Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Foresight is even better.
Just ask 23-year-old Patrick Walters of Ladson, who last weekend won the 2018 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open No. 3 tournament fished on the Red River Open in Bossier City, La. Walters finished the three-day tournament with a weight of 30 pounds, 15 ounces, more than two pounds ahead of the runner-up. He earned a bass boat (which is for sale) and cash, a $50,110 package.
Two weeks earlier, Walters fished his final collegiate tournament, the FLW College Fishing National Championship, with partner Tyler All of Dorchester on the same body of water and took home some lessons that he applied in the Bassmaster event. Walters and All finished a respectable 24th out of 169 boats, but Walters knew he could do better.
"A lot of time when you go out to the these tournaments and end up getting your butt kicked, you go home and think if I had just done this a little bit different, if I had changed things up I would have caught them," Walters said.
"When we left that college tournament, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I came back there. I already had a game plan. I had that hindsight. I knew what I had to do to be able to compete."
Instead of running a long way to find fish that hadn't been pressured, he stayed close to the launch point and didn't lose valuable fishing time. And he felt confident the bass were more plentiful in that area than other areas of the Red River.
"Optimizing time was my goal of the week. Staying in one area allowed me to fish a full eight hours instead of wasting time gambling, looking for new water," he said after the tournament.
Walters said he didn't feel any stress during the three days of competition because he knew where and how he was going to fish with a goal of earning a paycheck.
"Usually when you think you have a chance you get anxious and get worked up, but it was one of those tournaments where I put my head down and went fishing. I didn't think about it," Walters said. "Every day, some key things happened, I would get that key bite every day. I never thought about having a chance to win until the final day, and at the end of the day I thought 'Wow, I've got a decent bag of fish.' It didn't hit me until noon that last day."
The victory moved him a step closer to his ultimate goal of qualifying for the fish the Bassmaster Elite Series. As a student at Holly Hill Academy, Walters would tow his bass boat to school and after classes head to the Santee Cooper lakes to fish. He joined the University of South Carolina's bass fishing club and in 2015 teamed with Gettys Brannon of Columbia to win the FLW College Fishing National Championship.
Walters, the son of Todd and Leiding Walters, graduated from USC in December 2017 with a degree in business management and marketing, and his major was geared toward managing and marketing himself as a professional angler.
Since graduating, he has been fishing Bassmasters' Eastern and Central Open series, plus whatever FLW, weekend and jackpot tournaments he can fit in. In May, Walters led after the opening day of an Eastern Open tournament on Lake Norman, eventually finishing ninth.
By winning on the Red River, Walters earned an invitation to the Bassmaster Open Championship where he will be one of only 28 anglers fishing. The top seven in that event go to the Bassmaster Classic and the top five in points at the end of the season get an invitation to participate in the Elite Series.
"That is the 100-percent goal. That's been the goal for six years, to fish for a living and make the Elite Series," Walters said. "(The Red River win) gives me validation that I can compete with these guys."
But he knows that Elite Series is a giant step. Bassmaster Open events command a $1,500 entry fee; to fish the eight Elite Series tournaments anglers must pony up $48,000. And that doesn't include food, lodging, gas and the other expenses incurred from traveling the country.
But Walters is living and loving the dream.
"I'm fishing roughly 200 days a year right now," he said. "I'm enjoying every minute of it. Every day fishing is a good day. You can't beat it."