ANDERSON, S.C. — Making a key bait adjustment, Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., sacked up a Championship Friday limit of 13 pounds, 11 ounces and won the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open at Lake Hartwell with a three-day total of 44 pounds, 5 ounces.
In keeping with Hartwell tradition, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro spent a lot of time with a Zoom Super Fluke on Days 1 and 2. However, during Friday’s competition, he switched to a Fluke Stick — a 6 1/4-inch stickworm with a deeply forked tail like the Super Fluke.
“I had been throwing the Super Fluke in white pearl on 14-pound line on a baitcaster, but when I switched over to the Fluke Stick in natural shad on a spinning rod, it was lights-out after that,” Walters said. “A little bit of bait profile change showed out this week. It was like they had never seen it.
“No one else is throwing this bait; everyone else is throwing a Fluke. They’ve been throwing a Fluke on this lake for eight years, so the fish have seen it before and they know it’s the same action. The Fluke Stick is something that gets them fired up."
Walters, who weighed 14-15 and 15-11 the first two days, said a blistering retrieve proved most effective. Hartwell is full of blueback herring, a fast-paced species of baitfish that typically roams open waters. Mimicking the herring’s frantic appearance was the key to tempting bites.
Also important was a highly mobile game plan. Walters spent most of his time on the lake’s lower end because he felt that region held bigger spotted bass and largemouth. Although the latter eluded him Friday, Walters weighed a big largemouth the first two days, including a 4-6 on Day 1.
He targeted a mix of cane piles and long, tapering points. He got his bites in 5 to 15 feet and spent very little time on spots that did not immediately produce.
“I put that trolling motor down 50 times a day,” Walters said. “I was catching 40 fish a day, and I just got blessed enough this week to thankfully take home the trophy.”
This is Walters’ third Bassmaster victory. He and fellow University of South Carolina angler Tyler All won the 2017 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Southern Regional presented by Bass Pro Shops at Winyah Bay. Walters also won the 2018 Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Open on the Red River.
“I really didn’t know how this week was going to pan out,” Walters said. “You can’t predict it; you just have to go fishing every single day and fish as hard as you can.
“That Red River definitely solidified that I could do it. But to do it here in Anderson, S.C., on Lake Hartwell, I absolutely love this lake. This means the world to me.”
For his efforts, Walters earned $42,267.
Jayme Rampey of Liberty, S.C., finished second with 42-6. Starting the day in 12th place with a 4-6 deficit, Rampey turned in the best performance of the final round — a 16-2 limit. Adding this to his previous weights of 10-9 and 15-11, Rampey gave Walters his biggest scare and ended just 1-15 off the winning total.
Rampey targeted cane piles, timber and flats between the launch site of Green Pond Landing and Event Center and the Hartwell Dam and caught his fish on a Zoom Super Fluke in pearl white. Essential to his success was a 7-4 Abu Garcia Veracity rod, which allowed him to get a good hook set.
“I got the presentation down yesterday — what the bigger ones wanted,” Rampey said. “The first day, I thought they wanted it fast but I was catching little ones. The second day, I slowed it down and put a little pause in it, and the bigger ones really started biting yesterday. Today, it really materialized and kept going.”
Andy Wicker of Pomaria, S.C., finished third with 40-12. His daily weights were 15-11, 13-13 and 11-4.
“I caught most of my fish this week on a Berkley Cane Walker, and I think there’s a good reason they call it the Cane Walker —that thing catches them over cane piles,” Wicker said. “I also caught some fish on a Berkley Drift Walker and a Fluke.”
Day 1 leader, Cody Hahner of Wausau, Wis., won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 6-3. Walters won the $500 Garmin Tournament Rewards prize.
Topping the co-angler division, Mark Grizzle of Cumming, Ga., turned in a three-fish limit of 10-1 — the only double-digit catch of his field — and finished with a winning total of 21-10. Weighing 4-6 and 7-3 the first two days, Grizzle won by a margin of 3-4.
Fishing a Sebile Magic Swimmer and a Heddon Zara Spook, Grizzle anchored his Day 3 limit with bookend 4-pounders — one spotted bass and one largemouth. He earned $18,927.
J.W. Smith of Goose Creek, S.C., won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize among co-anglers for his 6-0.
Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., took the lead in the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings with 735 points. Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., is in second with 704, followed by Scott Martin of Clewiston, Fla., with 652, Justin Atkins of Florence, Ala., with 642 and Marc Frazier of Newnan, Ga., with 638.
The tournament was hosted by Visit Anderson.