The current year has been one a lot of people would like to forget, but Summerville's Patrick Walters is not one of them.
Walters married his longtime girlfriend Emily Walters last November and has been living his professional fishing dream, collecting a pair of first-place trophies and winning more than $250,000 on the Bassmaster professional fishing circuit in 2020.
Earlier this month, Walters won the Bassmaster Elite Texas Fest on Lake Fork and earned a spot in the Bassmaster record books. Not only did Walters win the tournament and $125,000, he also earned a coveted century belt for breaking the 100-pound mark in a four-day tournament (104 pounds, 12 ounces) and he set a Bassmaster record for margin of victory by finishing 29 pounds, 10 ounces ahead of the second-place finisher.
Walters could have stayed at the dock on the final day of the tournament and still would have finished seven pounds ahead of the next closest competitor.
"I'm 26 years old and the last 10 years, since I was 16 and started fishing, that was one of the coolest things catching 100 pounds. That last day, 10 years of work, I was thinking I can't let it slip away," said Walters, who ended the Elite season third in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. "Winning a century belt is pretty cool. Only 31 people have ever done it, although a few people have done it twice."
Walters said he went to Lake Fork with his eyes on another prize. The angler who catches the biggest fish in the tournament wins a new Toyota truck and that was his goal "because that would be pretty cool to say you win a truck catching fish."
After practice he thought he could catch 15 to 17 pounds a day, but the first day of the event ended with him in second place behind pro fishing legend Rick Clunn. Clunn had a five-bass limit weighing 29-4 while Walters' five bass weighed 25-14.
Clunn faded the second day and Walters jumped to the top of the field with 26-14, giving him an advantage of 11 pounds, 3 ounces. Walters kept his foot on the accelerator on Day 3 and had a catch of 29-6, putting him ahead by 25 pounds. And he almost got that Toyota truck when his first fish of the day weighed 9-1, his biggest fish of the year. It turned out to be the tournament's second biggest fish and he missed the truck by eight ounces.
Even with the huge lead going into the final day, Walters said he couldn't relax.
"Lake Fork is like Santee Cooper, there are a lot of huge fish. You never know when you're going to catch a 10-pounder," Walters said. "These guys are all good and they could go out and catch 40 pounds. In my mind, I can't let off. That's how I look at any tournament. I don't ever look at a lead. I just try to catch every fish that I can every single day and see what happens. I start every day at zero and go from there."
Walters said at the start of the final day he had 25 spectator boats following him. He got nervous when he was stuck at 11 pounds, still 7 pounds away from the century mark, in the middle of the day and another competitor came racing past the spot. Five of his spectator boats peeled away and chased the other boat.
"In my head he's absolutely catching them. You don't know what everybody else had. At that point, I have to fish as hard as I possibly can to the last minute," Walters said.
He finally reached the 100-pound mark during the last hour of fishing, catching three big fish in a 15-minute span.
"It was the biggest sigh of relief when I caught that 4-pounder that put me over the top," Walters said.
Making the event even more special was having his father, Todd, there with him for the week and then having his wife Emily and her mother Gayle Watkins fly out for the final two days of the tournament. Walters said they went to a WHATABURGER and he celebrated with "a championship cheeseburger."
The huge Bassmaster trophy — "it weighs like 50 pounds" — was buckled into the back seat of his truck for the long but happy ride back to Summerville.
Walters said he and Emily, an interior decorator, are planning to remodel their house soon and a trophy room will be included. Prominent will be the Elite trophy as well as a trophy he earned by winning a Bassmaster Eastern Open event in September on Lake Hartwell. And there's still opportunity for more hardware. Walters leads the Eastern Open Angler of the Year race with a tournament remaining Dec. 3-5 on Lay Lake in Alabama.
"Emily has always been supportive of my fishing. It's important to have people believe in you, and she's always believed in me," he said. "It allows you to keep your mind on fishing. If you're worried about other elements in your life, you're not 100-percent focused on fishing. You have to have your life in order, your finances, your home situation. When you're able to just focus on fishing, it goes a long way.
"The win has sunk in a little bit, but at the same time it's hard to believe that was me. Just like that first fish of the day is the hardest one to catch, the first win in your career is one of the hardest ones to get. Achieving that win, it's a lifelong goal. It takes that weight off your chest, that monkey off your back.
"I feel like to compete at that level, you have to have the utmost confidence in yourself. You can never doubt yourself. I don't ever think about 'if.' It's just 'when.' I want to fish against the best in the world. I want to be the best one day and you can't be the best if you don't beat the best."