Angler lands big paycheck on local river
Robert Walser has fished three Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League All-American championships in three years, finishing 26th in 2004 and 28th in 2005. This year, when he flew from his native North Carolina to the latest tournament, held in early July on the Connecticut River off Hartford, he vowed not to return with anything less than a victory.
After beating out 48 other anglers, Walser flew home a happy man — and $140,000 richer — as the newest All-American champion.
“It was my turn,” he said simply. “I’ve been close too many times, and I was determined not to come up here and finish 20th again.”
After qualifying for the tournament, Walser began to scout out local Connecticut River know-hows to aid him in his quest. He lined up Johnathan Dingle, who competes in the Stren Series Northeast Division, and Billy Heeber, and they prefished with Walser for four days.
“We caught a lot of fish,” Walser said. “The weather was miserable, but I saw what I liked, the kind of fishing I’m best at — fishing shallow water 3 feet or less.”
Walser left Connecticut hoping and praying conditions would stay the same, meaning he wanted to see the river flooding the parking lots when he returned to fish the tournament.
“I was comfortable if the river stayed high, and fortunately it did,” Walser said.
However, the river didn’t stay high for long. The water fell at a rapid pace each day of competition, causing Walser to change tactics.
“The falling water forced me to adjust,” he said. “I learned new places every day, and it was easier to adjust since I was doing what I like to do.”
Walser’s primary method was hunting down spots where he could target fish hovering around wood, and he was not alone in that method, as competitors generally targeted wood or grass all week. He was fishing a Weapon jighead with a homemade skirt and a Zoom Super Chunk Junior in green pumpkin.
“Mostly I fished pockets off the river, fishing an 8-foot stick on 20-pound line,” he said. “When I got a bite, I had the equipment to pull them out.”
Walser caught a three-day total of 34 pounds, 10 ounces of fish.
When the dust settled, Walser was left holding a check for $140,000 and a 2-pound, 3-ounce margin of victory. As the All-American champion, he took home $100,000 for the win plus a $20,000 contingency bonus from Ranger Boats and another $20,000 from Evinrude Outboards.
“You hope you get yourself in that mental state to fish a tournament,” Walser said of his winning confidence. “I was there all week. I made the right calls — I was just in that happy place. I was extremely comfortable. I knew they had to beat me.”