By Todd Ceisner
He’s won a Bassmaster Elite Series event. He’s hoisted the FLW Tour Angler of the Year award above his head. He’s captured the Toyota Texas Bass Classic crown and had his photo grace the front of cereal boxes.
It’s safe to say there’s been no shortage of high points for David Walker during his 16-year career. Yet, one thing still drives him, still coaxes him out of the bed in the morning, still forces him to criss-cross the country to whatever lake or river is next on the schedule.
The Bassmaster Classic.
The accomplished pro who calls Sevierville, Tenn., home has been consumed by the sport’s signature event since he remembers watching it when he was younger, and now it’s essentially at the top of his professional bucket list.
“It has been ever since I went to my first one,” he said. “I was hooked. I went to the Classic and was immediately taken with it. I was like, ‘Okay, how do it get into this?’ Then, once I fished one, I have just been consumed with winning it. It’s been a goal of mine. If I were to pick one thing to do before I quit fishing, it’d be to win the Classic.”
He’s competed in seven of them so far and registered consecutive 3rd-place finishes in 2001 and 2002 when it was still a mid-summer event. Now that B.A.S.S. has shifted it to earlier on the calendar, he’s anxious to get to Grand Lake in a few months.
“From what I’ve heard, it sounds like a lake that’s going to suit me pretty good,” he said. “The biggest thing that’s been eating me up over the past 5 or 6 years in not fishing the Classic is the time of year they’ve been holding them. It’s always been one of my favorite times of the year to fish – that late winter or early, early spring pattern. All of those Classics previous to that were always in the summer and were always a David Fritts (crankbait) style and summer patterns dominated. Now that it’s changed, man do I wish I’d have gotten to fish some of those. I’m looking forward to it.”
More Ups Than Downs
Walker will get his first look at Grand Lake later this fall when he takes a scouting trip to Oklahoma. He earned his trip to the Classic thanks to a 15th-place finish in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) standings. Nobody’s going to argue that he had a rock-solid season, banking six checks, but the potential was there for a special year.
The 2011 season marked his return to B.A.S.S. after fishing just FLW Tour events from 2006 to 2010. He posted a victory at Wheeler Lake and a 3rd at Toledo Bend, serving notice that his skills were as sharp as ever.
He opened 2012 with a 13th at the Classic and then racked up four straight top-24 finishes to open the Elite Series season. The fast start had him in 2nd place in the AOY race and a 30th at Toledo Bend in early June kept him in 2nd behind Brent Chapman with three events left up north.
His AOY quest slipped off the rails at the Mississippi River in La Crosse, Wis., where he posted a season-worst 92nd-place finish and slipped to 13th in the AOY standings in the process.
“That was the most fish I’ve ever caught to do that bad,” he said. “I’ve done poorly before, but normally it’s because I couldn’t get any bites or I lost a fish I needed. But (at La Crosse) I was catching fish and they were all small. It was driving me nuts. You catch 10 pounds a day there and you finish last, but if I’d have caught a couple more pounds each day, I’d have been right there in the middle of it. It was frustrating as hell, really. It still makes me mad thinking about it.”
He didn’t let the bomb fester, though, turning in a 15th-place finish at Lake Michigan the following week. While he closed the year with a 72nd at Oneida, he still took home an $11,000 check for his points finish.
“One of the hardest things is to not let a bad finish dictate what you’re going to do at the next one,” he said. “You try to let that happen when you have a good one; you try to maintain that momentum. When you have a bad one, you have to go against that and say, ‘That one doesn’t matter.’ For me, last year I had a real similar circumstance where the Arkansas River (98th) basically took me out of the Classic. The next one, I had to do outstanding and I ended up winning it to get back in the Classic. Those events were back-to-back as well. I had to drive from one all pissed off to go to the next one. It was the same thing again.
“I’ve been in that position before and I’ve seen that it can be overcome. For me, you need to go to each tournament focused on that event because that is the most important tournament. It’s easy to start looking past it and start thinking about the next one or something else. When that happens, you take your eye off the ball and all of a sudden that one can go south on you.”
Despite a slew of strong showings, he likened his season to a roller coaster mostly because he never felt like he was in contention for a victory.
"The most surprising thing was I felt like I fished pretty well all year,” he said. “I had some bad ones, but I had a lot of solid finishes, but I never actually felt like I was on a winning pattern or area of fish. Every year, you feel like you’re going to be fishing the area the right way that ends up winning the event and you wind up saying, ‘Gosh, I was right there.’ For me, that never happened this year. I just sort of seemed to be away from that. I might’ve had a better year than I expected because I was never on the winning fish and still did well.”
Just One Tour In 2013
Walker has fished both tours simultaneously in the past, but that was back when gas was under $2 a gallon and there seemed to be more incentive to do it. Next year, he’ll stick with the Elite Series again and fish the Southern Opens for the simple reason that they give him the most direct route to the Classic.
“In years past, I’ve fished both, but the cost of doing that now way exceeds what it used to,” he said. “We’re talking $3.50 a gallon for gas and entry fees of $67,000 and then you add expenses on top of that. It’s really expensive. I’m not totally against it. I’ve always been someone who likes to fish a lot of events because I feel like the more events you fish, the better chance you have of winning an event.”
Based on his results the past 2 years in Elite Series competition, he’s content to stay where he is.
“I’m competitive so I don’t feel like I’ve done ‘good enough,’” he said. “I’ll never allow myself to be that way. Fishing the Elites the last couple years, I’ve really enjoyed it and look forward to getting into it next year. I’m really excited about my win last year and anything that helps my chances of getting back in the Classic. For me, that’s the tournament. I just get so worked up for that one. I look forward to that more than any event.”
Once next year’s Classic wraps up, the Elite Series schedule will feature a handful of fisheries he’s never been to, including the season-opener at the Sabine River in Orange, Texas. The Alabama and St. Lawrence rivers will also be new water.
“That’s weird. I’ve not been in that situation in a long time,” he said. “Usually, there will be one of them I haven’t been to, but to have more than a third of the events at places I’ve never been to is weird. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. We’re going to find out.
"It does make you get a little more motivated and it could very well be a good thing because it’s real easy to fall into the trap of, ‘Well, I’ve been there and done that,’ and you show up and do the same things over again. I think that’s why you see a lot of the newer guys do so well many times. They’re willing to fish what’s current and not the history.”