Patrick Walters found it eerie he said some things five months ago that foreshadowed his blowout victory on Lake Fork, and he even nailed the final moments of his pursuit for 100 pounds.
Walters lapped the field at the recent Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife, catching 104 pounds, 12 ounces over four days. His comments in June proved prophetic as he said he loves tough events, the kind where bites are hard to come by, where figuring out the puzzle separates you from the field.
“I always love finding sneaky little hidden patterns. In tough tournaments, it gets you a bite and limits,” he said for Fall — the final frontier. “Those are the ones you remember most, because that’s when all the little tricks come out … the little stuff everybody is doing differently. You learn more.”
Walters was taken aback when told of his quotes.
“Did I say that five months ago? Are you serious? That gives you chill bumps,” he said. “What are the odds of that? I didn’t think I was going to separate like that.”
Walters taught the lessons in schooling the other 84 Elites, many of whom struggled to find answers in the fall transition tests. While limits were hard to come by for most, Walters unlocked a sneaky little pattern, using jerkbaits to entice bass from standing timber while watching the pursuits on his electronics. One of only four to catch five-fish limits each day, Walters topped 25 pounds the first two days to grab an 11-3 lead before his big bag of the event, 29-6, really turned it into a romp.
Going into the event, Walters said he was shooting for the big bass to win a Toyota Tundra. While his 9-1 early on Day 3 ended up a half a pound shy, the lunker gave him the feeling he might be able to win.
“I had no idea the potential was there,” he said. “I just wanted to go catch 15 to 17 pounds. Day 3, when I started with that 9-pounder, I thought, ‘We’ve got a chance. Let’s just go ahead and win it. This is real.’ At the end of that day, I never looked at the lead (25 pounds). I need one more day of hard fishing just to win.”
It was hard catching fish for many others in the field. There were only 113 limits out of 220 chances at Fork, and Walters even had to sweat out Championship Sunday. Not really the outcome, mind you. Just weeks after winning an Open, he pretty much had a blue trophy wrapped up. Walters didn’t even need to weigh a fish on the final day to win, but it became apparent how badly he wanted to top 100 pounds.
“There’s a chance in my entire life I’ll never get that close again,” he said. “It has to be the right lake at the right time. When you get that close to the opportunity, you want to make sure you grasp it.”
Walters began the final day just 17-14 from earning the 31st Century Belt in Elite history. Fog slowed his bite, and Walters battled until the very end, becoming more fired up as each late catch inched him closer to the mark. Again, his words from five months earlier played out. He made a comment that he both hates and loves tough tournaments, like there’s greater reward when things come together:
“When you’re fishing and it’s 2 o’clock and you have two fish, ‘Oh my God, what am I going to do?’ You’re hating that moment in time, there’s sweat running down your brow and you’re just like, ‘Man, it’s time to buckle it up.’ This is what we fish for.”
Well said, and played. He did buckle up for the belt. And his final day at Fork played out pretty much how he described in June.
“That is weird. I never imagined you could foreshadow it like that. It was 2 o’clock, and we had 11 pounds,” he said.
Tension was evident on his boat as time for the milestone was running out. Bassmaster LIVE host Tommy Sanders nailed the feeling, equating it to watching someone trying to defuse a bomb. It looked like Walters might not cut the correct wire until a move led him to a three-fish flurry that blasted him past the mark.
With 22-10, Walters’ total put him 29-10 ahead of second-place Keith Combs, a record margin of victory that almost doubled the previous best in an Elite, Mike McClelland’s 15-9 blowout on Grand Lake in 2006.
“I love how tough it is, because you have to mentally stay in each and every single day for eight hours,” he said. “You just have to know at some point in the day it’s going to happen. You just don’t know when. Staying in it, it’s so stressful, but at the end of the day it’s so gratifying when it finally happens.”
Like he said, it’s what pros fish for. Walters wasn’t the only Elite to nail the forecast of what might happen in the move to fall. And the Daily Limit found it strange that three of the five anglers contacted ended up winning events.
“I’m kinda with you on that,” Walters aid. “That’s kind of weird. Truly, what are the odds on that?”
Combs was among those contacted for the aforementioned article, and he said he welcomed fall events as they offered new opportunities to make history. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lake Guntersville, Santee Cooper, Chickamauga and Fork were rescheduled from productive spring dates, when weighing 100 pounds was a definite possibility.
Sure, things would be tougher, said Combs, but the cream would rise. For another fall preview on the revised schedule, Combs said it would again take 100 pounds to win at Fork, but perhaps only one would accomplish it.
Like Walters, Brandon Palaniuk kinda called his shot. He said he saw light in the fall tunnel, and he too relished the chance of unlocking new challenges. With no preconceived notions, Palaniuk believed there were great possibilities to rise in the fall.
“It offers you the ability to look at a body of water and find things that other guys might overlook,” he said in June, “which I think is when you sometimes have your best chances to win.”
Win, he did. When practice began for the Santee Cooper Lakes, Palaniuk said he had no idea how he would fare, and afterward he said the victory “came out of nowhere.” Palaniuk’s fifth blue trophy is the most among the Elites, and he pulled into a three-way tie for second all-time among active B.A.S.S. anglers, tying David Fritts and Jay Yelas with five wins. Rick Clunn leads with 16 titles.
Frank Talley, another angler contacted for his take on fall fishing, won on Lake Guntersville. Talley, who spends more time on the water in fall than any other time of year, said, “If you keep up with the bait, you’re going to be finding the fish.” In fulfilling his lifelong dream of a major circuit win, Talley stopped on a new spot because it looked right, but he wasn’t certain which was more important, the bait or the current.
Stetson Blaylock, who was the focus of a fall article, said it would be an exciting, fresh look on the Elites. “One thing it gives everybody is a different look at our sport and a different look at the Elite Series and what we have to offer,” Blaylock said. “These guys are not just February through August fishermen. They do know what’s going on.”
That was affirmed. To those who figured things out and realized their dream of winning a title or award, or making the Classic, congratulations. It made fall much more interesting in another intriguing Elite season.
Now what’s going to happen next season?