Patrick Walters, who struggled with smallmouths early in his juggernaut of a professional fishing career, set a seemingly unassailable record in the final Bassmaster Elite Series tournament of the season. He weighed in four consecutive limits of New York bronze totaling 105 pounds, a remarkable average of 5 ¼ pounds per St. Lawrence River bass.
One of the lessons that the five-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and near-perpetual AOY contender has learned is that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link – and that all too often it’s the thin piece of steel that lets anglers down. By integrating the new VMC® Redline Series® hooks into his arsenal this year, he notched four top-ten appearances, including the win at St. Lawrence. In particular, they allowed him to tame the cartwheeling, bulldogging, never-give-up smallmouths that had befuddled him before – and to come out on top.
VMC Finesse Neko and Dropshot Hooks Keep Smallmouths Pinned
In recalling the St. Lawrence victory, Walters stated that he only lost one fish the first three days of the tournament, “and it was just a little 4-pounder,” he deadpanned. Indeed, he never had to worry about one of his diminutive tools bending out, becoming dull or failing to penetrate. He tag-teamed the big brown fish with a VMC® #2 Redline Series® Finesse Neko hook and a #2 Redline® Series Drop Shot hook, depending on the size of the plastic he wanted to present and the mood of the fish.
“When you take your time, you should have 100% confidence in those two hooks,” he said. “As long as you don’t winch him in too quick and rip his skin, the hook won’t flex. I just set the hook, reel-reel-reel, and then if he jumps I back the drag off and he’ll usually go straight to the bottom. Then you just play the fish patiently and eventually he’ll come to the surface like a big old bluefin.”
Instead of nose-hooking or Texas Rigging his soft plastic with the Finesse Neko hook, he threaded the bait onto it. That helps the bass get more of the hook into their mouth, particularly when they’re just nipping at it, and he explained that “They’re usually firmly pegged in the back of the mouth.”
He’d start with bigger baits on the Finesse Neko hook but if the fish were tentative or hesitant in any way, he’d nose-hook a smaller soft plastic on the Dropshot hook. That meant he mopped up every last quality fish in the area, the key to culling up by ounces at a time, and outlasting a trio of new Century Club members.
Sufix Line Excels in Finesse Presentations
Making his record-setting achievement even more impressive, Walters had no qualms about using light line. He felt that it garnered more bites without putting him at any disadvantage. But not just any line would do. He used a time-tested and proven combination of Sufix® 832 Advanced Superline® braid – 6 lb. test – with a 6- and 8-pound test Sufix® fluorocarbon leaders.
“It’s the most bulletproof braid I’ve ever used,” he said. “It barely gets any wind knots, it ties the best knots, and it cinches down perfectly. I had 15 spinning rods in my rod box and they were all set up with that same braid except for two that had straight 6 lb. fluoro.”
He favors the blue Coastal Camo pattern because it’s easy for him to see and because it “matches the sky” and provides an additional layer of stealth.
As for dropping down to 6 lb. test fluorocarbon with his smaller soft plastics, he was clear that he “didn’t want to leave any fish out there” and light but trustworthy line allowed him to get the bites he needed and to ensure that with proper effort they ended up in the boat.
“I use the best equipment that is available,” he added. “The drag system on my reels is incredible, but I also take care of my line. I don’t get my rod straps on it, I’m careful not to nick it. I retie after every two or three fish, or after every big fish. If you use the right equipment, you should be able to land any fish.”
Sharp, Strong Hooks are Non-Negotiable
Despite starting off slower than usual this season, Walters came on strong, with two top-ten finishes in New York – Champlain and St. Lawrence – as well as at Lay Lake in Alabama and Lake Murray in his home state of South Carolina. While his skill as an angler took center stage, one constant in those superior performances was the presence of VMC hooks.
At Murray, he nose-hooked a Fluke for schooling fish on #2 and #4 Redline Neko hooks. At Lay, he caught his fish on jerkbaits, including the new Rapala Mavrik, outfitted with sticky sharp VMC trebles. At Champlain, the dropshot didn’t play like it did the following week at St. Lawrence, so he employed the VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jig. He has utter confidence that when money’s on the line in the form of a tournament-winning fish, his gear won’t let him down.