Since leaving the St. Johns River just under two weeks ago, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Chris Zaldain has been through quite the roller coaster of challenges. After missing the cut in Florida, Zaldain jumped in his Tundra and drove 17 hours home to Fort Worth, Texas, in hopes of beating the winter weather forecasted for the weekend.
Zaldain made it home to his wife Trait and their “puppy children” Saturday night; the winter storm settled in Sunday evening. The once-in-a-hundred year storm ended up wreaking havoc on Texas, along with much of the rest of the country.
“The weather hit Sunday and had us in complete lockdown for six days straight,” Zaldain explained. “We got more snow, ice and cold temperatures than I’ve ever seen during my time in Texas. It was wild. Our house was one of the hundreds of thousands of homes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that lost power and heat. Constantly burning firewood allowed us to keep it about 43-degrees in our house for the two days we were without power.”
Instead of shorts and flip-flops like Zaldain was wearing in Florida, he and Trait had to break out the warmest Carhartt layers they owned while they hunkered down and waited for conditions to improve. Thankfully power came back on in their neighborhood and the weather got warmer, albeit slowly.
After a few anxious days of worrying if they’d even be able to make it to Tennessee, Zaldain and his cameraman Johnny allowed two-days of travel for what would normally be an easy one day drive due to the slick, hazardous roads.
The Yamaha Outboards pro had visions of big bass eating a Megabass MagDraft swimbait in current eddies occupying his mind throughout the entire drive to Knoxville, thanks to his experience in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on this fishery. But the Tennessee River is offering a completely different puzzle for Elite Series anglers this time around. He may have made it through the snowpocalypse in Texas, but Zaldain realized he had a whole new set of challenges in front of him.
“I loved how this place set up back in 2019, but as soon as I rolled into town I could tell it was a very different river,” Zaldain admitted. “The water is colder and much lower than the last time we were here. There is a substantial shad die-off and this system is fishing extremely tough right now, but we still gotta get the job done.”
3 keys to success this week
Zaldain had three layers of warm-weather Carhartt gear on as he launched his Skeeter-Yamaha on the final morning of official practice, hinting that spring has not yet sprung in east Tennessee.
The always dangerous Elite Series pro offered his three keys to success this week on the Tennessee River: Dealing with the weather, targeting 18-inch smallmouth and bringing five keeper bass to the scales each day.
“As hard as it is to believe, this part of the country is dealing with the same cold-weather system that just wreaked Texas,” Zaldain said with disbelief. “Good, bad or ugly dealing with what Mother Nature throws at you is always important during springtime. My second and third keys to success are related, because I am playing with fire this week and targeting smallmouth. Which means I need to focus on catching five keepers a day.
“Smallmouth bass have to be 18-inches to be considered a keeper on this stretch of the Tennessee River, and they are not easy to come by. We always want to bring five fish to the scales each day, but the guy who can catch five keeper smallmouth a day will have a great chance to win this derby.”
Zaldain’s ability to remain optimistic and roll with the punches has been on full display the past week. The eventual winner of this tournament will need to exhibit many of the same qualities. Don’t be surprised if the Zaldaingerous one channels some of his magic from the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on this fishery and finds himself near the top of the leaderboard by the time the weekend rolls around.