By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Patrick Walters had very little knowledge of smallmouth bass when he came to the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2019. The South Carolinian didn't grow up around them, didn't know how they went about their daily business and, frankly, just didn't care much about them.
He suffered some pretty good beatdowns on his first three visits to the St. Lawrence River. Then he started to click with the place in 2022, and he had his way with it last week en route to his second career Elite Series victory with a four-day total of 105 pounds – a record for an all-bronzeback aggregation.
"I never made a check or a cut for three years, but after that I started to slowly get a grasp of it," he said on his drive home Monday. "The bad thing was that it was always the last tournament of the year, so I had to think about it for four or five months."
He discovered that his game plan had to be centered on covering as much water as possible in search of active fish. If he wasn't generating bites quickly, it meant that they either weren't there or they flat-out weren't going to bite and that particular locale amounted to nothing more than a waste of valuable time.
When he found the right group, it wasn't all that difficult to set up and go to work on them.
"I enjoyed catching them, so I buckled down and started taking pride in it, and I got better at it," he said. "Now whenever I go above the Mason-Dixon Line I don't even look at largemouth. I consider them 'trash fish' up there."
Then there was the whole deal with landing hefty smallmouth, which simply won't stop battling until they've spent every bit of their energy. He tweaked his tackle to feature sharper hooks, lighter line and premium-quality spinning combos.
"I needed better rods and the best reels – the Daiwas I'm using have a really good drag system. You've gotta play 'em out or else you're going to end up losing a bunch of them."
When competition got under way last Thursday, he opted to spend Day 1 in the river rather than run out into Lake Ontario and allow his equipment to take a beating from the powerful winds. He hoped to sack up 20 pounds, but instead weighed almost 25 – a bag that was highlighted by a 6-pounder.
He went to the lake on each of the succeeding days and boxed 27-03, 28-05 and 24-10. He fished 10 to 15 spots with a dropshot each day, mostly long points and shallow shoals. His fish came from the 20- to 30-foot depth range.
"On some places I had some company, but on my main area I had none and that really helped me," he said. "It allowed me to fish pretty free and I could move around.
"On the second day I was done by 10:30 and I pre-fished the rest of the day, and on Day 3 I was pre-fishing by 11. I kept covering new water and finding other areas and on the fourth day most of my fish came off new areas I'd found."
The dropshot accounted for 19 of the 20 fish he took to the scale (he enticed one with a Damiki rig). He had success catching quality fish during the three-day practice period on a Ned rig, but he said he couldn't get anything to bite that offering during the tournament and he has no clue as to why.
He employed a variety of soft-plastics on the dropshot.
"That didn't really matter; I was varying the shapes and sizes depending on how the fish were acting," he said. "I based the colors on the conditions – if it was sunny I'd go with black or green-pumpkin and when it was cloudy I'd use white and some other natural colors.
"Just staying open-minded, fishing the conditions every day and finding active groups of fish were the biggest keys. Where those fish were at yesterday, you won't catch them there today."
With the highest possible finish in the season's final event, he won't have that bad taste in his mouth as he starts his off-season and can focus his mind on other pursuits.
"Pretty soon it's going to be a bad day to be a deer," he said.
> Dropshot gear: 7' medium-light Daiwa Tatula Elite rod, Daiwa Tatula MQ4000 spinning reel, 6-pound Sufix braid (main line), 8-pound Sufix Advance fluorocarbon leader, size 2 VMC Finesse Neko hook, 3/8-ounce VMC dropshot weight, various soft-plastic baits.