VMC Neon Moon Eye Jigs, the new Storm 360GT Searchbait and Rapala Jigging Raps helped Jacob Wheeler win the first Bassmaster Elite Series regular- season tournament held on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake.
“The big key for me was that VMC Neon Moon Eye Jig,” Wheeler said on the weigh-in stage, shortly before hoisting the championship trophy. “It has a big eye on it, and it rocked [on the fall]. And when it was rocking, the eye would shimmy down there and it had a lot more action. … I feel like, no doubt, this week I got more bites because of that.”
When the fish weren’t biting on a vertical presentation the newly released Storm 360GT Searchbait, crawled on the bottom, helped Wheeler bring in key fish throughout the whole tournament to secure his victory.
Having spent more than a week in pre-practice scouring the lake bottom with his depth-finder, Wheeler waypointed more than a thousand individual rocks. When his depth-finder showed him fish on those rocks during the tournament, he got the most and best bites by vertically targeting them with a 3/8th oz. VMC Neon Moon Eye Jig in the “Fathead” color pattern dressed with a 3-inch fluke-style soft-plastic bait in a silvery/white color that matched local baitfish.
“That VMC Moon Eye Jig was huge,” he said on the weigh-in stage. “When a fish comes up on your bait and he meets up with it, and he sees that big giant eye there, it’s going to look a lot more realistic than just a plain old jig head.”
VMC® Neon Moon Eye Jig
An improved take on a traditional Aspirin-shaped jig-head, VMC’s Neon Moon Eye Jig provides added control on the fall and features 3-D holographic eyes for realism and the illusion of a wider profile.
VMC Neon Moon Eye Jigs are available in 23 color patterns. They come armed with premium VMC high-carbon steel hooks with a top-of-the-line black-nickel finish.
Wheeler fished his VMC Neon Moon Eye jigs on a leader of 6-pound-test Sufix® Castable Invisiline™ 100% Fluorocarbon tied to a main line of 6-pound-test Sufix Nanobraid®, a super-sensitive micro-braid that casts a mile, increases hook-up ratios, works well in the wind and doesn’t require a special knot to tie. Wheeler said Nanobraid gave him an advantage because it comes off the spool faster and allows him to keep his bait in the strike zone longer.
It’s easier to feel bites with Nanobraid because it’s ridiculously thin. Ten-pound test Nanobraid measures only 3/500th of an inch in diameter; 2-pound test measures a mere 1/1000th of an inch. It comes in Sufix’s “Aqua Camo” and Low-Vis Green colors, on 150-yard spools.
The 2012 Forrest Wood Cup Champion on the FLW Tour, Wheeler is fishing his first season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. In 2014, he won a Bassmaster BassFest event, competing against Bassmaster Elite Series pros and anglers that had fared well in Bassmaster Opens. He qualified for the 2017 Elite seasons with strong showings in Bassmaster Open tournaments last season. He placed 14th in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
When fish he saw on his graph would not react to a vertical presentation, Wheeler turned to a horizontal offering – a 3 ½-inch Storm 360GT Searchbait in the Herring color pattern.
“I’d graph them and if they’d come up and be all goofy and stuff – come up and look at my bait and [not bite] … I would throw that searchbait in there and crawl it on the bottom,” Wheeler said. “I caught key fish throughout the week doing that.”
Creating an illusion of natural movement, the 360GT Searchbait™ – a new offering from Storm this year – features a realistically designed phthalate-free soft-body featuring 3D holographic eyes and a toe-in boot tail that elicits fish-attracting action at any retrieve speed.
“I’m always looking for a searchbait that I can throw out there that looks realistic and can cover a lot of water,” Wheeler said when the 360GT was released earlier this month. “The 360GT Searchbait does just that.”
He threw the Searchbait on 10-pound-test Sufix Castable Invisiline 100% Fluorocarbon line.
The 360GT Searchbait is available in 11 color patterns: Chartreuse Ice, Gaga, Herring, Houdini, Hot Olive, Marilyn, Pearl Ice, Smokin’ Ghost, Smelt, Tru Blue and Volunteer. It’s available in three sizes – 3 ½ inches, 1/8 oz; 4 ½ inches, ¼ oz.; 5 ½ inches, 3/8 oz. – each of which come in a handy package containing one pre-rigged bait and two extra soft-bait bodies.
To give the fish a different vertical look, Wheeler dropped No. 5 and No. 7 Rapala Jigging Raps in front of them. Developed for, and mostly used by, ice fisherman, Jigging Raps simulate the erratic characteristics of a wounded baitfish by swimming in tantalizing circles on the fall.
“A smallmouth, he’s not like a largemouth,” Wheeler explained Sunday from the weigh-in stage. “They like to come up and eat most of the time. They really like to feed up.”
Jigging Raps were proven equally productive as open-water baits in the last few years after Wheeler and others won or placed high with them in tournaments. After that, the once-secret tactic went public. Watch Wheeler demonstrate how he fishes a Jigging Rap in this video.
With single reversed hooks on the nose and posterior, and a center treble hook hung from a belly eyelet, they don’t allow for missed bites — regardless of how a fish attacks, it’s running smack dab into a hook. Jigging Raps are available in five sizes and 20 color patterns.
On Cherokee, Wheeler threw No. 5 Jigging Raps (Helsinki Shad color pattern) on 10-pound-test Sufix Nanobraid tied to a 10-pound-test leader of Sufix Castable Invisiline 100% Fluorocarbon. He threw the no. 7 Jigging Rap on 10-pound-test Nanobraid attached to a 14-pound-test leader of Sufix Castable Invisiline 100% Fluorocarbon.