This is a flip-flop lake

FORT WORTH, Texas — When Chris Zaldain says this Bassmaster Classic is going to be “a one-day tournament, three days in a row,” he’s not referring to some personal mantra, like “stay in the moment” or “one day at a time.” He’s referring to the nature of Lake Ray Roberts, which he also describes as “a flip-flop lake.”

No other angler in the 54-man field will have spent more time on this lake than Zaldain when the 51st Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk begins Thursday. The 29,000-acre lake is located 45 minutes from Zaldain’s home in Fort Worth. He’s practiced extensively – twice – for this Classic, first before the off-limits period when the tournament was originally scheduled in March, and then before it went off-limits at the re-scheduled date.

And Zaldain has experienced the ultimate example of how this lake can go from hot to cold overnight. After the Elite Series tournament at Pickwick Lake on March 18-21, the weekend when the Classic was originally scheduled, Zaldain showed what’s possible at Lake Ray Roberts. His best five were as follows: 9.65 lbs., 7.23 lbs., 6.48 lbs., 5.64 lbs. and 4.50 lbs. That’s a total of 33 ½ pounds.

“It’s very hard to duplicate what you did yesterday,” Zaldain said. “The day after I caught 33 ½ pounds, I went out the next day, in the exact same conditions, and caught one fish.

“This is such a flip-flop lake. You do not catch them in the same areas, the same patterns, the same lures three days in a row. Every day is a new day, no matter what time of year, even in the springtime. I think it’s because the population of bass is just not like Lake Fork or Rayburn or Toledo Bend. It’s a big-fish place, but there aren’t very many of them.”

For that reason, no matter what happens on the first day of this Classic, no one should get overconfident or too discouraged.

“A guy could be in 25th or 30th after Day 1, and be in contention on Sunday,” Zaldain said. “I think 16 to 18 pounds is going to be a good day, and I think a lot of guys will have 12- to 13-pound bags.”

Zaldain doesn’t expect to see one of those 30-pound bags caught during the Classic. He won a new truck after catching the big bass at the 2016 Texas Toyota Bass Classic. It weighed 7.14 pounds, and he caught it flipping bushes. That will undoubtedly be the dominant method for this field over the next three days, as the lake is four feet high and there are acres and acres of flooded vegetation.

“If a mega, mega bag is going to be caught,” Zaldain said, “it’s going to be on an offshore spot where the fish just decided, hey, it’s 92 degrees today, I’m going to get offshore and start thinking about summertime.”

Plenty of anglers have spent time looking for those offshore fish in practice this week. If anyone has found them, they’re not talking about it, of course. But several anglers have mentioned how they planned to fish offshore when they arrived at Lake Ray Roberts, and they’re planning to flip bushes now.

Zaldain plans to do his share of that, with a twist or two thrown in. Whether any of his extensive time on this lake pays off will come down to his familiarity with it.

“The advantage I have is I know the personality of this place, and I know how to get around it from all those days I spent here in the offseason,” he said. “I think the whole Classic “Bassmaster LIVE” show is going to be flipping bushes. I really want to put on a show with a big bait, crashing it through the bushes.”

If that doesn’t happen Friday, he will try it again on Saturday. No one has experienced the flip-flop nature of Lake Ray Roberts like Chris Zaldain.