Zaldain headed for home

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After seeing his weight drop precipitously for the second day in a row, Chris Zaldain is headed towards home. Oh, he’s fishing on the final day of the Sacramento Bassmaster Elite, but he’s going to do it a lot closer to his hometown of San Jose than where he’s spent the past three days in the California Delta.

“I’m going to pull the chute on that whole deal,” said Zaldain, whose weight has dropped from 30 pounds, 7 ounces on Day 1 to 20-7 on Day 2 to 9-14 Saturday. “I’m going to give up on that sight-fishing thing up north where I’ve been fishing, go south and follow that high water.”

It’s not like Zaldain is so far out of the lead that he must take a big gamble. He’s in third place, 6-2 behind leader Justin Lucas, who has 66-14. But to win, Zaldain must reverse a downward trend. And he thinks the timing is right, finally, to make a big change in tactics.

“I love the south Delta,” he said. “The tide hasn’t been right – until tomorrow. I haven’t fished it since practice, but I had some really, really good bites in practice on high water.”

Instead of the normal 90-minute run from Sacramento to the northern part of the Delta that he’s been making, Zaldain estimates it will take closer to two hours to get where he wants to go Sunday.

“I need one clue to let me know what window they’re biting in,” he said. “Once I get that, I can hit four or five spots quickly. A 30-pound bag can happen in 15 minutes, literally 15 minutes.”

Lucas is going to do a little of that high-tide fishing as well, but not with such a drastic plan. He’s going to copy his game plan from Day 2, when he caught 16 pounds on higher water early, then went sight-fishing and culled up to 25-14. Lucas didn’t think he could do that again Saturday.

“The wind was really blowing and it was going to be rough getting out there,” he said. “Today I went three hours without ever getting a bite, doing what I thought I could to get a bite. So (Sunday) I’m going back out there early.”

Time is so precious in this event, where the long boat runs eat three to four hours out of a nine-hour day on the water. And if you’re trying to get a big female on a spawning bed to bite, it can create some high tension about whether to stay on that fish or move on to the next. Lucas coaxed an 8 ½-pounder into biting Saturday, and it saved his day. That one bass was nearly half the weight in his 19-3 five-bass limit.

“It depends on how they’re acting,” said Lucas on when he decides to stay or go. “Yesterday I spent an hour and 12 minutes on a big one. Today that big one took maybe 35 minutes.”

Aaron Martens has the best chance of overtaking Lucas, as he starts the day only 3-0 back. But after a 5 ½-pounder bit early Saturday morning, Martens had an excruciating time simply filling a limit, which weighed only 12-10.

Dean Rojas is in fourth place, 7-7 behind Lucas. He isn’t exactly the picture of confidence going into Sunday.

“I’m just fishing an area,” Rojas said. “The fish are in there and I don’t have anyone else in there. I’ve caught four big ones the last three days, but I don’t know what’s left.”

Rojas doesn’t know because he’s not sight-fishing. None of the bass in his three-day total of 59-7 have been caught sight-fishing spawning beds, he said.

“I’m flipping the bank, just fishing,” Rojas said.

Zaldain is easily taking the biggest gamble Sunday. At the other extreme is Rojas, who is simply going back to what has worked for him all week. Lucas and Martens are somewhere in between, trying to take what they’ve learned the last three days and apply it to other areas on Day 4.

There’s such a fine line between success and failure in this event, it’s difficult to predict a favorite to win the $100,000 first-place prize. First place and 12th place are separated by 12 pounds, 7 ounces. While it’s difficult to see a last-to-first rally by Chris Lane on Sunday, with so many anglers having seen so many big bass in the Delta all week, certainly anything is possible.

“I really wish I was within five pounds,” said Jason Christie, who is 10-9 back in ninth. “Ten pounds is hard to make up because somebody in the top five is going to catch 25 pounds. I’ve seen 35- or 40-pound bags (in the water) every day, but the chances of catching them are slim.”