For most tournament anglers, two top-ten finishes and claiming fifth place in the Bassmaster® Elite Series Angler of the Year race would be considered a very successful season, but not for Yamaha Pro Patrick Walters. It could easily have been better, except that he spent too much time duck hunting.
“In the early part of the season, I simply was not as prepared, mentally or physically, as I have been in past years, and I lost a lot of fish because I wasn’t concentrating as well,” he smiles sheepishly. “We’d had a spectacular waterfowl season in South Carolina, and I was hunting right up to the time I left for the first two tournaments in Florida.
“I left myself just six days to prepare for the opener on the St. Johns River. Mentally, I felt like I was ready to fish, but physically I certainly wasn’t. The days seemed unusually long in that first tournament and I had to concentrate on every little detail about my lures, my casts, and my retrieves. Normally, all of that is automatic.”
Even though he finished well (7th) at the St. Johns, the bottom fell out the following week during the Elite event at the Harris Chain where he finished 50th.
“I lost seven fish on the second day, and did not qualify to fish the third day,” continues the Yamaha Pro. “If I had spent the off-season fishing more, my reflexes would have already been fine-tuned and I could have caught at least one or two of those fish and made the cut.”
Much the same happened during the fourth Elite tournament at Lake Chickamauga. Walters was flipping a jig to shallow cover, one of his favorite presentations, when a big bass picked it up and began swimming toward him. He missed on his hook-set, and thus missed the third day cut there, as well.
“I wouldn’t change any of the fishing decisions I made during the season,” he explains, “but I realize now how unprepared I was when the tournament season started. Generally, I perform better on the Southern lakes we fish early in the season, but not last year. In the three events where I missed qualifying for the third day, all three were in the South, and I hooked and lost the fish in each of them that would have been enough to push me into the next round.”
There is one thing Walters would like to change about the 2022 season: he wishes he could have landed one particular smallmouth he hooked at the St. Lawrence River. He had been pitching a small hair jig to a boulder in the river when the biggest smallmouth he’s ever seen picked it up. When he set the hook, the fish jumped, then raced around to the back of the boat.
“I ran back, too,” he remembers, “because I was fishing with six-pound braid line with a six-pound fluorocarbon leader so I couldn’t force the fish at all. I’d caught three six-pounders already that week but this fish dwarfed them. I truly believe it weighed as much as eight pounds, absolutely a giant.”
As soon as Walters ran to the back of the boat, the fish swam to the front and then to the boulder. When the thin fluorocarbon line scraped along the rock, it broke and the fish was gone.
“That fish had me totally out of position in the back of the boat,” Walters acknowledges, “and from there I simply could not control him at all. I’m still upset about losing him because chances at a fish that large don’t come very often. When we return to the St. Lawrence in the 2023 season, the first thing I plan to do is go straight back to that boulder to try again.”
The one thing the Yamaha Pro is not going to do is spend as much time duck hunting like he did last year. When January arrives, he plans to spend the entire month fishing just to be better prepared.
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