Wood Cup
Place Angler Final Weight Winnings
1 Jacob Wheeler 60-1 $500,00
2 Scott Canterbury 52-12 $100,00
3 Bryan Thrift 52-4 $75,000
4 Scott Martin 51-12 $60,000
5 David Dudley 49-13 $50,000
6 Jay Yelas 48-4 $45,000
7 Andy Morgan 47-7 $40,000
8 Troy Morrow 46-11 $35,000
9 Dion Hibdon 46-6 $30,000
10 Luke Clausen 43-11 $25,000