2017 Elite Series first-lap observations: Wheeler chills, Horton hangs on

For a season that started off so ice-cold (literally, it was below freezing at Cherokee Lake), things have heated up pretty quickly on the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series.

Faced with an inordinately early start to the season and a pair of fisheries in Cherokee and Lake Okeechobee that couldn’t possibly be more opposite, the Elite field seemed to take a collective “Well, what do we have to lose?” mentality into February. Here’s what we’ve seen so far:

Wheeler wades right in
Is anybody really surprised that Jacob Wheeler walked away with the title in the first event of his rookie season on the Elites?!? In a fishery where an arcane bait/technique (the erstwhile “Damiki rig”) dominated, Wheeler snooped out the particulars of Cherokee Lake, and played them better than the rest of the field.

Dating back to his win at the original BASSfest in 2014, the Cherokee trophy became his second in two Elite Series events.

The Joneses have Top 50 swag
We were fortunate to spend a couple of days shooting with Alton Jones and Alton Jones Jr. in the off-season, so if you think we were pulling for Senior and “Little Alton” at Cherokee, you’re right.

They didn’t disappoint: Alton Sr. was 19th, Junior was 25th. Watch out for Junior, whom Senior describes as “Much, much, MUCH better than I was at that age”: he followed his Cherokee Top 50 up with another at Lake Okeechobee.

Timmy takes the title at Okeechobee
Even though the statistics show that Timmy Horton’s Championship Sunday limit of 11 pounds, 7 ounces won him the trophy at Lake Okeechobee, it was the sack of Florida monsters he brought in on Friday that set the bar for the rest of the Elite Season.

Horton hit the scales with 30-4 on Day 2, giving him a cushion that even a pistol-hot @Ott Defoe could overcome.

Whoever wins the Classic in two weeks will have their work cut out for them to beat Horton’s victory celebration, too (final photo in the gallery)
-By Joel Shangle