Major League Fishing - Bass Pro Tour/Cup Events

Wheeler Earns Seventh Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour Victory at Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes

CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. (Feb. 25, 2024) – During the final period of the final day of Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick, the Santee Cooper lakes that had churned out chunky bass all week simply shut down. At one point, the 10 pros duking it out during the Championship Round went 45 minutes without boating a scorable bass. They combined to catch just 18 fish, none breaking the 4-pound mark, during the final frame.

The one angler who managed to manufacture consistent action – Rapala pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee. Wheeler accounted for five of those bass, which combined to weigh 14 pounds, 2 ounces. That boosted his final-day total to 47-4, lifting him past Suzuki pro Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Arizona, by 5 pounds for his seventh career Bass Pro Tour victory.

Bucking conventional Santee Cooper tactics by fishing offshore with a jighead minnow, Wheeler did what he’s done for the past six years, seemingly willing bites into existence. He started the third period 2-8 back of Rojas but promptly took the lead with a 3-12 largemouth. A little more than an hour later, with everyone else at a standstill, he boated three fish over 2-pounds in about 10 minutes. After Rojas closed within 2-6 in the final 30 minutes, Wheeler ran across Lake Marion to hit one more spot, where he added a 2-10 to all but seal the victory.

“I stuck to my game plan this whole week, and I stayed out offshore and I tried to fish isolated stuff,” Wheeler said. “It really came down to just keeping my head down and keeping my rotation going. I tried to make other tactics work, but those last two periods really came down to throwing that Freeloader, locking it in my hand. I’ve got so much confidence in it; I know it’s going to generate the bites if they are going to bite at all.”

Both Wheeler and Rojas, who pulled away from the rest of the pack Sunday, largely ignored the fishery’s innumerable cypress trees, with Wheeler fishing offshore and Rojas skipping boat docks.

Wheeler said he had 30 to 40 spots that he cycled through during the event, mostly located in the middle and lower sections of Lake Marion. He primarily targeted brushpiles but also found a few productive locations that featured stumps or hard spots on the bottom.

“I didn’t feel like it was the winning pattern,” Wheeler said. “But I basically was able to find enough stuff that I could keep to myself and rotate on myself and really manage that it ended up being that way. And it was a combination of the right bait, the right area, the right stuff.”

While most of the field focused on cypress trees or submerged vegetation, Wheeler wasn’t the only angler in the Championship Round fishing offshore. Justin Lucas stacked up 42-6 on six bass doing virtually the same thing during the Knockout Round.

What separated Wheeler was his ability to generate strikes amid the tough, postfrontal conditions that greeted the field on Sunday.

His final-period flurry will likely be remembered as the winning moment, but surviving the first period might have been more important for Wheeler. The morning brought chilly, windy conditions that made fishing offshore difficult. Seeing that fish were tucked tighter to the bottom, Wheeler pulled out a jig and used it to catch his first bass of the day, a 5-10. Without that fish, his biggest of the day, he would’ve fallen 10 ounces shy of Rojas’ total.

“I just felt like the fish were on the bottom,” he said. “When the wind blows, a lot of times, those fish will suck down to the bottom. Basically, all I was using ActiveTarget for then was just making the right casts.”

As the wind died down and the water warmed, Wheeler turned to the Rapala CrushCity Freeloader, a soft-plastic, pintail minnow of his own design. The Freeloader has become a confidence bait for Wheeler — no surprise considering he’d already won one Bass Pro Tour event, 2023 Stage Four on Lake Guntersville, with it.
He came into the week unsure whether it would be effective in Santee Cooper’s shallow, off-color water. But as the event progressed, he found that bass that would eat a jerkbait earlier in the week could still be enticed by a Freeloader — even Sunday afternoon, when no one else in the field could get bit consistently.

“The water’s starting to clean up a little bit, the fish were definitely really fickle,” he said. “When the water was a little bit dirtier, you could catch ‘em on a spinnerbait, you could catch ‘em on a jerkbait; it was a lot better. And then as the water slowly cleared, it became a deal where I had to change up. And that was the key.”

Wheeler’s latest triumph adds to an already sterling Bass Pro Tour resume. He’s now amassed seven wins and 29 Top-10 finishes in his first 43 BPT events — both easily the most among his peers on tour. He’s already claimed two Fishing Clash Angler of the Year titles and is back in the driver’s seat to add a third.

So, has all that success gotten old yet? Not a chance.

“My little girl, she’s sort of like me, she always likes to win,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “And she told me, ‘Daddy, you don’t let (roommates) DC and Adrian win this week. You’ve got to bring home the trophy.’ So, we’re bringing home the trophy, darling.”

The top 10 pros from the Suzuki Stage Two Presented by Fenwick at Santee Cooper Lakes finished:

1st:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 15 bass, 47-4, $100,000
2nd:      Dean Rojas, Lake Havasu City, Ariz., 17 bass, 42-4, $45,000
3rd:       Jesse Wiggins, Cullman, Ala., nine bass, 29-14, $38,000
4th:        Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., four bass, 19-10, $32,000
5th:        Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 18-12, $30,000
6th:        Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., six bass, 16-8, $26,000
7th:        Dave Lefebre, Erie, Pa., five bass, 15-5, $23,000
8th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, five bass, 11-5, $21,000
9th:        James Watson, Lampe, Mo., three bass, 7-13, $19,000
10th:     Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala, one bass, 4-8, $16,000

A complete list of results can be found at

Overall, there were 70 bass weighing 213 pounds, 3 ounces caught by the final 10 pros Sunday. The catch included four 5-pounders, one 6-pounder, and one 8-pounder.

Reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, won Championship Sunday’s Berkley Big Bass Award, with a largemouth totaling 8 pounds even in the first period. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament. Pro David Dudley of Lynchburg, Virginia, earned the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass award for the overall largest bass of the event with his 9-pound, 11-ounce largemouth that was weighed on Day 4 of competition.

The Suzuki Stage Two at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by Fenwick featured the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers caught as much weight as they could each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament featured anglers competing with a 1-pound, 8-ounce minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division determines minimum weights for each body of water that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.

The six-day tournament, hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce, showcased 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of $659,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2025, the Bass Pro Tour championship.

The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2025 championship.

Bass Pro Tour anglers also compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) award and its $100,000 payday. After two events in the 2024 season, Jacob Wheeler leads the AOY race with 157 points. Jesse Wiggins of Addison, Alabama, moved into second place with 150 points, while defending AOY Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, sits in third, two points back of Wiggins with 148 points.

Television coverage of the Suzuki Stage Two at Santee Cooper Lakes Presented by Fenwick will premiere as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Sept. 21 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering the following Saturday on Sept. 28. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Fishing Clash, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, StarBrite, Suzuki, Toyota and U.S. Air Force.

BASSMASTER Elite Series/Opens

Fujita’s furious comeback leads to Bassmaster Elite Series victory at Toledo Bend

February 25, 2024

MANY, La. —

Kyoya Fujita’s ultimate goal for 2024 is to win the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.

Winning the first tournament of the season is certainly an impressive way to start that campaign.

With 100 pounds, 13 ounces, Fujita claimed the victory at the Gamakatsu Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend. Along with the coveted century belt — an exclusive award given only to those who catch at least 100 pounds of bass in a four-day event — the Elite Series sophomore earned the $100,000 top prize and a blue trophy.

“I was surprised,” Fujita said with the assistance of a translator. “I am looking to make every Championship Sunday this season. But winning tournaments are really hard things to do. I have been champion in Japan, but I know how hard it is to do. I’m happy with how it worked out. It’s a very good start.”

Entering the day 6 pounds behind Wisconsin pro Pat Schlapper, Fujita made a furious comeback in the final round by catching 28-13 — a bag almost entirely made up of 6-pounders and a total he wasn’t expecting after struggling the previous day.

“I thought there was a chance for me to win if Pat caught only 16 or 17 pounds and I could catch 22 or 23 pounds,” Fujita said. “If I can locate the bass, I am confident I can catch those bass. In my brain, my tactics, my fishing and my heart, I believe in myself.”

This win only adds reinforces his hard-earned nickname “Prince of Japanese Angling.” This is Fujita’s second Elite Series title in 10 events, with the first coming at Lake Champlain last August. Before coming to America, he won four Angler of the Year titles in Japan as well as six major tournaments.

Most of the week, Fujita stayed in one offshore spot in the mouth of Housen Bay and targeted prespawn bass suspended in deep standing timber. As the fishing pressure from Elite anglers and locals began to build, the bite began to suffer.

When that spot began to fizzle on Day 3, he moved to the creek right above Housen and caught suspended bass in 10 feet of water using his forward-facing sonar in the mouth of that creek. That spot produced multiple 6-pounders the final two days, several of which he believed to be postspawners.

“I practiced there and found some 3-pounders, but nothing special,” he said. “I think because of the wind situation (on Day 4), the bass came up there.”

In both areas, Fujita used a Jackall Drift Fry and a Deps Sakamata Shad and rigged them on either a 1/8-ounce or 3/16-ounce Keitech Super Round Jighead. When he located a bass on Garmin LiveScope, he would cast to it and then lightly shake the bait in front of the bass until it bit.

He rigged both baits on a 6-foot, 5-inch medium-light Daiwa Steez Real Control spinning rod paired with a Daiwa Exist reel which he spooled with 30-pound Daiwa braid main line and 16-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Fujita took the lead on Day 1 by catching 31-3 — a five-bass limit that earned him $2,000 for as the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Tournament. He fell to second after a Day 2 bag of 24-3 and then to third after catching 16-10 on Day 3.

During his Day 3 struggles, however, Fujita caught a late 6-pounder that pointed him in the right direction for Championship Sunday.

Fujita returned to his primary spot to open the final round — and while there weren’t many bass left in the area, he started the morning by landing a 6- and 5-pounder in the first two hours. He caught two more keepers in that area, but he could not manufacture another bite.

“I caught four nice ones at the first main area,” Fujita said. “There weren’t many bass this morning either, but there were less boats. Nobody was fishing around me. So, I was able to see them. When I saw the four big fish, I caught all of them. I didn’t fish for the smaller ones. After I caught those four, I didn’t see anything.”

After mid-morning, Fujita made a move to his secondary spot and landed another 6-pounder to fill his limit. His day only got better from there as he landed several more 6-pounders in the last three hours to seal his victory.

South Carolina pro Patrick Walters caught 29-0, the biggest bag of the final day, to jump into second place with a four-day total of 95-15. He anchored his big Sunday bag with an 8-4 largemouth that claimed Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day honors.

Walters opened the tournament with 19-11 before bringing 30-5 and 16-5 to the scales on Days 2 and 3. While a good start to his season, he had mixed feelings about the way the final day unfolded.

“It started out slow,” he said. “It took all day long. I caught my biggest one on my last cast. It was one here and one there and it took forever. But I had the bites to crack the biggest bag I’ve ever had in my life. I lost two hammers — two absolute giants — and a 4-pounder. I’m happy with the start, though.”

Using forward-facing sonar, Walters focused on a major creek channel and searched for bass in a wide area. The key was keeping the trolling motor down and covering water until he saw something he liked. A 3/16-ounce Damiki rig with a Fluke-style bait and a Neko-rigged Zoom Magnum Swamp Crawler were his key baits.

“I wouldn’t pick my trolling motor up for 5 miles,” Walters said. “I would follow the creek channel and then move to the flat. I would move to wherever I thought they were going.”

Entering the final day with the lead, Schlapper fell to third with a four-day total of 93-8 after landing just 14-14 on Sunday. The Wisconsin pro had three great days, landing 27-4 on Day 1 before adding 28-5 and 22-7 the next two days.

“I knew I was in trouble when I didn’t catch a couple good ones early,” he said. “It is what it is. I ran out of bass and didn’t adjust.”

Schlapper spent most of his time this week fishing the deep edge of a grass flat in Housen Bay. The majority of the bass he caught this week were roaming between 10 and 30 feet of water. While he combed a large area, Schlapper keyed on one particular sweet spot that produced multiple big bites each of the first three days.

“There was a drain that went in, a little gap they were funneling into,” he said. “The majority of the big ones I caught were within a 100 yards of the mouth of that drain. I think those bass were either in the grass or timber and would come out to that edge and sun themselves. All of the big ones I caught were up high in the water column, like 10 feet down.”

He caught almost every bass this week using a Damiki rig with a Queen Tackle tungsten jighead and a minnow-style bait. Garmin LiveScope was an important contributor as well.

Schlapper said he did not see nearly as many bass as he’d seen the previous three days. The quality bass he did see on his forward-facing sonar did not bite. With a small limit and time running out, he punted and moved to a shallow grass flat and caught several nice bass with a bladed jig to salvage the day.

Fujita took the early lead in the Angler of the Year standings with 103 points, followed by Walters in second with 102. Schlapper is third with 101 points, followed by Tennessee rookie Robert Gee in fourth with 100 and Texas rookie Ben Milliken in fifth with 99.

Gee and Milliken sit atop the Dakota Lithium Rookie of the Year standings, followed by Alabama’s Wesley Gore in third with 93 points, Trey McKinney of Illinois in fourth with 92 and Maine’s Tyler Williams in fifth with 85.

South Carolina’s Bryan New earned a total of $3,000 for catching the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament, a 9-8 largemouth he landed on Day 1.

Virginia pro Ed Loughran III took home the $1,000 BassTrakk contingency bonus for most accurate weight recording this week.

Fujita earned an extra $4,000 for the Yamaha Power Pay contingency award while Walters earned a $2,500 bonus.

Oklahoma pro Luke Palmer earned $3,000 in Toyota Bonus Bucks, while rookie McKinney earned $2,000 in Bonus Bucks.

The event was hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office of Tourism.