Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 06/19/2011

David Walker

Story by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush - Photos by Mark Jeffreys, Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush

Decatur, AL – Out of the 15 rookies fishing in the 2011 Elite Series, many of the pundits had Tennessee’s David Walker at the top of their watch lists. After a 3rd place finish at Toledo Bend where he lost by just 13-ounces, Walker continued to climb back into Classic contention with Top 40 finishes at both West Point Lake and Lake Murray.

A dismal 98th place finish at the Arkansas River meant that the final tournament of the season at Wheeler Lake was a “do or die” scenario for Walker’s Classic hopes. Jumping out of the gates in 2nd place with a limit weighing 18-2, Walker stated that his success the remainder of the week would hinge on his ability to boat a kicker each day.

On Friday, Walker took the lead with another limit weighing 17-1 but slipped back into 2nd place after weighing just 13-7 on Saturday. Entering the final round of competition less than two-pounds behind leader Bradley Roy, Walker expressed some apprehension about his chances of hoisting the trophy. “I’m fishing a drop that obviously just keeps getting worse instead of getting better,” he admitted.

While it took some time on Sunday for his primary area to produce the quality bass that he knew were living there, the bites finally came and with a limit weighing 15-0, Walker captured the first Elite Series win of his career and first Tour level win. His four-day total weight of 63-10 outdistanced 2nd place finisher Kevin VanDam, by just under two-pounds. 

David Walker

“It feels as good as I thought it would,” exclaimed Walker after lifting the blue trophy. “It’s awesome, just awesome. I can’t believe it. “I feel like I was good enough to do it (win) and I feel like I have really paid my dues, so why not? That was really my slogan all week, ‘why not?’” said Walker. “Here I am talking about the win, which I’ve never done before so I might be a little rusty,” he joked.

“I thought that I had 13-, maybe 14-pounds today,” Walker continued. “I thought I had a chance to win this thing this morning, but after about an hour-and-a-half with no bites, that idea went out the window.”

Without a keeper in the boat early on Sunday, Walker said that once the first bass bit, they just kept coming. “Once I got the first one off the school, it was every cast,” he said. “The spot was big enough that I felt I could have missed where they were. I left the area and then came back because I should have caught something off of there. When I re-fished the area and changed my angle, I got the bait down and hit the bottom and a fish got it. Once that fish got it, it was every cast.”

The majority of Walker’s bass came from one ledge with the exception of Day Two, when he amassed a 17-pound limit off of his secondary area. Throughout the tournament, Walker relied on an unnamed deep diving crankbait in Chartreuse Shad and Sexy Shad colors, an unnamed 11-inch plumb colored worm, and a Lake Fork Flutter Spoon in chrome. He said that a key to his success was constantly rotating between the three offerings. 

David WalkerWalker credited much of his success over the first three days of competition to the fact that he fished a clean tournament. “The last three days I caught every bite that I had. If I had a bite, I caught it – even the ones that were hooked in the tail on a spoon. Everything was going right.” On Sunday, that changed and Walker jumped off a kicker. “When they started coming off today, I was so furious. I knew that there were enough fish there that it was no big deal because I was getting a bite on every cast.”

After a grueling season, Walker was obviously relieved to accomplish his goal of qualifying for the 2012 Classic. “You wonder why a guy puts himself through these emotions because it’s the most frustrating thing to be worrying about the points and worrying about the checks because there’s a lot to deal with there,” he admitted. 

“Last week after getting locked out (at the Arkansas River), I felt like I also got locked out of the Classic. I felt like I almost had to win this week to get into the Classic and I hadn’t won one before so it was a definite long shot. I knew that I couldn’t just try to get a check so my main focus in practice was trying to find the bigger fish.”

2nd Place: Kevin VanDam
After locking up his 7th Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year title on Saturday and guaranteeing himself a Top 12 finish in the season finale on Wheeler Lake, it’s safe to say that regardless of how things went on Sunday, Kevin VanDam has had a pretty good week in Alabama.

Entering the day in 3rd place, VanDam brought another solid limit of largemouth to the scales on Sunday weighing 14-11 to finish in 2nd with 61-13. “I had a really good day and caught tons of fish,” he explained. “I just never got that big bite. I fished everything that I knew and I gave it everything that I had. It’s just hard to get that quality bite here and you need that kicker fish. One five-pounder would change things.”

While many of the other top finishers fishing ledges at Wheeler camped on one or two productive stretches, VanDam covered water searching for actively feeding schools. “The fish were moving a lot and I’d have to fish down stretches of ledge to find them again,” he said. “A lot of times the fish would just pull out or pull up shallower. They can go in, out, up, or down and that’s tricky.” 

Kevin VanDam

With a lack of consistent current throughout the week, VanDam said that he relied on wind direction to key in on productive areas. “The wind direction made a big difference on how the current moved on the lake and where the fish were positioned,” he explained.

VanDam also said that a key to his success was switching between fast and slow moving baits on a consistent basis. He relied primarily on a Strike King Series 5, Series 5 XD, and Series 6 XD crankbait in Sexy Shad color and a ¾-ounce Strike King Tour Grade football jig in peanut butter and jelly color with a Candy Craw colored Rage Tail trailer. He also threw a plumb colored Strike King Anaconda worm.

“When you found a school you wanted to milk it for everything that it was worth,” said VanDam. “The crankbait was my primary bait but I would back it up with one of the slow moving baits.”

Despite falling short on Sunday, VanDam was pleased with his effort this week on Wheeler and gave kudos to David Walker. “I had a really good week but I just never got that really quality bite that I needed. I fished a clean tournament and I’ve known David Walker for a long time. He’s a heck of a fisherman and I think a lot of him as a person and the way he competes as an angler.”

3rd Place: Bradley Roy
Entering the day with the lead, Kentucky’s Bradley Roy was in prime position to rescue a disappointing season that had him on the outside looking in at the 2012 Bassmaster Classic. Well aware that a victory would give him the golden ticket, the 20-year-old pro went to work on Sunday with some of the biggest names in the sport hunting him down.

With 10-1 on the day, it just wasn’t enough as Roy slipped to 3rd with a total weight of 60-6. “Today, those fish just got a little bit to conditioned to what I was doing,” he explained. “They were getting thinner and thinner and I knew that was going to happen.” 

Bradley Roy

With the bass reluctant to take his bait, Roy said that he lost two kicker fish on Sunday that could have been the difference maker. “They were just nipping at the bait so maybe if I get those two fish in I win the tournament, but David Walker fished a great tournament and at least I finished in the Top 5.”

Throughout the week, Roy milked a productive offshore ledge in 11- to 17-feet of water. He relied on a trio of baits that included a spoon, Carolina-rigged Berkley Power Hawg, and a Spro Little John DD crankbait.

Despite being the youngest angler in the field, Roy was incredibly poised after coming close to his first Elite Series victory. “It’s heartbreaking,” he admitted. “You don’t get this opportunity very often but I can’t say that I’ve had a bad week. Right now it feels like a bad week, but it was a good finish and I’ll be ready for next year. I’m still 20, so maybe I’ll get the opportunity some time or another in the next few years,” he concluded with a smile.

4th Place: Ish Monroe
Concluding the 2011 season with another Top 10 finish, California’s Ish Monroe ended the second half of the Elite Series schedule on a tear, registering three Top 5 finishes in the final four tournaments and jumping into Classic qualification.

After a massive 20-14 limit on Saturday, Monroe added another 13-14 on Sunday to boost his total weight to 58-15 and finish in 4th place.

Ish Monroe

“I pulled up to my spot today and they just weren’t biting as good. The current wasn’t flowing as strong and I could see on my Lowrance graph that the fish weren’t positioned right,” explained Monroe. “I tried to dig down and get on the bottom and they just weren’t eating.”

Despite the drop in weight, Monroe said that he would call his day on Wheeler as “decent for a day when they didn’t pull any current.” 

While the ledge that he shared with Bradley Roy accounted for the majority of his weekend weight, Monroe spent the opening two rounds targeting shallow areas in the back of two creeks with Ish’s Phat Frog.

“Starting out with the frog, I felt that was the way to make the Classic. I knew that fishing that frog would get me there and it did,” said Monroe. When he moved to the ledge, Monroe threw a Spro Little John DD in Nasty Shad color and a Lake Fork spoon.

“With back-to-back 4th place finishes, you can’t be to upset about that. The second half of my season has been crazy but I think that I’m back and focused and having fun again,” he concluded.

5th Place: Ott DeFoe
Along with Kevin VanDam, Tennessee’s Ott DeFoe also picked up some hardware this week at Wheeler in the form of the 2011 Rookie Of the Year trophy. Leading after the first day of competition, DeFoe remained in the hunt for the duration of the event and eventually finished in 5th after 11-7 on Sunday and a total weight of 58-9. 

Ott DeFoeBucking the popular ledge bite, DeFoe opted to avoid the crowds and key on two shallow backwaters throughout the tournament. While some of his fish came flipping a creature bait and jig, he relied primarily on a buzzbait and a frog.

DeFoe said that each day, he had at least one kicker bite that never made it to the boat.

“I’ve had some bites this week that have haunted me and I had one in particular today,” he explained. “I got the bites this tournament but when it’s your time to win, that kind of stuff goes the other way so I’ll take it in stride.”

Despite the missed opportunities, DeFoe was more than pleased with the end result this week at Wheeler. “I can’t complain. To end the year on this kind of a note, it doesn’t get much better. This year, everything that needed to go right went as good or better than it could have. There’s nothing that I could have done short of winning an event.” 

6th Place: Greg Hackney
Like Ott DeFoe, Greg Hackney also opted to go shallow this week at Wheeler. It paid off in a big way on Friday, as he brought 19-9 to the scales and put himself squarely in contention and solidified his spot in the 2012 Classic.

With 11-6 on Sunday and a total weight of 58-0, Hackney finished in 6th place. Although he was pleased with the overall finish, Sunday left a bitter taste in the Louisiana pro’s mouth.

“It was the day from hell today,” he stated. “I had five big bites and only caught one of them. “I had 15-minutes of fury and I just didn’t execute – it’s kind of how my whole week has been,” he said with a wry smile. “I even had the same big one on twice and lost it.” 

Greg Hackney

Alternating between a Green Pumpkin Strike King Sexy Frog and flipping a Green Pumpkin Strike King Rodent, Hackney targeted shallow cover and undercut banks. “One day it was the frog and the next it was the flipping deal,” he explained. “I was fishing really heavy cover and gin clear water and I think my fish were actually hanging around there because of a mayfly hatch.”

Aside from Sunday’s mishaps, Hackney said that his 6th place finish was ideally timed. “I came into this tournament stressed out,” he admitted. “This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for me.”

7th Place: Russ Lane
Final Day Thoughts: “This morning, I told myself to slow down and everything will work out. I pulled up on in and made two casts and load up on a crankbait. It was two five-pounders on one crankbait. I get them to the boat and one of them pulls off and the other one jumps and gets off. That pretty much sums up my year so next year I’m out for vengeance because I have been around them all year long.”

Pattern: “I had one little place that was a one-cast deal. It was unreal.”

Baits: Spro Big Daddy Crank

Key to the Week: “Hitting the sweet spot with the crankbait and catching my fish early in the day.”

Week in Review: “I hate to be negative but I’m pretty much aggravated with how it went. I had the bites to do a lot better. Every single morning I lost a five or six pounder.

8th Place: Timmy Horton
Final Day Thoughts: “I spent about four or five hours today trying to find new areas on my Humminbird electronics because that was the only way that I was going to win. I tried to find something that was untapped so I gambled and tried to make a move.”

Timmy HortonPattern: Cranking offshore ledges and shell beds.

Baits: Bomber Fat Free Shad in Purple Darter and Roux.

Key to the Week: “A lot of people were in the 12- to 13-pound range after the first day and I was able to get a 6-pound bite on the second day and that was key. I also got a big bite each of the next two days.”

Week in Review: “When they get on that crankbait deal, it’s one of my favorite ways to fish. I hate that the season is ending because I’m getting on a roll and want to keep going. 

9th Place: Kelly Jordon

Final Day Thoughts: “Today was tough. I’d been catching them pretty good but today was a grind. I guess the stuff that I had just went away. It was really frustrating. A few of the schools are really spooky and you have to get off of them for a while. It wasn’t all bad but I only caught five keepers today.”

Pattern: Cranking shallow shell beds and offshore ledges

Baits: Lucky Craft Fat CB DR, 10” Lake Fork Tackle worm in Blue Fleck

Key to the Week: “All of my best spots had hard spots on them. It was just structure fishing. I was able to find the right fish and the right stuff and I’m very comfortable fishing like this. You just had to find out what they were holding on. Most of the stuff I found on my Humminbird Side Imaging.”

Week in Review: “I was able to fish just like I enjoy fishing back home, so it was fun. Today was just aggravating though; I don’t know where my fish went.”

10th Place: Keith Poche
Final Day Thoughts: “I went back into the same area where I’ve been fishing the last three days. Today just didn’t work out and it was a slow bite. I moved areas but it just wasn’t there.”

Pattern: “I was keying on shallow water and twitching the Senko really quick and then deadsticking it around shoreline grass and wood. I had one pocket that was an acre in size that I concentrated on the entire tournament.

Baits: Senko

Key to the Week: “My area had big fish in there between 5- and 6-pounds. I caught one yesterday but they were really spooky and it was clear water. You really had to finesse them and catch them off guard.”

Week in Review: “I was honestly worried about making the Top 50 cut. I had a backup spot that saved me the first two days because I caught one off of it late in the day. I had no shot at winning, so I just went out and tried to catch a big bag.”   
11th Place: Bernie Schultz
Final Day Thoughts: “The wind kind of messed me up. Anytime the wind blows on Wheeler, the flats get messed up. For some reason, it just takes a chop on those shallow flats and drops to shut things down and I didn’t adjust very well.

Pattern: Fishing flats

Baits: Rapala saltwater Skitter Walk, Rapala Clackin’ Rap in chrome and gold, Rapala DT Flat 7.

Key to the Week: “There were big gizzard shad on the flats and I was catching all of my fish on big baits.”

Week in Review: “With the year that I’ve had, it’s nice to be able to turn things around a little bit this week.

12th Place: Takahiro Omori
Final Day Thoughts: “I caught 25 keepers today but I just didn’t get the kicker bite. I have been getting two kicker bites and they just never came.

Pattern: Carolina-rigging main lake ledges

Baits: Creature bait on Carolina-rig and a crankbait.

Key to the Week: “The fish were located on areas with hard bottom or shell beds.”

Week in Review: “My goal this week was to finish in the Top 20 to make the Classic. I accomplished that, so to make the Top 12 was a bonus.”

1. Kevin VanDam Kalamazoo, Mich. (2011 Classic winner)
2. Gerald Swindle Warrior, Ala. (Open event winner)
3. Shaw Grigsby Gainesville, Fla. (Elite event winner)
4. Edwin Evers Talala, Okla. (Elite event winner)
5. Davy Hite Ninety Six, S.C. (Elite event winner)
6. Dean Rojas Lake Havasu City, Ariz. (Elite event winner)
7. Stephen Kennedy Auburn, Ala. (Elite event winner)
8. Casey Ashley Donalds, S.C. (Elite event winner)
9. Dennis Brauer Camdenton, Mo. (Elite event winner)
10. David Walker Sevierville, Tenn. (Elite event winner)

These Elite anglers qualified through the points system:
1. Ott DeFoe Knoxville, Tenn.
2. Terry Scroggins San Mateo, Fla.
3. Alton Jones Waco, Texas
4. Keith Poche Troy, Ala.
5. Greg Vinson Wetumpka, Ala.
6. Chris Lane Guntersville, Ala.
7. Randy Howell Springville, Ala.
8. Keith Combs Huntington, Texas
9. Aaron Martens Leeds, Ala.
10. Michael Iaconelli Pitts Grove, N.J.
11. Dustin Wilks Rocky Mount, N.C.
12. Ish Monroe Hughson, Calif.
13. Todd Faircloth Jasper, Texas
14. Jared Lintner Arroyo Grande, Calif.
15. Bobby Lane Lakeland, Fla.
16. Jeff Kriet Ardmore, Okla.
17. Greg Hackney Gonzales, La.
18. Kevin Wirth Crestwood, Ky.
19. Fred Roumbanis Bixby, Okla.
20. Timmy Horton Muscle Shoals, Ala.
21. John Crews Salem, Va.
22. Stephen Browning Hot Springs, Ark.
23. Takahiro Omori Emory, Texas
24. Matt Reed Madisonville, Texas
25. Bill Lowen Brookville, Ind.
26. Marty Robinson Lyman, S.C.
27. Brent Chapman Lake Quivira, Kan.
28. Brandon Palaniuk Rathdrum, Idaho