Patrick Walters was able to live his bass fishing dream last weekend.
The 20-year-old University of South Carolina sophomore from Summerville and teammate Gettys Brannon of Columbia came from behind on the final day and won the FLW College Fishing National Championship held April 16-18 on Lake Murray.
Walters and Brannon landed a three-day limit of 15 bass that weighed 53 pounds, 2 ounces. Runner-up Liberty University’s Travis Rulle and Caleb Eppler caught only four bass the final day and finished 1 pound, 5 ounces behind the USC teammates. Walters and Brannon won a 17-foot Ranger bass boat with a 90-horsepower Evinrude engine plus individual entries into the Forrest Wood Cup professional tournament that will be held on Lake Ouachita in Arkansas next August.
“This is what you prepare for, what you dream about every night,” recalled Walters, a business major who hopes to fish professionally when he finishes school. “I knew the (difference) would be ounces, but I didn’t know which way it was going. I was still in shock. I couldn’t believe it happened.”
Not only did he have family and friends cheering him on at the weigh-ins, Walters’ family also followed him on the water.
“We go to all of the tournaments. We followed him around in another boat,” said his father, Todd Walters.
Patrick, a member of the USC bass fishing club, said having the tournament on Lake Murray wasn’t as much a home field advantage as it was having knowledge of the lake. They fished out of Patrick’s boat the first two days, and then the top 10 teams advanced to the final day and fished from wrapped FLW Tour boats.
“We were bouncing off 15 to 25 spots each day, hitting as many spots as we could, places that you knew from the past were decent spots. We knew the wind direction and went to spots that set up perfectly for the wind,” Walters said. They caught their bass on a variety of lures, but the top bait was a Zoom Fluke.
That Patrick would gravitate toward a career in professional bass fishing probably doesn’t come as a surprise to those who knew him growing up.
Todd Walters said the family’s passion was saltwater fishing until friend Bradford Beavers invited Patrick to compete in a Fishers of Men Legacy (adult-youth) bass fishing tournament on Lake Murray.
“They fished a couple of tournaments and it kind of hooked him. About a year later, I ended up selling all my saltwater stuff and buying a bass boat,” Todd Walters said.
“It was just that adrenaline rush I got from that first tournament,” Patrick said. “I came home and told my dad we had to get into bass fishing.”
Patrick transferred from Summerville High School to Holly Hill Academy his freshman year, and said he had understanding teachers who didn’t mind him trailering his bass boat to the school parking lot so he could head to the Santee Cooper lakes after school.
He learned about USC’s bass fishing club as a high school junior when its members came down to fish on the Cooper River and immediately sought them out when he enrolled at South Carolina.
“It makes college that much easier,” Patrick said. “When you’re in the fishing club, you’re around a group of guys that want the same thing. They fish. They have the same passion. You couldn’t go up to a random stranger at college and start talking about fishing.”