Local Ace Wiggins Overcame Final-Day Error
When Jesse Wiggins broke off a 4-plus-pound fish late on the final day of last week’s Smith Lake Bassmaster Southern Open, he was sure that he’d lost his opportunity to win the weather-shortened event.
A little while later, he thought about the 2017 Bassmaster Classic – and how he wouldn’t be competing in it.
“I was sick,” said the 25-year-old resident of nearby Jasper, Ala. “And I wasn’t even thinking about the Classic at that time.
“It hit me about 30 minutes later that I’d just cost myself (a berth in) the Classic. I was so sick.”
It turned out, however, that all those ill feelings were misplaced. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jordan Lee, who’d boxed more than 20 pounds the previous day, came in with less than 10, and the 34-02 that Wiggins compiled over 2 days was indeed enough to garner him the trophy and a spot in next year’s edition of the sport’s premier event.
Here are some of the details of the biggest victory of his career.
Wiggins’ job as a respiratory therapist on the night shift at a local hospital allows him a lot of time to fish. The way his work schedule is set up, he’s frequently off for nearly a week at a time.
He competes in at least 25 tournaments per year on Smith and was 6th in the Southern Open held there in 2014.
He went into this event knowing that a high percentage of the lake’s big spotted bass would be on the spawning beds, so he spent the 3 days prior to the derby on a quest to pinpoint locations where that activity was occurring.
It’s not a sight-fishing deal – the spots spawn in 5 to 10 feet of water and thus usually aren’t visible when they’re going through the annual reproduction rite. But for an angler with his level of experience on the lake, the places where they’re doing it are relatively easy to identify.
And once found, those fish are easy to catch.
“They’re just more aggressive than the largemouths,” he said. “You usually don’t have to cast to them more than once before they’ll bite. And the big ones now are almost as big as the largemouths, so I’m not afraid to go out and fish for the spots.”
> Day 1: 5, 18-15
> Day 2: 5, 15-03
> Total = 10, 34-02
A series of strong storms that rolled through the area forced the cancellation of day 1. When the 179-angler field finally got back on the water on Friday, Wiggins wasted little time in laying the foundation for his eventual victory.
He boxed 16 pounds in the first 20 minutes at his initial stop. He compiled that haul primarily with a shaky-head, but it included a 4-pound largemouth that he enticed with a topwater bait.
Later on, he ran up Rock Creek, where Dave Lefebre won last year’s FLW Tour event, and added a 5-pound largemouth on the topwater. His bag left him in a tie for 2nd place, less than 2 pounds behind Lee.
His confidence was fairly high to start day 2, as he knew the bite would be tougher overall (he said that’s standard for multi-day tournaments at Smith during the spawn) and he still had plenty of places to run during the morning, as he’d burned only one the previous day.
He had about 14 1/2 pounds in his livewell (four 3-pound spots and a 2 1/2-pounder) at mid-day when he again headed for Rock Creek. At 1 o’clock he popped a 3 1/2-pounder on the topwater that accounted for his final upgrade.
Breaking off the 4-pounder in the final hour made the ride back to the launch an unpleasant journey, but his mood brightened considerably when he discovered he’d outfished all the other leaders from the previous day.
“I was in complete shock,” he said. “I knew I had way less weight than the first day and I thought for sure Jordan would catch at least 13 1/2. I got really fortunate.
“Not often to you get to lose a 4-pounder in the last hour and not have it cost you. I was so happy.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Shaky-head gear: Unnamed 7’2″ medium-heavy rod, unnamed 2500-size spinning reel, unnamed 10-pound braided line (main line), unnamed 12-pound fluorocarbon leader (10′), 3/16-ounce homemade jighead, 4″ unnamed Senko-type stickbait (green-pumpkin).
> The stickbait was Texas-rigged. “I don’t throw wacky-rigs – they take too long to get to the bottom,” he said. “I can make more casts with the Texas rig and they bite it just as good.”
> Topwater gear: Unnamed 7′ medium-heavy rod, unnamed casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 20-pound braid (main line), 20-pound fluorocarbon (leader), unnamed Zara Spook-type bait.
> He opted to remain very secretive about his topwater bait. “Nobody else around here throws it and I’m keeping it quiet while I can,” he said.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “I knew I could catch a big limit of spots in the first part of the day and I wasn’t scared to go (up Rock Creek) for the rest of the day and fish for just one bite. I knew there were bigger fish up there. I did it the first day and it couldn’t have worked out any better. It would’ve been the same thing the second day if I hadn’t broken that one off.”
> Performance edge – “Definitely my shaky-head. I pour it myself and it’s definitely a confidence-builder for me.”
> Wiggins is in 4th place in the Southern Open points standings with one event remaining and would like to compete on the Elite Series next year if he qualifies. “I’d need some (sponsorship) help, but I’m going to try it if I can catch some at Douglas,” he said.
> He said his 25-year-old brother Jordan, who finished 7th on the co-angler side, might’ve prevented him from winning if Jordan had gotten his entry in early enough to fish as a boater. “I get more time to fish than he does, but if he had the time that I do, he’d be a lot better than I am. He catches most of our fish in team tournaments.”