Wheeler Lake Elite Series final: Walker walks away with first Bassmaster win

Greg Hackney finishes sixth, earns trip to 2012 Bassmaster Classic

Tennessee’s David Walker surged to victory Sunday (June 19) during the Wheeler Lake stop of the Bassmaster Elite Series, when three-day leader Bradley Roy stumbled.

Walker’s 63 pounds, 10 ounces of bass earned the pro angler his first Bassmaster victory.

“I’ve fished a lot of them, and I hadn’t won one,” said Walker, 46, an experienced pro who made a name for himself on the FLW circuit before joining the Elite Series for the 2011 season. “I always felt like I was good enough to do it, and I feel like I’ve paid my dues. And why not a win?

“That was my slogan for the whole week: ‘Why not me?’ And here I am, talking about a win — I might be a little rusty on that topic.”

Walker won $100,000 and a 2012 Bassmaster Classic berth, his primary goal in becoming an Elite pro. Because he also earned enough Toyota Tundra Bassmaster of the Year points for a ticket to the 2012 world championship, Walker reached his goal of returning to the Classic not once, but twice in one season.

Kevin VanDam came within 1 pound, 13 ounces of a 2011 regular-season Elite win. Sunday was the day after he closed on his fourth consecutive Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, which he’s won seven times in his career.

Day Three Bradley Roy had 60-6 over four days to end in third place, shy of his last-hour bid to win and gain a Classic berth. Fourth was California’s Ish Monroe with 58-15, more than good enough to punch his ticket to the Classic. Rounding out the top five was Ott DeFoe Tennessee with 58-9.

Gonzales’ Greg Hackney wrapped up the event in sixth with 58 pounds, earning a $23,500 paycheck. But most importantly, he moved into the top 25 and secured an invitation to the 2012 Bassmaster Classic slated for February on the Red River out of Shreveport.

Complete event standings and Angler of the Year listings can be found at Bassmaster.com.

Walker stayed on or near the top of the Dixie Duel’s leaderboard over all four days. He started in second place with an impressive haul of 18 pounds and 2 ounces. He took over on Day Two with 35-3, but slid back to the runner-up spot before taking the title Sunday.

The winner caught most of his weight on a ledge pattern in two spots. He rotated casts with an 11-inch plum-colored worm, a Lake Fork chrome spoon and deep-diving crankbaits in two different shad patterns.

“Those were my main, key weapons,” he said, not specifying brands.

“With the crankbait, I made a long throw, and once I felt the crankbait hit the bottom, I felt the fish get it. And once the first fish got it, it was every cast — hit bottom, a fish would get it, hit bottom, a fish would get it.”

Saturday’s brisk wind dictated that he stick with a spoon Saturday, but the wind direction changed enough Sunday so he could work with other lures.

“The casts I needed to make were directly downwind so I could throw even farther and feel (the bait working) even more,” he said. “The difficult thing was holding (the boat) in position.”

VanDam’s Dixie Duel total was 61-13.

“I just didn’t get the quality bites today,” he said. “I caught a ton of fish today, I fished everything I wanted to, but it was all I could manage. I fished clean this week. I didn’t lose, I got beat.”

As the Angler of the Year, VanDam was first into the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week postseason. As the 2011 Bassmaster Classic champ, he already had his 2012 Classic berth secured.

The day’s largest bass was Greg Hackney’s 4-8, but it didn’t beat Keith Poche’s 6-6 of Day Three. Poche collected the Berkley Big Bass of the Tournament bonus of $500.

Next up for the Bassmaster Elite Series is the postseason, the July 23-31 Toyota Trucks All-Star Week in Alabama. Twelve anglers — four of them selected by fan voting at Bassmaster.com beginning Tuesday — will compete on Lake Jordan and the Alabama River. One lucky voter will end up with a Triton/Mercury bass boat rig.

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