Kyle Walters caught a tournament-best 24-04 stringer on Saturday to win the weather-shortened FLW Series Championship at Alabama's Lake Guntersville with a two-day total of 44-03. His efforts earned him $92,700, including a new Ranger Z518C boat with a 200-horsepower Evinrude outboard motor and a slot in the 2019 Forrest Wood Cup/
“If you would’ve told me 15, 20 years ago when I started fishing BFLs that I’d eventually be standing here as the Costa FLW Series Champion – and going to the Forrest Wood Cup – I would’ve told you that you’re crazy,” said Walters, who earned his third win in FLW competition. “To come out here and fish with all the guys you watch on TV is really special. Guys like Bryan Thrift, J.T. Kenney and John Cox – guys from Florida. There are only a few lakes that I feel like I can compete with them at and Lake Guntersville is one of them. It fits the way I like to fish.”
Walters tapped into his Florida-bred instincts this week, flipping for bass in grass mats on the main-river channel, a strategy that also helped him win a BFL Regional Tournament on Lake Guntersville back in the fall of 2013. Walters said he was able to pick apart the channel-facing hydrilla in 2013, but due to recent heavy winds and high water flow washing out the outer edge, he was forced to move to the bank side of the same mats this year.
“When I showed up here, I wanted something on the main river,” said Walters. “In 2013, everything was on the main-river channel, so I immediately went and looked for hydrilla there. Well, I couldn’t find it – when I pulled out of Waterfront [boat ramp] it was gone. So I went up the river – it’s what’s we do in Florida – and I looked for something. I got a few bites the first couple of hours I was here, and I said I was going to commit to it one way or the other.
“I fished my main stretch a pretty good distance in practice,” Walters continued. “I’d get a couple bites and then I’d start fishing fast. If I got another couple of bites, I’d mark them. Then in the tournament I’d expand on them both ways and keep moving.”
Walters had two primary areas along his stretch this week – grass mats in 4 to 5 feet-of-water about a mile above of the BB Comer Bridge, and hydrilla in 8 feet a couple of miles below the bridge. His grass mats consisted of a mix of hydrilla and milfoil. Dead eelgrass and other vegetation had blown in on top of the grass and created dead, brown mats.
“I caught eight of the 10 I weighed in up there. It was milfoil, and hydrilla was growing from the bottom and then the ‘cut grass’ was all loaded up inside,” said Walters. “When one [lure] would go in, it would fall free and into a cavern and they’d kind of attack it. The big ones seemed to be within the first two feet of the mats.”
Walters said he used beaver-style baits, citing a green-pumpkin/black-blue Gambler Stinger. The lures were Texas-rigged with a 1 1/2-ounce Picasso tungsten sinker on a 4/0 straight-shank hook and 75-pound-test Halo Winch braided line. To hoist bass out of the vegetation, he preferred to use a Halo 7-foot, 11-inch J.T. Kenney Signature Series rod.
“In practice, I didn’t get a lot of bites at the stretch below the bridge, but I caught one big fish there each day,” said Walters. “I could never get multiple bites going on there, so when I went there, it was one of those deals where I was really going to have to fish for them to get the bites. I caught my last 4- or 5-pounder there today with an hour to go.”
The top finishing angler from each of the six FLW Series divisions who qualified for the 2019 Cup were Walters (Southeastern), Zack Birge (Southwestern), Ryan Salzman (Central), Cory Johnston (Northern), John Griffith (Western) and Erik Luzak (International).
Here are the final totals for the top 10:
1. Kyle Walters: 44-03
2. Bryan Thrift: 39-08
3. Robert Crosnoe: 37-05
4. Jon Griffith: 31-06
5. Bryan New: 30-00
6. Troy Gibson: 29-05
7. Zack Birge: 29-02
8. Terry Tucker: 28-13
9. John Cox: 28-02
10. Jake Ormond: 28-01