When Kyle Walters wants to punch mats with big tungsten and sling hawgs around his boat, he doesn’t need to travel very far from his Grant-Valkaria, Fla., home to do it. That’s one of the perks of living in the Sunshine State. There is grass and bass everywhere.
Walters is also a businessman who builds custom homes and a father of four, so he has good reasons to stick close to home to scratch his bass fishing itch. That’s why, when you browse Walters’ FLWFishing.com profile page, you’ll see that he doesn’t venture too far from the typical Florida tournament waters where he competes in T-H Marine FLW Bass Fishing League and Costa FLW Series tournaments.
Yet this season, Walters fished the entire Southeastern Division of the Costa FLW Series for the first time since 2004. And his reason had nothing to do with fishing Florida waters. He wanted to fish the championship on Lake Guntersville.
In 2013, Walters won the BFL Regional on Guntersville with a very Florida-like approach of punching mats up around the BB Comer Bridge. It was his biggest tournament accomplishment to date, and it earned him a $60,000 prize package.
Walters wanted another crack at G-Ville. So when FLW announced that the famed north Alabama reservoir would host the 2018 Costa FLW Series Championship, he told his buddy JT Kenney that they had to fish the Southeastern Division to try and get to the championship.
Mission accomplished. Walters qualified by finishing 23rd in the Southeastern Division standings, and this week he put a flipping stick in his hands and punched his way to the Costa FLW Series Championship title with a two-day tournament total of 44 pounds, 3 ounces. His total prize package is worth $92,700.
“If you’d have told me when I started fishing the BFLs that I was about to win this championship, I’d have told you you were crazy,” Walters said about midway through the final weigh-in, once Bryan Thrift, his closest competitor, failed to surpass Walters’ weight.
The champ says he has no intentions of pursing an FLW Tour career. He lives vicariously through buddies like Kenney, who recently retired from professional fishing, and fishes for the sport and a love of competition.
This week, though, he definitely put together a pro-level performance to hold off some of the best sticks in the game.
Walters spent both days (day one was cancelled due to the risk of severe weather) flipping main-river grass mats up around BB Comer. When he won the 2013 Regional, he says he flipped hydrilla that had canopied over on the edge of the main channel. That grass was washed out recently due to heavy rains and high flows. This time he keyed on the bank side of the same mats, which grow on a ridge that parallels the channel for miles.
Two key areas – one a mile or so above the bridge and one a couple miles below it – produced all of his keepers. The spot above the bridge was 4 to 5 feet deep, with a mix of hydrilla and milfoil. Dead eelgrass and other vegetation had blown in on top of the grass and created dead, brown mats. Below the bridge, he mostly flipped hydrilla that was about 8 feet deep. The deeper spot produced a big kicker on Friday and his final keeper today. The upper spot was his real moneymaker. It’s where he sacked up a mid-20s bag early this morning, before culling out a 2 1/2-pounder on the second spot with 90 minutes left to fish.
Walters shared the area above the bridge with his buddy Robert Crosnoe, who finished third. The two Floridians shared notes in practice and realized their best spot was the same one. They basically prowled opposite ends of the key stretch. Crosnoe added 23-5 on Saturday to go with Walters’ 24-4 closing limit, proving just how great the spot was.
“Robbie was a real class act today,” Walters adds. “He had a stretch he was going to give me if I needed it, but I didn’t end up needing it. He’s a class act.”
In practice, both Walters and Crosnoe flipped beaver-style baits rigged with a screw-lock bait holder instead of a hook. In the tournament, Walters did work with a pair of Beaver-style baits, including a black and blue/green pumpkin Gambler Stinger. A former college basketball player who stands 6 feet, 7 inches tall, Walters is a big man and doesn’t need much help getting leverage on giant bass, but he went in geared for hawgs with a 7-foot, 11-inch Halo TI Series rod, 75-pound-test Halo Winch braided line, a 4/0 Gamakatsu Super Heavy Cover Flippin’ Hook and 1 1/2-ounce Picasso tungsten sinker.
On Friday, overcast skies and heavy wind issued a challenge to Walters, and he answered with an opening limit of 19-15. Calm conditions today made it easier. Walters expected sunny skies midday to improve his bite even more, but he actually had his best flurry in the morning, when a low cloud deck lingered over the upper portions of Guntersville.
“[On Friday] I couldn’t pick out the mats early, and the bite seemed to go down between 10 and 2,” he says. “Today, I got there and was able to pick the mat out and caught them early.”
New fish were cycling into the mat from a ditch that runs between it and the shore. The champ suspects some of those fish were getting pushed into the edge of the mat from pressure by other anglers either working the ditch with spinnerbaits or slinging frogs out into the middle of the grass. The frog bite, in particular, had potential to keep pace with the punchers, but Walters says that pattern has too much risk. True to form, lost fish and missed blowups plagued the frog fishermen this week. He stuck with the flipping bite, and today made hay in a hurry, boxing up a couple keepers early and then adding a trio of 5- and 6-pound bass from about 9 to 11 a.m. that probably sealed the deal before lunch. The afternoon kicker just added a little something extra to cap off an amazing season, and a fine tournament.
1. Kyle Walters – Grant Valkaria, Fla. – 44-3
2. Bryan Thrift – Shelby, N.C. – 39-8
3. Robert Crosnoe – Inverness, Fla. – 37-5
4. Jon Griffith – Mesa, Ariz. – 31-6
5. Bryan New – Belmont, N.C. – 30-0
6. Troy Gibson – Mountain Home, Ark. – 29-5
7. Zack Birge – Blanchard, Okla. – 29-2
8. Terry Tucker – Gadsden, Ala. – 28-13
9. John Cox – DeBary, Fla. – 28-2
10. Jake Ormond – Sterlington, La. – 28-1
The top-finishing pro from each of the Costa FLW Series divisions at the 2018 championship qualified to fish the 2019 FLW Cup.
Southeastern – Kyle Walters (first place)
Western – Jon Griffith (fourth place)
Southwestern – Zack Birge (seventh place)
Central – Ryan Salzman (11th place)
Northern – Cory Johnston (12th place)
International – Erik Luzak (37th place; FLW Canada)