Wheeler Cruises will win the Group A qualifying round at the MLF Bass Pro Tour’s third favorite fishing stop on Lewis Smith Lake

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Academy Sports + Outdoors pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison caught 11 scoring basses weighing 23 pounds, 12 ounces to claim victory Friday and move straight to his seventh consecutive championship round at the third favorite fishing stop on Lake Lewis Smith presented by Mercury in Cullman, Al. This will be the fourth time Wheeler has automatically earned a spot in the championship round of the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour.

Wheeler’s two-day qualifying round total of 41 bass weighing in at 80lbs, 13oz earned him Group A victory on Day 2 by a wide margin of 24lbs, 11oz over the second-place angler, favorite fishing pro Zack Birge of Blanchard, Ok., who caught a total of 29 bass over two days for a 56-2 total. Pro Randy Howell of Guntersville, Al., finished the day in third place with a total of 22 basses weighing 52-12 over two days, while pro Casey Ashley of Donalds, SC slipped two places to end the round in fourth place with a two-day total of 22 bass weighing 51-4. Pro Andy Morgan of Dayton rounded out the top five with a two-day total of 25 basses weighing 50 pounds and 10 ounces.

The six-day event, hosted by Cullman Parks, Recreation and Sports Tourism, Cullman County Parks and Rec and the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce, features 80 of the world’s top professional bass anglers competing for a total purse of $805 $000, including a cash prize of $100,000 to the winner.

Wheeler again spent the day in open water over extremely deep woods catching spotted bass.

“Hanging fish can be one of the most difficult to catch,” Wheeler said. “I targeted a lot of hanging fish today with the Rapala Jigging Rap and a (Storm) Largo Shad. I had a solid lead today, so I was just trying to figure out if there was a trend. I discovered some areas and things that helped me dial in and find bass a little faster. All in all, it seems to be less of a pattern and more of an area I need to target on Monday.

Wheeler is once again sitting in a great position, with two days off and the whole weekend to rest and put together his game plan for the championship round.

“It’s been a good week so far,” Wheeler said. “We finished first, and it’s great to go straight into the championship round.

“I know a lot is going to change by then so I’ll probably be riding a mix of rods and be ready to try a variety of techniques when we get back here on Monday. Obviously, the docks will definitely play more on the lake, but with the conditions we’re predicting, I’ll just have to pay attention to the weather.

“We’re kind of going to mix things up,” Wheeler continued. “I guarantee you it will be a hodgepodge day on Championship Monday.”

There was also added excitement around the Toro Cut Line today in the final period, with pro John Murray of Spring City, Tennessee, starting the third period in 32nd place before catching a flurry of 14 bars weighing 20-12 to propel themselves to 10th place.

Bass Pro Shops pro Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., finished the day in 19th place, casting Strike King lures.

“Man, what a fight today,” VanDam said. “I spent the whole first period and I didn’t catch a big bass, even though I did some really good tricks. I’m just thrilled to move on to the Knockout Round and have the chance to continue fishing this event.

“Obviously some of the other guys have really figured something out, but on this lake anything can happen at any time. I had some really good bursts and saw what’s possible here, so that’s what we’ll be aiming for in the knockout round.

Bass Pro Tour newcomer Jeremy Lawyer of Sarcoxie, Mo. sweated his first time on the Toro Cut Line, before finishing the day in 20th place.

“I’m the last one in, and it was tough today – that third period just ate at me,” Lawyer said. “I had a game plan of staying on the docks and finesse fishing around the docks with a few small swimbaits on a Freedom Lures swimmer head, and I nearly got caught. But that’s the best thing about the Bass Pro Tour – when we get back on the water on Sunday, we’re all even. It doesn’t matter if you are first or twentieth. I’m just grateful to be here and see what we can do in the Knockout Round.

The top 20 anglers in Group A will now enjoy a day off, while the 40 anglers in qualifying Group B will complete their two-day qualifying round on Saturday. The Knockout Round, with 38 anglers competing to finish in the top eight, will take place on Sunday. Monday’s championship round will feature Saturday’s Group B winner Wheeler and the top eight anglers from the knockout round who will face off in a shootout on the final day for the top prize of $100,000.

The top 20 pros from Qualifying Group A who now advance to Sunday’s knockout round on Lewis Smith Lake are:

1st: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 41 bass, 80-13 – LEADS TO CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND
2nd: Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., 29 bass, 56-2
3rd: Randy Howell, Guntersville, Alabama, 22 bass, 52-12
4th”: Casey Ashley, Donalds, SC, 22 bass, 51-4
5th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tennessee, 25 bass, 50-10
6th: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Alabama, 20 bass, 46-8
7th: Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 19 low, 42-10
8th: Josh Bertrand, Queen Creek, Arizona, 19 bass, 42-1
9th: Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., 21 bass, 40-11
10th: John Murray, Spring City, Tennessee, 20 bass, 40-6
11th: Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, SC, 19 low, 39-3
12th: Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Alabama, 17 bass, 38-4
13th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, NJ, 19 bass, 37-5
14th: Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla., 19 bass, 35-9
15th: Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., 17 bass, 35-0
16th: Russ Lane, Prattville, Alabama, 15 low, 31-1
17th: Luke Clausen, Spokane, Washington, 14 low, 29-11
18th: Randall Tharp, Port St. Joe, Fla., 12 bass, 29-3
19th: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 14 bass, 28-10
20th: Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 14 bass, 27-6

A full list of results is available at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 300 scoring bass weighing 616 pounds, 12 ounces caught by the 40 pros on Friday.

Tharp caught a 6-pound, 7-ounce bigmouth on a jig in the third period that catapulted him into the top 20 and earned him the event’s third $1,000 Berkley Big Bass award. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day and a bonus of $3,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass in the tournament.

The 40 anglers in Group A contested their two-day qualifying round on Wednesday and Friday – the 40 anglers in Group B Thursday and Saturday. Once each two-day qualifying round is completed, anglers who finish 2nd through 20th in both groups advance to Sunday’s knockout round, while the winner of each group advances directly to the championship round of Monday. In the Knockout Round, the weights are zeroed out and the remaining 38 anglers compete to finish in the top 8 and qualify for the Championship Round. On the final day of the championship, the weights go to zero and the highest total in a day wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers will launch daily at 7:30 a.m. from Smith Lake State Park, located at 403 County Road 386 in Cullman, Alabama. The General Tire Takeout will take place at the park each day beginning at 4:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and are also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW! live stream and SCORETRACKER coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

The third favorite fishing stop on Lewis Smith Lake presented by Mercury features anglers competing with a minimum weight requirement of 1 pound and 8 ounces for a bass to be considered scoring. Minimum weights are determined individually for each competition water visited by the Bass Pro Tour, based on productivity, bass population and expected average fish size in each fishery.

The Bass Pro Tour features a group of 80 of the world’s best professional anglers who compete in seven regular season tournaments across the country, competing for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General All-Star event. Tire Heavy Hitters and the 2023 REDCREST Championship.

For more details and up-to-date information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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