Bradley Hallman is fishing his first season on the Walmart FLW Tour, but he is by no means a rookie in the world of tournament bass fishing. Hallman spent six years as a pro on the Bassmaster Elite Series from 2006 to 2011, so he knows his way around the business of bass tournaments pretty well.
During his six years on the Elite Series, Hallman encountered some pretty stiff headwinds that forced him to retreat from the national level of the sport.
“I had a lot going on back then,” Hallman remembers. “My wonderful children were born. My dad passed away. I had a lot going on financially and emotionally, and I just needed a break from it all to sort of regroup and get my head right before getting back in the game at a national level.”
From his pro experience, Hallman learned a very valuable lesson.
“Transitioning from regional-level competition to national-level competition changes the way you fish,” Hallman reflects. “At home I had success fishing my way – fishing my strengths as a pitcher and flipper. But when I got on the Elites, the financial pressure was immense, and I started fishing just to get checks – just to survive – and it changed the way I fished. I was trying to fish the way other people fish just to stay out there. When I quit the Elites I vowed I would not return to national-level tournaments until I could fish my way all of the time.”
This week marks Hallman’s return to national-level fishing on the FLW Tour, and he made a tremendous comeback – his way – by notching his first national-level win at the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee presented by Ranger Boats and hosted by Roland and Mary Ann Martin’s Marina and Resort and the Hendry County Tourism Development Council.
“This is not only an FLW Tour victory on Lake Okeechobee; it’s a personal victory for me that has been a long time in the making,” Hallman says. “It’s a personal victory to me in doing it my way – fishing my strengths and not caving to the pressures of fishing other ways just to fill out limits, especially on the last two days when I came in without a limit.”
One thing is for sure, Hallman’s commitment was certainly tested by wicked high north winds on Lake Okeechobee and wicked extreme frontal conditions that pestered the lake’s Florida-strain bass. Day two dealt out high north winds of some 25 mph. On day three the wind subsided, but the post-frontal conditions shut the bite down considerably. Day four, however, ravaged the top 10 pros with a brutal triple whammy: high northwest winds to 30 mph, dropping water temps and complete post-frontal lockdown of Okeechobee bass.
Through it all Hallman pitched and punched reed heads in South Bay.
“I was committed to that even before I got here,” Hallman says. “I knew one way or another I was going to be flipping, pitching and punching something.”
For that reason, Hallman ordered two custom-built rods from Mosley RodWorks in Oklahoma that are specifically designed for punching and horsing giant bass out of vegetation. The rods are 8 feet long and feature a parabolic bend to load up on fish in mats.
“Several years ago I learned that in that heavy mat-punching game you can’t snap-set the hook,” Hallman explains. “You have to sort of pull into the fish and let the rod load up and then start cranking on the reel. It’s a strange way to set a hook, but it works with big tungsten weights. Having a rod that loads up parabolically like that is a must.”
On the business end of his rig, Hallman relied on a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver 4.20, a 1 1/2-ounce tungsten weight and a 4/0 Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover Flippin’ Hook. The soft plastic colors he used included electric blue, hematoma and penetration. He added a punch skirt (black/blue) to his punching rig, believing that the skirt added more potential for a bigger bite.
With the brutal conditions on the final day, Hallman downsized everything, going to a Gambler BB Cricket with no punch skirt and a 3/4-ounce weight.
“When the water temperature starts dropping in Florida, going smaller is a big deal,” he adds.
Hallman notes that the more isolated reed heads were better, especially earlier in the week.
“The smaller ones standing out there by themselves were the deal the first day,” he reveals. “But once that wind got blowing, it shook those isolated heads up too much, and I had to move to the bigger reed clumps and islands. I think those offered more stability to the fish in the high wind.”
Combatting the harsh winds on days two and four was an integral part of his victory. This was especially true on day four when he lost use of his trolling motor and had to use only his outboard, a push pole and Power-Poles for boat control.
To overcome the situation, Hallman let the wind push him into a reed head or clump, engaged his Power-Poles, turned his back to the wind and then essentially pitched, or even tossed, his punching rig far up into the heart of the reeds where matted vegetation was trapped in the interior of the clump.
“Pitching with the wind to your back in those conditions is essential,” Hallman points out. “Your efficiency of penetrating the matted stuff in the reed heads and being able to work and feel your bait improves dramatically. The wind actually helps give it a straight, vertical fall.”
Hallman built a sizeable lead of 13 pounds, 9 ounces going into the final day. And as it turns out, he could have stayed in bed on the final day and still won. Conditions were so extreme that no one even came close to threatening his lead.
He did, however, bring in two bass weighing 6 pounds, 8 ounces to secure victory on the final day.
“Even when the conditions and everything were at their worst today, I stayed committed to the pitching and punching,” Hallman says. “And that’s what this trophy represents to me – a personal victory of fishing my way.”
Read the Day 3 Headline Story: Can Anyone Catch Hallman?
Read the Day 2 Headline Story: Hallman Way in Front
Read the Day 1 Headline Story: Hallman Takes the Lead with 25
Top 10 Pros
1. Bradley Hallman – Norman, Okla. – 71-02 – $100,000
2. Alex Davis – Albertville, Ala. – 56-04 – $30,000
3. Chris Johnston – Peterborough, Ontario – 56-03 – $25,000
4. Michael Neal – Dayton, Tenn. – 55-15 – $20,000
5. Shinichi Fukae – Palestine, Texas – 52-09 – $19,000
6. Brandon McMillan – Clewiston, Fla. – 51-04 – $18,000
7. Joshua Weaver – Macon, Ga. – 50-05 – $17,000
8. Clark Reehm – Huntington, Texas – 48-08 – $16,000
9. Charlie Weyer – West Hills, Calif. – 47-11 – $15,000
10. Billy Shelton III – La Crosse, Wis. – 44-06 – $14,500
Complete results – click here
Day 1 On the Water – click here
Day 1 Weigh-in – click here
Day 2 On the Water – click here
Day 2 Weigh-in – click here
Day 3 On the Water – click here
Day 3 Weigh-in – click here
Day 4 On the Water – click here
Day 4 Weigh-in – click here