Color code

Around 8:30, Jeremy Heimes came tight on a stout fish, but quickly tilted his head with a despaired sigh.

His partner Micky Gibbs joked: “Get a marker.”

That color change reference provided a little comic relief to the frustration of hooking the wrong species — a black drum.

Redfish (Sciaenops ocelatus) are properly known as red drum, a close relative to the black drum (Pogonias cromis), which is not eligible for tournament entry. Side by side, the two are unmistakably distinct, with black drum sporting a taller profile, longer pectoral fins, fleshy chin barbels and a lighter base coloration painted with dark vertical bars.

Similar to the relationship between freshwater drum and bass, black drum and redfish like the same habitats and forage; so while competitors loathe wasting tournament time on an ineligible species, these incidental catches definitely indicate a favorable area.

High slot weight

The term “upper slot” or “high slot fish” refers to a redfish pushing the top end of the tournament’s 20- to 28-inch slot limit. Bassmaster Elite Chris Zaldain just boated an upper slot red that weighed 8 pounds on the BogaGrip — the biggest recorded catch of  Day 1. (All weights are unofficial until weigh-ins.)

With this upgrade, Zaldain and Rickard pulled within 4 ounces of Elite Redfish Tour pros Glenn Vann and Thomas Barlow. Having made a long run, Zaldain and Rickard wrapped up their day to allow themselves ample return time.

Aransas so different since Rickard’s last trip

Capt. Ryan Rickard, teaming with Elite Series pro Chris Zaldain, said the places he fished around Port Aransas just six weeks ago are not in play for him this week.

Fisheries can change day to day for any anglers, but especially saltwater anglers.

“Everything is different,” Rickard said. “Me being here just a little more than month ago, you wouldn’t think it would change that much. But they’re so many things changing. The water temperature is way different. It’s 12 degrees cooler. Water clarity is different, the location of the bait that’s holding is different. We have a boundary now. It’s been a little challenging. Yesterday we got a pattern figured out.”

The team certainly did, upgrading late in the day with Zaldain’s 8-pounder that put them in second place, just 4 ounces out of the lead on the unofficial estimates on RedTrakk.

And expect more changes for Day 2. Winds around 30 mph are forecast for Saturday, which will alter plans for most of the 10 teams.

Barlow, Vann prepared for shallow beatdown

Capt. Thomas Barlow and teammate Glenn Vann were pretty confident they’d have their area to themselves. The Texans went far back Corpus Christi Bay up into the Nueces Delta Preserve.

“This week end we’re going in 8 inches of water — shallow as we can,” Barlow said. “We found groups of fish that no one else in this tournament has looked at. I’ve got the shallowest boat in this tournament.”

With their 25-foot Haynie Magnum that Vann designed, the pair led on RedTrakk much of Day 1. They had two redfish estimated at 15 pounds, 4 ounces to stand about a quarter of a pound ahead of Bassmaster Elite Series pro and teammate Capt. Ryan Rickard.

The deal with the Haynie is that Vann’s design, with a console and fuel tank more centered to offset the weight of the 350 hp Suzuki, they can get into super skinny water.

“We pulled everything out of the boat to make it as light as possible,” Vann said, noting they took out about 200 to 300 pounds of extra weight to make up for the addition of a cameraman.

Menendez 'flips' big reds

While a few of the bass pros competing in the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter brought modest levels of saltwater experience, the general question lingered: Will their freshwater skills play any significant role?

Consider that question answered.

Partnering with multi-species pro Ricky Bort, veteran Elite pro Mark Menendez has boated two hefty keepers by essentially flipping a Texas-rigged Strike King Rage Craw close to a vegetated hard line.

Not unlike the technique he used to place fifth at the 2021 Elite season opener on the St. Johns River, his patient presentation apparently allowed him to keep a crustacean profile in a redfish feeding lane. 

Menendez noted: “Strike King Rage Craw — don’t leave home without it."

Grip that lip

Bass fans accustomed to seeing anglers “lipping” fish or gripping them over the gill plates while removing hooks might be wondering why redfish anglers hold their fish with this metal device clipped to their lower jaw. 

It’s called a BogaGrip, and it’s designed to securely and humanely hold a fish, while simultaneously providing an accurate weight. A gripping sleeve slides over a handled metal tube with a spring system that locks and releases the smooth tipped jaws. 

The built-in scale is calibrated with certified weights and anglers pursuing world records can send their BogaGrip to the International Gamefish Association in Dania Beach, Fla., for official certification. 

Best part about the BogaGrip design — the more a fish thrashes, the more securely it grips (without injuring the fish). Redfish are cranky creatures that seem to take great offense at anglers interrupting their daily feed, but once you lock the BogaGrip shut, it’ll hold its ground until you manually open the jaws.

That security comes in handy for culling, as well as simply removing baits. Remember, unlike a bass’ forward facing mouth, a red’s mug faces downward. That awkward angle gives an ornery redfish the opportunity to transfer the hook from his mouth to your hand. 

The Boga’s secure grip and linear design offer an easy prevention. No handles to squeeze — just lock the jaws and hold on tightly.

Experience has taught anglers to prevent the costly loss of a dropped BogaGrip — easy to do when negotiating with an irritated redfish — so most add large floats to their BogaGrip handle lanyards. 

It’s not uncommon to see bass anglers weighing fish on the water with scales that clip to a fish’s jaw. The Boga Grip accomplishes the same task, but with a more secure grip that’ll outlast a little redfish temper tantrum.

Day 1 begins

Above, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Patrick Walters steers his way out of Fisherman’s Wharf on Day 1 of the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter.

Below, Bassmaster Opens pro Trait Zaldain and redfish pro Matt McCabe discuss their Day 1 plans.