Every win is earned. Some are just earned a little more than others.
Robert Walser sacked the largest bag of the T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League (BFL) Regional on Lake Norman on day three with 15 pounds, 2 ounces, and he did so on the tail end of a tournament that saw the North Carolina angler swap out his boat on two separate occasions due to mechanical issues.
“Let’s just say it worked out in the end,” Walser jokes. “I had mechanical issues three days on three different boats. The first one failed on takeoff. I changed boats, and my other boat I ran Thursday and Friday afternoon had a gasket fail. I had a loose trim connection on Saturday, so I went through three boats in three days.”
Walser didn’t let the adversity get him down. Despite what he considers a mentally exhausting experience, he powered through it to the tune of 35 pounds, 8 ounces for the tournament and a comfortable 3-plus-pound win thanks to a couple kicker fish on the final day, including a 4-pound largemouth and a 3-pound spotted bass.
It was the largest stringer Walser has ever turned in for a tournament on Lake Norman, and he caught most of his fish flipping docks with a Texas-rigged Zoom Baby Brush Hog and Zoom Z-Craw Jr. in green pumpkin with a 5/16-ounce Eco Pro Tungsten weight, pegged with a bobber stop. He flipped those baits on a Lamiglas 806 flipping stick and a Pflueger Supreme reel in 7.1:1 gear ratio spooled with 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line.
Walser credits much of his success to fishing “ugly places” – spots most other anglers didn’t bother to fish because they didn’t look ideal. He keyed on “ugly” docks that had stumps and brush submerged underneath them. Fishing those neglected docks gave him the advantage of targeting areas unburdened by the massive fishing pressure Lake Norman has received lately from anglers fishing a number of tournaments on the fishery.
A few key fish were also brought in on a chartreuse spinnerbait with one Colorado blade and one willow-leaf blade, fished on stretches of bank between docks, but the flipping bite was the moneymaker for Walser. Despite the mechanical issues and lack of sleep from dealing with boat swaps, Walser powered through to lock up his second win on Lake Norman in the last 13 months and a BFL All-American berth.
Scott Beattie fished his last four tournaments of the 2018 season with a shoulder still recovering from replacement surgery in May. He was forced to fish exclusively with a spinning rod for all four of those tournaments, but his shoulder was fully healed for the Regional on Lake Norman, and he showed exactly what he can do with a casting rod when he turned in 32-1 for the tournament, sealing a second-place finish.
“I had a great doctor,” Beattie says. “I’m 100 percent. It’s like I never had a shoulder problem. It feels good to be 50 and feel the best you’ve felt in 10 years.”
Beattie lives only 20 minutes from Lake Norman, so he’s as familiar with the fishery as perhaps anyone else. Heavy fishing pressure and the cold front that rolled in just prior to the tournament demanded the North Carolina angler draw from his experience and key in on changing patterns throughout the weekend.
On Thursday, Beattie spent most of his time swimming a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce Queen Tackle jig on banks between docks. He opted for the green pepper color with a Zoom Twin Tail Grub in green pumpkin for the trailer and spent most of his time banging it off rocks.
That bite dried up for most of day two, and Beattie used his knowledge of the lake to find something new.
“The second day at 2 o’clock I had no fish, and I started to use my Lowrance to find what hole they were on,” he says. “From there it took me about 30 minutes to find them. I caught my limit that day on a homemade 1/2-ounce shaky head fished on 17-pound-test Berkley fluorocarbon about 35 feet deep.”
Beattie used a 6-inch Yamamoto Senko on that stretch of day two, primarily targeting offshore brush piles. In about 30 minutes, he caught three fish on one brush pile and three more on another to fill his limit and cull a fish.
With overcast conditions on day three, Beattie went back to the swim jig and his between-the-docks pattern to sack 11 pounds and secure the second-place finish and a BFL All-American berth.
Beattie says he’s “haunted” by yet another second-place finish on Lake Norman (after finishing second there at the FLW Tour event in 2016), but the trip to the All-American is a solid consolation prize.
“I’ve probably won 350 tournaments on Norman – local stuff – but I have never won a BFL or FLW [Tour event],” he admits. “It just seems like I can’t get enough or I’m scared on the last day to go out there and go for broke because you want to go to the All-American.”
Many thought the topwater bite could be key last week at Lake Norman, but that never proved to be the case for most anglers. Dylan Fulk was among them, and he was forced to make some last-minute changes to his game plan as a result.
“I went into it with a full plan of fishing topwater the whole time,” he says. “I ended up never getting a bite on topwater the whole tournament, so it was a lot of scrambling for me.”
He scrambled to the tune of 30 pounds, 10 ounces and a third-place finish, and the keys for Fulk were versatility and fishing to his strengths.
On day one, the North Carolina native turned to what often makes Lake Norman shine – the dock bite. He fished a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin BOOYAH Boo Jig with a YUM Wooly Bug trailer on a setup of an Ardent C-Force casting reel and a 6-foot, 10-inch, medium-heavy Falcon Expert Series rod. When that bite dried up on day two, Fulk moved out deep and tried his luck with a swimbait.
“I couldn’t get bit on any of my docks,” he says. “I went out and fished offshore, just the ends of points and on tops of humps with a really little swimbait.”
Fulk also keyed in on isolated rocks and brush piles, sometimes switching to a shaky head with a YUM Finesse Worm in the ghillie suit color.
Despite scrambling to find the right pattern each day, Fulk believes he benefited from Lake Norman’s propensity for allowing anglers to fish to their strengths.
“I don’t ever really know what I’m going to do, but it always ends up working out,” he says. “And that’s usually a pretty good sign that it just fits what you like to do. I like to move around a lot. With there being so many numbers [of fish], that really fits into my game plan.”
Fulk has no regrets, despite missing out on the top prize by less than 5 pounds. He fished as clean as he could all three days, and that’s enough to give Fulk some solace.
“I can honestly say I didn’t lose a fish the whole tournament,” he admits. “I caught everything that bit.”
(The top six boaters qualify to fish the 2019 BFL All-American.)
1. Robert Walser – Lexington, N.C. – 35-8 (15) – $66,000
2. Scott Beattie – Lincolnton, N.C. – 32-1 (15) – $10,000
3. Dylan Fulk – Concord, N.C. – 30-10 (15) – $5,200
4. Bryan New – Belmont, N.C. – 29-14 (15) – $3,100
5. Michael Fox – Statesville, N.C. – 29-11 (15) – $2,000
6. Travis Young – Charlotte, N.C. – 29-9 (15) – $1,800
7. Jack Dice – Lynchburg, Va. – 29-4 (15) – $1,600
8. Jake Frye – Charlotte, N.C. – 27-7 (13) – $1,400
9. Chad Poteat – Mount Airy, N.C. – 27-1 (15) – $1,200
10. Cole Huskins – Mt. Holly, N.C. – 25-8 (12) – $1,000
While most anglers failed to entice fish to chase topwaters, co-angler champion Wayne Smelser managed to catch some key fish on a buzzbait to pile up a total of 28 pounds, 12 ounces and secure his second BFL win on Lake Norman in about three years.
Fishing from the back of three different boats, Smelser had to be versatile and just roll with the punches. On day one, he fished mostly shallow and caught them on a buzzbait, a vibrating jig and a jig. On day two, he caught four of his five fish on a drop-shot in deeper water, and on day three, Smelser caught four of his five-fish limit on a shaky head.
“You’re pretty much fishing at the mercy of the boater,” he says of fishing as a co-angler. “You have no say-so, so you have to be very adaptable to the conditions, and to win a three-day tournament, it’s very, very special.”
Smelser was confident in his ability to adapt to his boaters, but it was his boaters’ confidence in Smelser that might have really made the difference. He’s been traveling with Kevin Chandler (who finished 51st as a boater), and as the two practiced together the Wednesday before the tournament, Chandler called his shot for Smelser.
“We were practicing on Wedneday, and I caught a 3-pounder and a 6-pounder less than a half-hour from each other, and he said, ‘I’m telling you right now, you’re getting ready to win this whole thing. It’s going to happen on this lake,’” Smelser says. “I had a lot of support from all those guys. I think they had more confidence in me than I had.”
The Virginia native also gives a lot of credit to TrueSouth Custom Lures, which produced all of the lures Smelser caught his fish on during the tournament.
“The main thing is TrueSouth,” he adds. “I caught a key fish each day on the buzzbait, and I was catching fish on a buzzbait when nobody else could – and they were throwing it in front of me. The only difference was what frame we were throwing it on.”
In addition to the buzzbait, Smelser used a 6-inch Zoom Trick Worm on a 3/16-ounce TrueSouth shaky head and a TrueSouth vibrating jig.
Like many others who finished at the top of the leaderboard at Lake Norman, Smelser fished a very clean tournament. Apart from breaking off what could have been “a 10-pounder or 10 inches,” he didn’t lose any other fish, and finished just 1 pound, 1 ounce in front of second-place co-angler Larry Freeman Jr.
(The top six co-anglers qualify to fish the 2019 BFL All-American.)
1. Wayne Smelser – Rural Retreat, Va. – 28-12 (15) – $45,200
2. Larry Freeman Jr. – La Crosse, Va. – 27-11 (13) – $5,000
3. Tristen Trull – Mt. Holly, N.C. – 25-13 (13) – $2,500
4. Ben Dacey – Chesterfield, Va. – 25-3 (15) – $1,550
5. Jeff Rikard – Leesville, S.C. – 23-7 (12) – $1,000
6. Khris Williams – Mt. Holly, N.C. – 23-3 (13) – $900
7. Ronnie Cutshall – Piedmont, S.C. – 18-15 (12) – $800
8. Darren Kelly – Wartburg, Tenn. – 18-8 (10) – $700
9. David Blakely – Kingsport, Tenn. – 18-6 (10) – $600
10. Bart Beasley – Mount Pleasant, S.C. – 16-13 (8) – $500