I’m all ears this year

Chris Zaldain

At the halfway point in this year’s Bassmaster Elite Series campaign, I’m 14th in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and feeling good about how things are going. Last year I was down in 60th place at the halfway point. Wow! What a difference a year makes.

I’ve been reflecting on the first five events to determine what I’ve done differently this year. How did I go from having a terrible season last year to enjoying a very good start this time around?

The reason is I’ve been really listening to what the fish are telling me. That has become something of a cliché among bass anglers, but it’s certainly true in my case.

In other words, I’m not going into a tournament trying to make the bass bite what I want to throw. My preference is slinging big swimbaits and topwater lures. I listened to the bass in the first five Elite events, and they told me I needed to do something else.

The first two tournaments of the season were prespawn events in my home state of Texas. Toledo Bend and Lake Fork teem with heavyweight largemouth and, on paper, the prespawn is premier swimbait time.

But in both of those tournaments it took me one day of practice to realize, “Hey Chris, if you want to make it to the Bassmaster Classic at Fort Worth you better put that swimbait down and actually try to catch fish.”

The shaky weather at both events was more conducive to spinning tackle and finesse presentations. Fishing a Neko rig, a drop shot and a jig head minnow 12 to 15 deep was what the bass told me to do.

Those tournaments set the pace for me over the next three events. I felt like I was back in the groove, working hard and listening to the fish. There are no shortcuts or silver platters in this game. It takes good old fashion hard work. If you put in the time and listen to the fish, they will lead you to a good finish.

Going into the Florida Swing, I expected swimming a Junebug worm and other soft-bait tactics would be the way to go. But I listened to the bass and wound up catching them at the Harris Chain and the St. Johns River on a topwater frog.

At the recent tournament on Lake Murray, everyone else focused on blueback herring and schooling fish in the mid-lake region. That pattern dominated, but the bass told me to fish 15 to 20 feet deep in clearer water on the lower lake with a drop shot and a Neko rig. That resulted in a top 30 finish and a nice haul of AOY points.

I’m looking forward to the month-long break until the next Elite tournament. I may not pick up a fishing rod the whole time. I plan on doing some spring cleaning around the shop and the house. And, of course, I’ve got to catch up with all the yard work that didn’t get done while I was away.

That being said, the next tournament at Wheeler Lake in mid-June will be playing on my mind. At that time of year on a Tennessee River impoundment you’re talking offshore ledge fishing with deep crankbaits.

But I intend to be 100% focused on listening to what the fish are telling me. If they say they want deep crankbaits, I’m all about it. Should they want me to fish anywhere else, from shallow to deep and with other baits, I’m all ears.