KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The headline begs the question: Why would Chris Zaldain land a 6 1/2-pound bass in practice when you hear so much about other anglers bending down hook points and shaking off fish?
Answer: The goal in practice is to learn as much as you can, and sometimes you have to set the hook to gather all the information at hand, according to Zaldain.
“I caught a 6 1/2-pounder, and I learned a lot,” said Zaldain after completing the official practice day for the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’s Sporting Goods.
Zaldain landed a 5-pound smallmouth bass in the three-day pre-practice period that concluded Sunday. He now has a two-pronged approach – smallmouth and/or largemouth – depending on the weather when this three-day tournament begins Friday.
“Green (fish) or brown, rock or wood,” said Zaldain, the 34-year-old California native now residing in Fort Worth, Texas. “I’ll let the conditions tell me what to do and when to do it. When you practice for these Classics – a whole week in advance of game day – you have to let the conditions tell you what to do.”
And you have to know when to set the hook and when to shake them off.
“Everyone knows that everyone is fishing shallow,” Zaldain said. “You’re constantly checking shallow stretches. You shake off a few bites, but you just don’t know how big they are. When you switch types of banks, or areas that are just different than you’ve been fishing, the next bite I get I want to set the hook.
“I want to be rewarded for the decision I made. I checked the bite, and it was over 6 pounds, and I was like – BINGO! – there it is. There’s a slim chance I’m going to catch that fish on game day. And who’s to say I’m going to catch it if I’d shaken it off? I want to know, okay, that’s what I’m looking for over the next couple of hours. I feel like that outweighs just shaking it off and thinking, ‘I don’t know if that was a little one or a big one or a catfish.’ I want to know for sure it’s what I’m looking for.
“It’s very specific what I’m targeting. You can call your shots. There are three or four ingredients you’ve got to have for the largemouth. After I caught that big one at noon, I just started running around looking for more like it and marking waypoints.”
What Zaldain saw today was fish moving from the late winter pattern they were in through the weekend into an early pre-spawn pattern on Wednesday. With a cold front forecast for the weekend, he feels like he’s got a solid plan for however the weather affects the fish.
“This type of deal (he found Wednesday) is where they are going over the next couple of weeks,” Zaldain said. “How hard they’re going to push with our weather pattern, I don’t know. I know it’s going to get cold again. When that happens, I’ll fall right back on those smallmouth.”
Zaldain finished second in the second Elite Series tournament of the season, last month at Georgia’s Lake Lanier. While it was primarily a deep, spotted bass bite there, it was a tournament that required major adjustments on a daily basis, just like this Classic will probably require.
“I feeling like I’m fishing smart right now,” he said. “I’m coming off a little momentum from Lanier.”