Boecker, Combs, and McNeil win Winter Blues on Wheeler

Cold, windy, and wet weather characterized prefishing for Winter Blues on Wheeler presented by SeaArk Boats. The Decatur, AL event was staged out of Ingalls Harbor on the banks of the Tennessee River. The inclement weather resulted in wide-ranging pre-fishing reports with some anglers finding fish and others not. Availability of fresh bait may have played a role in the eventual outcome. Anglers that found fresh bait had better success than those that didn’t.

The main event was met with clearing skies and temperatures on the rise. The air temps rose to the low 60s by weigh-in time at 3:00 pm on the big Fishlife stage. Jody Harrison and FLW Weigh-Master and announcer, Chris Jones, shared the master of ceremonies duties welcoming the anglers to the stage.

catfish tournament, Wheeler Lake, Alabama, Blue Catfish

There were 173 registered boats that included 160 paid entries. The tournament paid one place for every ten boats entered, resulting in a check for the top 17 boats. The top spot took home $10,000 and a beautiful set of trophies from D & T Custom. A complete list of payouts can be found on the Winter Blues at Wheeler Facebook page.

First Place –  #iowaboys 

catfish tournament, Wheeler Lake, Alabama, Blue Catfish

Congratulations to Blake Boecker, Danny Combs, and  Ruger McNeil, for winning Winter Blues on Wheeler 2019. The team’s five Wheeler Lake fish weighed 140.33 pounds. They traveled to Decatur from Iowa where they mainly fish the Mississippi River. Their main targets there are flatheads and channel cats, but they managed to put a hurtin’ on some Wheeler blue cats at the January 5th, 2019 event.

Boecker, Combs, and McNeil call the Mississippi River their home waters. “I am from Wapello, Iowa,” stated Boecker. “The fishing wasn’t much different except we don’t have blues, we have channel cat and flatheads. We pretty much anchor fish all the time at home.”

The team from Iowa found their success on Wheeler Lake by dragging baits in 15 to 25 feet of water. They focused on channel ledges using shad and skipjack for bait, with all the fish coming on the gizzard shad, which they caught fresh in the back side of some coves, in about six feet of water. They said they were using big baits for big fish.

“We were using a dragging weight with medium to long leaders,” explained Boecker. “Each one had either a demon dragon or peg float about 8 inches from the hook. All our fish were caught on 8/0 Team Catfish double action hooks.

“All our fish, throughout the week and during the tournament, came off of Parks Planer Boards,” continued Boecker. “We have used most boards out there and in our opinion, they are the best. We were able to drag six baits at a time using his boards.”

“It’s a pretty incredible feeling to know all of our hard work and numerous tournaments we’ve fished has finally paid off,” concluded Boecker. “We won the granddaddy of tournaments. All of the congratulations and support from family and friends and even people we don’t know has been amazing. For once it was our day to put it all together and end up on the big stage. It feels awesome.”

Winning Winter Blues on Wheeler was an awesome experience,” added Ruger when he returned home in Iowa. “Just the experience of meeting new people and pulling the fish out of the live well with the crowd going nuts was all part of it. I have been settling down, getting unpacked, getting the boat unloaded, and just enjoying it with the family.”

“The most significant factor for us was just being able to catch the fish we needed,” said Combs. “We had two pretty decent overs and the right unders to make our weight. “Sometimes it’s not easy to catch the smaller ones. As weird as that sounds the three unders are just as important as the big ones.”

“The most significant part was the waiting after we weighed in,” continued Combs. “There were so many boats, we thought there would be some 170-pound stringers, plus. It feels good to take it at 140.

“It is a pretty incredible feeling,” concluded Combs. “In all honestly my partners and I have won or placed well in several tournaments but to take home the win in one of the biggest catfishing tournaments, against the best of the best in catfishing is special. Words can’t describe the excitement and joy this win gave me.”

Second Place
David Shipman fished with his nephew, Hunter Shipman, to claim the runner-up spot. The Corinth, MS team pointed to persistence and fresh bait as the key to their finish. They brought a total weight of 131.76 pounds of Wheeler cats to the scales to claim second place.

“We went to a spot that had a big eddy in it close to the bank,” said Shipman. “I had fished the spot before. The current was much more than normal with muddy water and debris everywhere. But this spot always has a lot of bait and I could see bait flipping every now and then so we decided to try it.”

They suspended two poles and bumped with another pole using 4 ounces of lead. The bite was very slow but after about 30 minutes they caught a 14-pound fish.

“After that first fish it was a long time, maybe an hour and a half before we caught our second fish,” reported Shipman. “It was a nice 42-pound fish. I was still seeing bait flipping, so we decided to just tough it out in the same spot. About lunch time and we hooked up with a 52 pounder. Now we had 4 fish, a 14, 12, 42 and a 52. Then a little later I hooked a 44-pound fish and culled the 42.”

“With only two minutes left to fish I caught our final fish,” concluded Shipman. “It was another 12-pounder. We had 11 fresh skipjack that I got Friday. I really think that fresh bait really helped. The water was fast and kinda’ muddy but it worked out in the end to just keep after it.”

Big Fish

First Place Big Fish honors went to Tom Petrowski & Henry Neafus with an 80.94-pound fish. The Kentucky team took the chance on locking through to Wilson Lake and it paid off for them. They won a bait tank from The Shad Shack.

Second Big Fish went to Greg Edwards and Dale Kerns who also fished Wilson Lake. They caught a 77.69-pound brute and also won a bait tank from The Shad Shack.

Other Winners

catfish tournament, Wheeler Lake, Alabama, Blue CatfishThird Place          – The Ishcomer Family – 130.43

Fourth Place       – S. Cress, C. Crone, and J. Tucker – 120.49
Fifth Place           – T. Petrowski and Henry Nefus – 118.53
Sixth Place           – J. Ransom and T. Hunter – 118.24
Seventh Place    – J. Grell and M. Mauuric – 112.24
Eighth Place        – C. Pierce and A. Pierce – 111.69
Ninth Place         – A. McDaniel and T. Anderson – 111.11
Tenth Place         – J. Chau and J. Diepienbrock – 99.65

Catfish, Tournament, Wheeler Lake, Alabama

Top Finishing Veteran (Sponsored by Heroes Outdoor Therapy, James Burke Custom Fishing Rod, Katfish Gear)  AJ Johnson – 46.96 pounds

Top Finishing Women Anglers – (Sponsored by Dale’s Tackle)
Team Catfishing Christians – Hannah and Rachel Ishcomer

Top Finishing Youth (CatfishNow Championship Belt)
Team Catfishing Christians – Noah Ishcomer

SeaArk Boats RiverCat 200 Boat, Motor, & Trailer Package Drawing
Jeremy Jeffers and William Winterstein

No Weight DrawingThose anglers not weighing a fish were eligible for a drawing to win a selection of prizes that included:

A custom rod rack courtesy of D & T Custom
Five free reel cleanings from River Rats Reel Repair
A set of planer boards from Off Shore Tackle Company
A tackle and equipment pack from Hooksetter
$100 in gift cards and hook packs from Whisker Seeker Tackle
A selection of Fishlife Fish Care Products

Fishlife National Championship
The top 5 places of this tournament are now eligible to fish the Championship March 2 & 3, 2019 at Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, AL.

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