FRISCO, Texas – Chris Zaldain is from San Jose, Calif., but turns out he has a north Texas connection.
Zaldain’s wife, Trait, hails from Fort Worth, which isn’t far from Lake Ray Roberts, where the 10th annual Toyota Texas Bass Classic began on Friday. He’s fished the lake a half dozen times or so in the past, and he made mental notes on where to head should his professional career ever lead him to the impoundment located in Denton, an hour north of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
It finally did, and boy did the Bassmaster Elite Series pro make his past experience pay off.
Zaldain stormed to the Day 1 lead in the TTBC with a haul of 21 pounds, 4 ounces. The bag was capped with a 7-pound, 12-ounce lunker that also was the biggest bass caught by any of the 38 anglers in the field.
That big catch was presented at the Toyota Texas Fest at Toyota Stadium in Frisco late Friday afternoon. Eleven anglers chose to bring their heaviest fish to the stage, as the heaviest fish caught during the three-day tournament will net one angler the Toyota Tundra Big Bass Award, as well as a 2016 Tundra truck.
Of course, the winner of the tournament overall will win $100,000 in cash, and a Nitro Z20 with dual Power-Poles.
And Zaldain gave himself a good start in both races with his showing on Friday.
“I kind of know what areas of the lake are good this time of year,” Zaldain said. “I put myself in those areas during the two days of practice out here, and it was blown out (with wind.) Where I caught that 7-12 fish today, I was fighting 3-foot (waves) a few days ago. I was on the trolling motor just fighting to stay in position on the spot.
“I remember thinking ‘Make a mental note to come back to this spot. This looks great. Come back and fish it in the tournament.’ I waited until about 12 o’clock today and when I went through there, I got the big one. I never got a bite there in practice, but I’ve got to keep myself in the areas I know are good.”
Zaldain said he was throwing reaction-type baits and covering a lot of water on Day 1.
“I was fishing fast and trying to get a reaction strike in the morning,” he said. “There were a lot of bites, but not big ones. Just a lot of limit fillers. On a place like Ray Roberts, there are big ones, but not a lot of quantity. So you need those limit fillers to give you the confidence to go big fishing later in the day.”
Alabama’s Matt Herren, another Elite Series angler, is in second place with a 19-8 total. The difference in his bag was a kicker that weighed 6-4.
“The weight makes it look like I had a good day, but at 2 o’clock, I had four fish for 11 pounds,” Herren said. “I’m really needing the sun to come out. The clouds (earlier in the week and in the morning on Friday) affected what I’m doing. I’ve caught quality fish out here every day since I’ve been here, and I know how to catch a bigger one. It’s just timing, and area. I’ve never seen this lake (before this tournament,) so I’m kind of adjusting as I go.”
Herren said he’s dialing in on what the bass in Ray Roberts are doing, he just “needs to find more areas.” With sunny skies forecast for the remainder of the weekend, he’s optimistic about his chances to hang around the lead.
“I was disappointed that my two primary areas didn’t produce,” he said. “We’re chasing falling water big time right now. Why they decided to drain the lake right now, I don’t know. But it affected the bite … So it’s going to be a matter of buckling down, adjusting every day, and hoping you get five of the right bites.”
Bryan Thrift, the 2012 TTBC Champion when the tournament was held on Lake Conroe, is currently in third place with a 19-4 total. His big bass of 6-12 was the third heaviest of the day.
“Today started out a lot better than I thought it was going to,” Thrift said. “We had some cloud cover early, so I just picked up a top-water, Damiki Rambler Buzzbait and went down the bank covering water, and caught a lot of fish doing that. I caught some cranking a Damiki Crankbait. I had a good day.”
Thrift, who hails from North Carolina and fishes on the FLW Tour, said the changing weather helped him.
“It made the lake more fishable than what we had in practice,” he said. “We had a lot of waves in practice and that stirred it up and made it dirty. I think It opened up a little more of the lake today. Just with it calming down, the water cleared up a little bit and it seemed like the fish just bit a lot better.”
FLW Tour pro Dave Lefebre, who won the 2009 TTBC, was in fourth place after Friday’s action with a 19-pound sack. Elite Series stalwart Aaron Martens was in fifth with 18-8. Scott Martin, the 2015 FLW Angler of the Year, is in sixth with 18-0, and there is a three-way tie for seventh between Jason Christie, Jordan Lee, and Justin Lucas. who all fish on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Each of those anglers had a total of 17-4.
Lee had the second-heaviest bass of the day with a fish weighing 7-4.
Kelly Jordon, who was instrumental in helping start the TTBC a decade ago, is in 10th place overall with 17 pounds. Two dangerous anglers sit just outside the Top 10 – Kevin VanDam (11th, 16-12) won the Bassmaster Elite Series stop on Toledo Bend in Louisiana last week, and Keith Combs (12th, 16-4) is a three-time winner of the TTBC.
The top 15 anglers from the 2015 Toyota Elite Series Angler of the Year standings are fishing, as are the top 15 in last year’s Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year race. Eight anglers also earned exemptions to fish in what is considered one of the most competitive bass fishing events of the year.
Day 2 of the tournament will begin at 7 a.m. at Lake Ray Roberts State Park in Denton. Admission is free. The Toyota Texas Fest, complete with food, drink, live country music concerts, an outdoors expo and much more, will be held at Toyota Stadium in Frisco from noon-10 p.m. The weigh-in will begin at 5:30 p.m. Events at Toyota Stadium require a ticket.
The TTBC is a benefit for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s youth fishing and urban outreach programs.