‘Honey Badger’ Zaldain

Don’t let that wide, quick smile fool you: Chris Zaldain has adopted the honey badger as a sort of mascot for his 2012 season debut in the Bassmaster Elite Series.

Indigenous to Africa, Southwest Asia and India, the honey badger has a rep as a fearless, take-what-it-wants forager. It will withstand hundreds of bee stings to get to a stash of honey. It will eat a cobra, venom and all. That’s the animal Zaldain, age 27, decided to depict on the back of his new boat wrap.

“That’s kind of my approach to the Elite Series, and how I am on the water,” Zaldain said.

Here’s an illustration of that: Zaldain recently returned from his best friend’s destination wedding in Roatan, a paradise island off the coast of Honduras. The wedding was probably great, but most people wouldn’t find that out by talking to Zaldain. He was all about the fishing.

One morning at daybreak, he paddled out about a mile from shore in a kayak. He was armed with a spinning outfit brought from home and a crab-imitation bait he bought in Roatan. He started hooking reef fish — a small barracuda or two, a few others. Then something big hit the lure.

“All of a sudden, a hundred yards of line peel off my reel. I didn’t know what it was, but I tried to chase it down. I had it on for 10 minutes before it got me caught up in a reef and broke me off,” he related.

A snapping shark? Probably not, but he’ll never know what he was prepared to pull aboard a small kayak. His best guess was that the fish was a 15- to 20-pound permit.

“I was a little ticked off I lost it. Whatever it is, I always want to get it in the boat,” he said.

The Elite Series rookie from San Jose, Calif., picked up his new boat in Texas last week and had it wrapped there. It’s a Skeeter FX20 powered by a 250 hp Yamaha V MAX SHO. The color scheme is a striking blue-and-white with matching blue twin Power-Poles. Skeeter gets top billing, along with Yamaha, Skinny Bear Bass Jigs, Top Shelf Swimbaits, Seaguar, Powell Rods, the web site of California retailer Hi’s Tackle Box, Power-Pole, Basszone.com — and the before-mentioned honey badger.

Zaldain rigged his new boat himself. He installed the hot foot, electronics, Power-Poles and every other piece of equipment he wants to run this season. He used mechanical skills learned in his former career as a maintenance technician for a semi-conductor maker.

“If something fails out on the water, if you rigged the boat yourself, you can try to troubleshoot the problem,” he said. “You know exactly where to look, where your power sources are, etc. That means I am less likely to lose precious fishing time.”

Zaldain said he’ll team up this week with another rookie, Kevin Ledoux of Choctaw, Okla., to scout Toledo Bend, site of the Elite Series’ fifth stop in June, and work any kinks out of his new rig. Then the two rookies will caravan to Florida in time for the March 12-14 official practice for the season opener on the St. Johns River out of Palatka, Fla.

The California angler has never set foot in the state of Florida. He used the Internet to research the Elite Series’ Florida stops. His California Delta experience is going to help him, he said.

“We do nothing but shallow grass fishing on the Delta, and from what I hear, read and see, Florida is all shallow grass fishing,” Zaldain said. “And it’s tidal, although without the big tidal swing the Delta has. I think I’ll fit right in.”