SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The West Coast dominance continued during Friday’s second round of the Sacramento Bassmaster Elite at Sacramento River, with four native Californians taking over the top of the standings.
Aaron Martens, who grew up in California and now lives in Alabama, caught five bass Friday that weighed 26 pounds, 9 ounces and took the lead with a two-day mark of 51-4.
The total was just enough to push him past Chris Zaldain, who is 6 ounces back in second with 50-14. After catching 30-7 Thursday, Zaldain added 20-7 Friday to stay within good striking distance of his second career win with B.A.S.S.
Justin Lucas – another California native who now resides in Alabama – is in third with 47-11, and California resident Ish Monroe is fourth with 45-4.
Most anglers near the top of the leaderboard are targeting shallow spawning fish 80 to 100 miles downriver in the California Delta, and they said some are easier to catch than others.
“I caught a 6-pounder right before I left to come back, and I made it back with two minutes to spare,” said Martens, who if late would have been penalized 1 pound per minute. “Some of these fish aren’t really spawning or even guarding fry, they’re just kind of there. The mornings are tough, because it’s been cold.
“It’s hard to find a big one that’s catchable.”
Martens said the tournament may hinge on deciding quickly which fish can be caught and which ones can’t.
“You’ve got to pick and choose which ones you’re going to spend an hour on,” Martens said. “That’s going to be the key to it. I’m making a long run, and I just don’t have much time to waste on a fish that’s never going to bite.”
Zaldain, whose bag Thursday was anchored by a 12-pound lunker, turned in a respectable effort Friday with five fish that averaged more than 4 pounds apiece. But the lack of a true giant allowed Martens to slip past him.
The San Jose native fished new areas Friday, trying to avoid the ever-increasing boat traffic in the Delta.
“Where I caught the 12-pounder yesterday, I just went right past it today,” Zaldain said. “There were a lot of boats in there, and I know there’s a tournament coming up tomorrow. So I went to a new area, just a discreet main-river bank.”
With less pressure from boat traffic, Zaldain caught a 5-pounder and a 6-pounder off a single bed in one of the new areas he fished Friday. But his technique options were limited compared to what he experienced Thursday.
“The three patterns that worked yesterday shriveled down to only one that worked today,” Zaldain said. “But that could be a different story tomorrow. Today, it was slick, calm and hot, and it seemed like every fish in my area wanted to go to the banks to spawn.”
Zaldain said he hopes to keep making the right decisions as conditions change in the Delta.
“I’m just being reactionary,” he said. “If something changes — like the weather or the tide — I just want to react to it. I’m not going to go and get locked in to one certain thing or one certain area.”
After catching 21-13 Thursday, Lucas began Friday’s round just hoping to catch enough fish to make the Top 52 cut. But his day evolved in a way that pleased the large contingent of friends, family and fans he had in the crowd.
“My goal this morning was to go out and get 10 pounds to make sure that I was going to make the cut and get a $10,000 check,” Lucas said. “I got a huge bonus fish – a 6-10 that I didn’t expect to catch – and a couple of 3-pounders.”
From there, Lucas decided to rely on his past knowledge of the California Delta to upgrade a five-fish limit that weighed about 16 pounds. He said he went to areas he hadn’t fished in 10 years and found they were still productive.
“I made a long run just trying to find new fish,” Lucas said. “I wanted some stuff that guys haven’t seen and haven’t been through yet. Bedding fish generally use the same hard banks, and they were right in the same places I used to find them.”
Some of the 52 remaining anglers who will fish Saturday were concerned about possible heavy boat traffic this weekend. The Delta will host the Coors Light “Silver Bullet” Delta Championship on Saturday and Sunday and the California Bass Federation event on Sunday.
Monroe said other tournaments won’t be an issue for him as he begins Saturday in fourth place.
“The Coors Light tournament is a 60-boat tournament, and that’ll basically be the 60 boats we’re going to lose (from the Elite field) today,” Monroe said. “The 60-boat tournament on Saturday will be cut down to 20 for Sunday, and the Federation tournament on Sunday will only have 40 boats.
“Some people are blowing that out of proportion. There’s plenty of fish out there for everybody.”
The tournament will resume Saturday with a 6:15 a.m. PT take-off from Discovery Park in Sacramento. The weigh-in will be held at the park at 3:15 p.m., with only the top 12 anglers advancing to Sunday’s final round.