"Help make me a superstar." Perhaps Chris Zaldain was joking when he made the declaration to a reporter who requested an interview after he finished seventh in a Bassmaster tournament last week. But the California angler is very serious about becoming a full-time pro.
Having fished ponds as a kid and competed on big California fisheries since he was a teen, Zaldain, 26, now wants to qualify for the top level of competition. In his book, that's the Bassmaster Elite Series. "I'm at the point in my career where I'd love to compete in the Elite Series," he said.
"I've been fishing the FLW circuit for four years now, and I feel it's time to step up to the (Open) level and try for the Elite qualification and the Classic berth you can win." One of his first tests as an Open angler was the 1,700-mile drive from his home in San Jose, Calif., to Lewisville, Texas, for the Feb. 24-26 season opener of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens.
It was a 25-hour grind, but he made it without incident. It wasn't his first trip to other parts of the country; he's fished as far east as the rivers that run through Pittsburgh, Pa. The Lewisville Lake event was his first Bassmaster pro entry.
He had competed as a Bassmaster co-angler in 2004-2005 when B.A.S.S. brought several events to the West Coast. In those tournaments, Zaldain said he learned from many pros, including Ish Monroe, Robert Lee, Jared Lintner and others Zaldain called "West Coast legends." He's never met Skeet Reese, but Zaldain has followed his career for years and learned from him, too.
Zaldain was a successful co-angler, cashing a check in every event he entered. His turning point was winning a boat in 2005. "I used that boat to learn how to operate one," he said. "I started to fish local pro-ams. Bassmaster no longer came out to California, so I fished the FLW National Guard Series. I qualified for the FLW Forest Wood Cup for four years in a row through the series.
Now I feel it's time to try for the Elite Series." He figures he'll have to produce two more Top 12s to get one of the Elite Series invitations B.A.S.S. will extend to the top five pros in the points standings after the three-event season ends in September. For the first time, a 2012 Classic entry is being awarded to the winner of each of the nine Open events (three in each Open division).
Coincidentally, the Central Open season will conclude Sept. 10, the day before Zaldain's 27th birthday. "To win one then and make the Classic and make the Elites would be awesome," he said.