PELL CITY, Ala. — The stereotype image of a father and son spending a leisure afternoon of qualify time on a fishing trip doesn’t fit Patrick and Todd Walters. Full throttle competition, bass tournament style, is how the South Carolinians connect to the quintessential cultural pastime passed on to the next generation.
What also makes this father-son fishing bond different is that Patrick, 24, already has a well-rounded tournament resume ahead of his father. Todd, 50, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“For now this is his chosen career and he gets my full support,” he said. “It’s like a business startup, you have to be all in, work hard, live it, and sooner or later you reap the rewards.”
Some of those rewards have already come. In June, Patrick won the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on the Red River, undeniably the toughest of the season. Not so coincidentally, Todd earned a seventh-place finish as a co-angler.
A reason why is they travel and practice together at the Opens, not unlike how it’s been since Patrick started fishing tournaments. That is where the story takes an interesting turn back to the beginning.
Bradford Beavers, an FLW pro and family acquaintance, invited then 12-year-old Patrick to fish with him in a Fishers of Men junior division tournament. Then and there Patrick’s future in tournaments came into view.
“On the way home from the weigh-in I called dad, told him I didn’t know how we’d do it, but we had to start fishing tournaments,” Patrick recalled. “It was the controlled chaos of the launch and weigh-in, I mean, we’d never seen anything like that before.”
Note the “we” and not the “I” reference. The father and son were already grounded in their shared passion for fishing and hunting in the South Carolina Lowcountry. They did it all—together—no matter the sport or time of season.
Fishing season was spent casting the coastal flats in a Hewes Redfisher, widely respected as the forerunner of today’s saltwater flats boats. The lightweight skiff was no match for the high performance bass boats at their first team tournament.
“We got a lot of grief about the boat,” recalled Todd. “We knew then it would take going all in to compete even at that level, with all the highly skilled anglers in our part of South Carolina.”
Todd sold his saltwater tackle and cleared space in the garage for a Ranger bass boat. Hunting went by the wayside. Todd began to notice how tournaments polarized their bond with fishing even more.
“We enjoyed deer hunting but it kept us apart, being in separate stands,” he said. “The bond of being in the same boat, working together, made us even closer.”
From then on, weekends were spent competing in tournaments and for Patrick, giving up hunting and saltwater fishing led to making even greater commitments.
“I played football and baseball up through the tenth grade, then gave it up for tournaments,” he said. “Dad told me that I was going to be half-hearted trying to do it all, and I recognized that by watching the all-in commitment made by the Elite Series pros.”
Patrick was so all-in that he earned a reserved parking space for his truck and bass boat at Holly Hill Academy, located about 15 minutes from the Santee-Cooper Lakes. When classes dismissed he headed out, spending the remainder of the day bass fishing.
Another turning point came when Patrick enrolled at the University of South Carolina. Discovering the school’s bass fishing team was an epiphany.
“I knew then my path was a done deal,” he said. “To combine bass fishing and academics was a dream come true.”
Patrick made the most of both. He graduated with a degree in business management and marketing, while winning championships along the way.
“I completely revolved my major around business, because that way I can manage myself and market myself in anything I do,” he said. “It will work if I end up in the fishing industry, as a pro, or if I need to start my own business if none of that works out.”
In 2015, Walters and teammate Gettys Brannon won the FLW College Fishing National Championship. Two years later, they came close, placing second at the 2017 championship. During his four years at South Carolina, Walters qualified each year for the Bassmaster College Series Championship, from 2014-17.
The Opens are the next step in his quest toward qualifying for the Elite Series. Patrick is fishing the Central and Eastern Opens, while competing back home in numerous local tournaments. In all, he spends around 250 days on the water, which for him is the most important aspect of gaining ground.
“You can watch all the videos you want, but you still need the practical experience on the water, and that’s the only way you get it,” he said. “Time on the water is everything.
You’ve also got to believe in yourself,” he continued. If you do that, have the grit and focus then you are going to get there. If I put my head down and it takes four years then I know it will come, sooner or later.”
Patrick is in the running to qualify for next month’s Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship. There is a lot at stake but the common bond between the father and son remain solidly intact.
“We don’t look at it like a father and son relationship anymore,” said Todd. “We started looking beyond that about five or six years ago.”
“He’s always been my dad, always will be,” added Patrick. “Through fishing and the tournaments he’s also become my best friend.”