Patrick Walters' Winning Pattern, Baits & Gear
Patrick Walters thought he might've been missing the figurative boat - the one that the people who know what's what in a given situation all hop onboard - during practice for last week's Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest at Lake Fork. It seemed that nobody else in the 85-angler field thought much of the places he'd assessed as potentially fruitful or the tactics he'd deemed could be effective, so maybe they'd all found better stuff elsewhere and he was headed for a beat-down."I told my dad that I had nobody around me and I hadn't really even seen anybody," he said. "I'd go to an area and there'd be nobody anywhere near it, so I honestly started second-guessing myself. But I told myself that I was catching fish, so I couldn't worry about what anybody else was doing. I was out there to beat the fish and I'd have to find them each day."
It turned out that Walters, a second-year pro from South Carolina, had dialed into a program that would produce unheard-of numbers from the carefully managed Lone Star State hawg factory. He amassed springtime weights while Fork was in the midst of the fall doldrums and had considerably more on his ledger after 3 competition days than the rest of the Top 10 could manage in 4.He ended up with a 104-12 total - the circuit's highest winning weight of 2020 at a time when fisheries in the southern part of the country are at their stingiest. He outdistanced runner-up Keith Combs, a guy you may have heard of in regard to Texas fisheries, by a whopping 29-10. That margin nearly doubled the previous Elite Series standard, which had stood for 14 years."I don't know why nobody else found those fish or why I was the only one to do that," he said. "It's not like it was one spot; it was the same everywhere I went."
An Unlikely Result
It was given that a few bags that topped 25 pounds would be caught at Fork, but the notion of one angler posting an average higher than that over 4 days seemed borderline preposterous. The big fish were scattered out at various depths and the weather was still too warm for them to begin feeding heavily in preparation for winter. Texas Fest would be like the three other rescheduled autumn derbies that preceded it - a tough-bite, relatively low-weight affair.That wasn't the case for Walters, however. He was in 2nd place after the opening round (the day Rick Clunn sacked 29 1/4 pounds), but led by more than 11 pounds after day 2 and exactly 25 on day 3. The final day was comparatively slow for him and he needed a final hour flurry following a move to shallower water to top the 100-pound mark, but his bag was still more than 4 1/2 pounds heavier than any other.He caught all of his fish on one of three suspending jerkbaits - a Rapala Shadow Rap, a Megabass Vision 110+1 or a deep-running Duo Realis model. They came from flooded trees in half a dozen or so different locations.
He saw the vast majority of the fish on his Garmin LiveScope unit before casting too them. Extremely well-versed in electronics usage, he could gauge their mood by their reaction when the bait was in front of them, which often prompted a change in the presentation (cadence, speed, depth, etc.)."I was letting the fish to the talking and letting them tell me what they wanted," he said. "When I got a bite, that was them saying yes - that whatever I was doing was right. It was a pattern inside of a pattern that would sometimes change on every fish, or sometimes it might last a couple hours."At each of his locations there was a single tree that he'd identified as the one most likely to harbor fish. He'd fish that one and any others within about 100 yards before heading for the next spot.The ideal scenario was to pinpoint multiple fish on the same tree using LiveScope.
"The biggest group I found was five and when I found that, I knew I'd get a bite," he said. "Twos and threes were good, but singles were hard because they'd just sit there and play with the bait. If you found multiples, they were very competitive with each other."He enticed bites from fish that were as shallow as 2 feet and as deep as 35. All except the shallowest were suspended well off the bottom.He followed some fish from one tree to another using his electronics. On day 1 he chased one up a ditch running through the bottom of a pocket for 200 yards to some standing timber at the back - a pursuit that lasted 10 minutes. He eventually caught it."That blew my marshal's mind and it kind of blew mine too."
Jerkbait gear: 7' medium-light Daiwa Tatula Elite or Tatula Bass rod, Daiwa Tatula SV TW103 casting reel (8:1 ratio), 12- or 14-pound Sufix Advance fluorocarbon line, Rapala Shadow Rap (albino shiner), Megabass Vision 110+1 (Tennessee shad) or Duo Realis Suspending Jerkbait (chrome ayu).
The Shadow Rap was the best for wood - I could fish it kind of like a square-bill," he said. "The 110+1 would cast the farthest and the Duo Realis was for shallow water."
Keith Combs' Pattern, Baits & Gear
Keith Combs weighed 110 pounds at Lake Fork in just 3 days in May of 2014 when this event was known at the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and featured the top anglers from several circuits. He had an uneven 2020 campaign and needed another win to qualify for next year's Classic, but came up one place short - albeit by a massive margin.He fished in the same manner and in many of the same places that had produced success at Fork in past events. A Strike King 6XD crankbait enticed the vast majority of his bites."Timing was really key," he said "It was so crazy; I fished one place on the second day three times without a bite and the fourth time I caught a big one and two other nice ones."
He started out with seven places he was rotating through, but eventually whittled that to five. He was around timber, but it wasn't real thick - he had to be able to get the big crankbait near the bottom. Each place featured a bend in the creek channel.A lot of times he'd position his boat in 18 to 20 feet of water and throw up to 6 feet, then work the bait down the drop. Some bites came early in the retrieve while others didn't occur until the bait was almost back to the boat."I started to understand that I had some really good places, but it was critical to be there when the fish were there. I'd go in and if I didn't catch anything, I'd move on. That was honestly very hard to do because bites were so few and far between. I had to be persistent and keep coming back."
Cranking gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Shimano Zodias Glass rod, Shimano Curado DC casting reel (7.4:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, Strike King 6XD (chartreuse/blue).
He swapped out the bait's stock hooks in favor of size 1 Owner STY-35 trebles.
Jay Yelas' Pattern, Baits & Gear
Jay Yelas posted his highest finish since he was also 3rd at the Kentucky Lake FLW Tour in June 2011. He primarily achieved it in old-school fashion, throwing a spinnerbait at woody targets in the backs of creek."It's a decades-old fall pattern," he said. "I used to live in east Texas and it was always a strong pattern this time of year, so I went looking for that and I got it going on a little bit," he said. "I was getting about six bites each day (in practice) and that was better than a lot of guys I talked to, so I knew I had something going."He was one of only four anglers to weigh a limit on all four competition days.
"It was a real shallow bite in about 1 1/2 feet of water on various types of wood cover - docks, brushpiles, laydowns, stumps and fence rows. For has so much standing timber and a spinnerbait is a good option for the fish on the shallow stumps."He employed a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait on the shallow cover. On deeper docks (4 to 8 feet) with brush, he slow-rolled a 3/4-ounce version.He caught a few good fish - including a 6-pounder on the final day - skipping a bladed jig with a white Yamamoto Zako trailer under docks.
Spinnerbait gear: 7' medium-heavy Lew's Custom Pro rod, Team Lew's HyperMag casting reel (7.5:1 ratio), 20-pound Strike King Tour Grade fluorocarbon line, 1/2- or 3/4-ounce MGC Tackle Cobra spinnerbait (white with nickel Colorado and Oklahoma blades).
He switched to white blades under the cloudy sky of the final day.
Brandon Palaniuk's Pattern, Baits & Gear
From a final-placement perspective, Brandon Palaniuk came relatively close to his third victory of 2020. Not weight-wise, however, as he ended up more than 35 pounds behind Walters."The biggest thing was I'd never really fished Fork at this time of year, so I had to figure out how the fish positioned themselves, what they lived around and how they really use that body of water. I spent a lot of time idling (during practice), looking around out deep, at the mid-depths and shallow. I was trying not to be married to any one thing."What I ended up finding out was that there were a lot of fish that were very spread out and there were a lot of different ways to catch them. For me, the most consistent thing was shell bars in 10 to 12 feet of water where fish were transitioning in and out of the creeks. I had that stuff virtually all to myself - there weren't locals and there weren't other Elite guys fishing it and those fish were a lot less pressured and a little more willing to bite."
He waypointed half a dozen places, but only three ended up being productive during the tournament. Those had fish that remained group up, whereas at the others they were suspended in timber or more widely dispersed."It seemed like when they got grouped up they were more aggressive. I could see them on my (Humminbird) MEGA 360 when they slid up on the shell bars to feed and I could almost call my shots."He caught about half of his fish on a swimbait and the others on a Rapala DT14 crankbait. He enticed the biggest one he weighed - a 6-15 - on a DT16.
Swimbait gear: 7'6" heavy-action Alpha Angler Hitter rod, Daiwa Tatula Elite casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, unnamed 3/4-ounce swimbait head, 5 1/2" X Zone Pro Series Mega Swammer (cisco).
Cranking gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Alpha Angler Mag Rebound fiberglass rod, Daiwa Steez A casting reel (6.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT14 or DT16 (penguin, cisco or Caribbean shad).
He threw the penguin and cisco baits under the bright sun of days 1-3 and Caribbean shad during the cloudy final round. "We had a lot of low fog that hung around longer and it seemed like they reacted better to the brighter color."
Brad Whatley's Pattern, Baits & Gear
Brad Whatley is a Texan, but he's not overly familiar with Fork."I've got some experience from 15 or 20 years ago, but it was night-fishing and that doesn't really count," he said.He divided his practice time about evenly between deep and shallow water."I caught a couple of big ones out deep, but it was just so inconsistent," he said. "One of the things I do know that goes on at Fork this time of year is that the big fish out deep tend to show up after tournament hours when it's too late to do anything about them."
He ended up fishing extremely shallow the majority of the time, with most of his fish coming on a vibrating jig and some on a square-bill crankbait."They use those flats to pin shad and it's the one time of year I fish as far away from the creek channel as I can. If it hadn't gotten warm, I have no doubt I could've caught 22 to 25 pounds a day without a big fish, but the water temperature rose 10 to 12 degrees."When it gets cold, I think they use the wood almost like a person uses a blanket; they get tight to it. That was steadily going away and the only thing I had going was they were coming to me on the flats."
Vibrating jig gear: 6'10" medium-heavy Castaway Skeleton Nano rod, Lew's Custom Pro casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), unnamed 20-pound fluorocarbon line, unnamed 1/2-ounce vibrating jig (white), unnamed swimbait trailer (white).
He threw the crankbait, a metal-billed prototype made by a Band of Anglers (sexy shad), on the same setup.