Walters widens his lead as Bassmaster Elite Series event winds down at Lake Murray

PROSPERITY, S.C. — The thrill of a blistering start more than offset any frustrations of a long dry spell, as Patrick Walters held on to his lead for a third day in the Minn Kota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Murray.

Day 1 saw the two-time Elite Series champion from Eutawville, S.C., launch what has thus far been a dominant performance with the tournament’s heaviest bag — 25-8. That opening pace-setter gave Walters a 3-3 lead.

Adding a second-round limit of 19-13 kept him in the top spot and expanded his margin to 4-15. Then with 21-14 on Semifinal Sunday, Walters pushed his three-day total to 67-3 and now heads into Championship Monday with a margin of 8-4 over rookie JT Thompkins. (Severe weather postponed the event’s scheduled start by one day).

“I had most of my weight by 8:30,” Walters said. “It doesn’t matter when you get ’em or how you get ’em, as long as you get ’em in the boat.”

Since Day 1, Walters has done the majority of his damage by targeting the early-morning blueback herring spawn. Bass feed aggressively when these large baitfish become distracted with reproduction, so he has been mimicking the profile and motion of this food source with topwater baits and soft-plastic jerkbaits.

Walters is mainly fishing points where spawning herring congregate. He’ll work the shallows until the sun’s increasing intensity ends that morning action and then he’ll move out a little deeper and drag a Carolina-rigged Zoom Brush Hog.

While the C-rig yielded a solid bass each of the first two days, the third saw that shallow action delivering the goods. In Walters’ view, success hinges on selecting the right point from Murray’s many options.

“I think it’s just time and place, I really do,” Walters said. “You have to stop on the right spot and we’ve been blessed to stop on the right one every day.”

Notably, Walters admitted that doing so required a little early-morning perseverance. As he recalled, Day 3’s early activity, it was not immediate.

“Each day, I have not caught my weight off my first spot,” Walters said. “It was my second, third or fourth spot. Today, I caught one or two fish on my first spot and then caught a limit of about 10 pounds on my next one.

“I thought they were biting pretty good because they were schooling, so I thought, ‘I’m going to run to my big-fish spot.’ They’re tough to get, but I thought, ‘If they’re biting I’m going to go utilize it.’”

Good call. As Walters described, the bass were primed and ready.

“When I pulled up, it was gangbusters,” he said. “It was lights-out and I caught all of my weight in 45 minutes.

“When I set the boat down, I was going to stop 200 yards out and go in. But I saw them blowing up, so I put the boat back on pad and ran straight to them.”

After his morning smash fest, Walters was unable to upgrade. He fished in and out of his areas the rest of the day, but despite the drought, he knew he had positioned himself well.

“I knew when I got to 20 pounds, I was going to be in good shape,” he said. “When you catch 20 pounds a day, that’s a really good herring bite. Out there on the points, it’s hard to catch 25 a day. They really gotta be biting.”

No surprise, Walters said he plans on sticking with the game plan that has carried him for three days. In his estimation, meeting his Day 3 level will slam the door shut.

“Catch another 20, seal the deal and go from there,” Walters said. “No matter how we have to catch ’em — even if we have to catch ’em dragging a worm.

“I’ll try to catch them early and try to take the pressure off. I think we have some clouds coming in, so I think the fish are really going to bite.”

Hailing from Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thompkins is in second place with 58-15. On Day 1, Thompkins caught 21-1 and tied for seventh place. A second-day limit of 19-5 moved him up five spots to second, and a Day 3 catch that went 18-9 kept him there.

Despite a solid outcome, Thompkins said Semifinal Sunday did not begin well.

“This morning was one of the worst mornings I’ve had (in terms of) hooking up with fish,” Thompkins said of his topwater troubles. “I had a good bag in the morning, but I lost a 25-pound bag. It was just really hard to set the hook.”

Fortunately, Thompkins regrouped and made a key adjustment that helped him improve his hookup efficiency.

“I made a big change and started throwing a bait with one hook,” he said. “I started throwing a Fluke and that had a better hookup ratio.”

Rookie Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., is in third place with 58-13. His daily weights have been 21-9, 16-13 and 20-7.

McKinney said his first two stops were disappointing, but making the right adjustment led him to a productive day.

“Finally, I pulled into the right spot and caught one, caught two, then I caught three, then I caught four and I was like, ‘I got 18 pounds,’” McKinney said. “Then I caught a 5-pounder and I’m like, ‘I got 20 pounds.’

“It happened that fast. That’s something that can happen anywhere.”

McKinney caught his bass on soft-plastic jerkbaits and small topwater baits.

Luke Palmer of Coalgate, Okla., won the $1,000 award for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day with a 7-4. That bass also now leads the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the tournament honors.

Walters is in the lead for the Rapala CrushCity Monster Bag of the Tournament award with his 25-8 on Day 1.

McKinney leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 481 points. Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala., is in second with 448, followed by Chris Johnston of Otonabee, Canada, with 423, Cory Johnston of Cavan, Canada, with 415 and Cody Huff of Ava, Mo., with 408

McKinney also leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings.

The Top 10 remaining anglers will take off at 7 a.m. ET Monday from Dreher Island State Park. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3 p.m., with the winning angler earning $100,000.

The event is being hosted by Capital City Lake Murray Country.

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