By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
David Walker's performance through the first two stops on the Bassmaster Elite Series' late-season swing through the North doesn't quite rival that of Angler of the Year leader Brandon Palaniuk. Nonetheless, his back-to-back 14th-place finishes at the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain have put him in a good place – both in the points standings and also from a psychological perspective.
It's a much different situation than the one he faced a year ago as the end of his worst professional season drew near.
"I couldn't be happier right now," the veteran from Tennessee said earlier this week from Reelfoot Lake, where he's participating in a multi-day photo shoot for primary sponsor Cabela's. "It just seems like confidence builds more confidence and a lack of confidence defeats it, and once you get in that trajectory it's really hard to change – when you're going bad, the harder you try to make it better, the more it blows up in your face."
He cashed just two paychecks in nine events in 2016, and that number would've been only one had he finished a single place lower at the Potomac River. This year he's finished among the top 50 in six of eight outings heading into the regular-season finale at Lake St. Clair and has climbed to No. 17 on the points list.
"Going into the last couple of events last year, I was really sick of it," he said. "I was expecting things to go wrong, and they did. The time off when it was over helped and working the Classic (Expo) this year was very motivational. When you're there but you're not (fishing) in it, it drives you to keep your head down and make it happen.
"It's funny how much what you're thinking about affects your performance," he continued. "The fish shouldn't know where your mind is, but somehow they seem to. When you're happy about where you're at, it's like they just bite."
Second Day was Turning Point
Despite his refreshed outlook and determination to avoid the booths at the 2018 Classic, the new season didn't get off to a smashing start for Walker as he logged a 64th-place finish at Lake Cherokee. There was a bright spot, though – after catching just 9 1/2 pounds on day 1, he came in with a sack that was 4 pounds heavier the next day to move up 16 places in the standings.
"The first day I tried to do things that were working for other people," he said in reference to the miniscule Damiki Armor Shad swimbait that's the predominant offering at Cherokee during the pre-spawn. "The next day I fished the way I like to fish – with a little crankbait and a jig – and I had a good day. I didn't blast them, but I caught a lot of fish and that sort of gave me the traction I needed.
"I think I went in still a little bit timid and apprehensive and I tried to fish the way my head told me to instead of listening to my heart. I wasn't going to do that again the next day – I went out and caught some fish doing what I know how to do."
He's been ultra-solid since then, gaining a check in seven straight derbies (he was 67th at the Toyota Texas Fest at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, but the entire field was paid in that tournament). His recent back-to-back 14ths are the best finishes on his ledger.
"I'd been looking forward to the Northern events and so far they've worked out even better than I could've anticipated. At (the St. Lawrence) I caught 19 pounds every day and even though I didn't quite make the (top-12) cut, I'm certain I could've gone out and caught 19 again. I had that much confidence in what I was doing."
Walker's professional record at Lake St. Clair is rather pedestrian – devoid of single-digit finishes, but lacking major bombs as well. He hopes to turn in a good one next week as it's a venue he visited often in his youth – he was born in Detroit and spent his entire youth in the area before relocating to Tennessee when he was 20.
"The fishing there has changed a lot over the years, but back then we were such novices," he said. "My dad and I would go out and drift nightcrawlers and minnows – we didn't have any electronics or anything like that.
"The good news about going into this one is a lot of the pressure of the whole Classic deal is off and I won't feel like I've got my head in a vise. Of course, I have to make sure I don't get complacent because that can make you not fish as well, too."
He's greatly looking forward to visiting renowned Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota for the 50-angler AOY Championship event, which will take place in September.
"I didn't get to fish in that one last year, so I'm chomping at the bit to get there."