PORT ARANSAS, Texas – Ryan Rickard and Chris Zaldain know what it feels like to finish in second place. Rickard has accumulated 17 second-place finishes in his redfish tournament career. Zaldain endured three runnerup finishes in the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series season alone. Zaldain’s lone win on the Elite Series came in 2015 when the won the Angler of the Year Championship but the only trophy for that event was for the Elite Series AOY Champion for the season.
Rickard and Zaldain have first place trophies now. They posted the second-biggest two-fish limit of the three-day Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Championship – 17 pounds, 5 ounces – to win with a total of 43-4. Derek Hudnall and Ron Hueston were second with 40-8.
Editor’s note: See photos of Rickman’s and Zaldain’s huge Day 3
“I apologize for my emotions,” said Rickard, 43, who lives in Tampa, Fla. “I’ve been doing this since 2008. I’ve been on this stage and I’ve been bumped so many times. I can’t even express the emotions I feel right now. I feel like I’m about to faint.”
In retrospect, it seems that Ryan Rickard and Chris Zaldain were destined to win.
“I could not have been paired with a better partner,” Rickard said. “There’s so much to be said for camaraderie in the boat. And literally from the first phone call I had with him, I knew it was the right fit. He thinks so similarly to me.
“I was a little nervous going into this thing. I didn’t want to step on his toes. This guy is a pro. I didn’t want to be the guy trying to tell him what to do. But he really kind of took a backseat and said, you tell us what to do, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Said Zaldain, “As soon as Capt. Ryan Rickard showed me the pattern and what to look for, I picked up on it real quick.”
Rickard seemingly knew before the tournament began what it was going to take to win this event, where the redfish had to measure 20 to 28 inches in length to be a legal catch. After they finished third on Day 1 with 14-10, Rickard said, “I went into today saying I would love to come out with 14-plus pounds. I don’t care if we’re in sixth place, 10th place, first place, it didn’t matter for us. With the fish we’ve got to go back to, we’ve got a great opportunity to get this done.”
They fell off that 7-pound average a bit on Day 2 with 11-5 but stayed in third place. They got back on average, and more, with 17-5 Sunday. Rickard’s prediction of six fish averaging seven pounds was right on the mark, as 42-0 would have won, and they managed to top that.
“We must have caught over 40 fish today,” Zaldain said. “I think we released like 10 seven-pounders and four eight-pounders. He culled out two of my 8s. He caught two 8 1/2s.”
Said Rickard, “Today was so special. I’ve never had a final day like today was.”
Added Zaldain, with a smile, “To have a Bassmaster win and not catch any bass is something special.”
There’s another special aspect to the victory for the 37-year-old Fort Worth resident. Zaldain entered the tournament with B.A.S.S. career winnings totaling $976,287. Splitting the $50,000 winners’ check with Rickard puts Zaldain over the $1 million mark.