Adams and O’Connell win Redfish Cup in wire-to-wire fashion

PORT ARANSAS, Texas — One-trick ponies seldom win races, but Sean O’Connell of Mandeville, La., and Edward Adams of Metairie, La., proved they were nothing of the sort by adapting to changing conditions and securing a wire-to-wire win at the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter with a three-day total of 48 pounds, 3 ounces.

On Day 1, the 2022 Redfish World Series champions took the lead with a two-fish limit of 16-10. O’Connell and Adams held onto the top spot on Day 2 with 15-3, also the day’s best. Not to blow their streak, the winners turned in the heaviest limit of Day 3 with two reds that weighed 16-6.

For their efforts, O’Connell and Adams took home $75,000.

“There’s been a rumor that I can’t win outside of (Louisiana), but I guess this crushes that rumor,” Adams joked. “This is more than I could hope for. I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s my first win out of state, so it’s a really big deal.”

O’Connell echoed that sentiment and noted the scale of this week’s win did a lot to advance the sport.

“The stage that we were fishing and the platform that B.A.S.S. created is unparalleled by anything I’ve ever fished in redfishing,” he said. “We’ve never been able to fish live and have the BassTrakk live standings.

“People now get to see what we do. This brought redfishing to a new stage and I can’t thank B.A.S.S. enough.”

O’Connell and Adams increased their margin each day. In the first round, they established a 13-ounce lead over the all-star team of Bassmaster Elite Series veteran Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, and IFA Redfish Tour standout Ryan Rickard of Brandon, Fla., who won last year’s event. Day 2 saw the leaders widen the gap with a 2-3 lead, again with Zaldain and Rickard in second.

Day 3 saw O’Connell and Adams surge across the finish line by a margin of 3-14 over the defending champs.

For two days, the winners had diligently worked a pattern of long drifts across shallow grass flats in Laguna Madre, south of Port Aransas. With dim skies draping the Texas coast, Day 1 brought southeast winds of 15 to 20 mph, with Day 2 blowing at least as hard out of the northeast.

Both days, O’Connell and Adams had to use a drift sock to control their speed for efficient coverage with their swimbaits on 3/8-ounce jigheads. Day 3, however, brought much less wind and that eliminated their ability to drift.

“We made two adjustments,” Adams said. “First, Sean tied on a Yo-Zuri topwater so he could make longer casts and I added a Seaguar fluorocarbon leader to my PowerPro braid (because of the clarity).”

At 7:45 a.m., the topwater broke the ice with a high-slot red that went 7-10. The leaders endured a couple of hours with a lone keeper in the boat before adding one around 3 pounds.

Mid-morning, they had a shot to blow the doors off with a tank of a redfish that crushed O’Connell’s topwater, but the fish measured just over the 28-inch maximum. Fortunately, they’d boat another giant just before 11 a.m. and this one went 8 3/4 pounds and measured just under 28.

“That’s as close as it gets,” Adams said during the Bassmaster Redfish LIVE coverage. “That could be $75,000 right there.”

Zaldain and Rickard posted daily weights of 15-13, 13-13 and 14-11 for a tournament total of 44-5. Throughout the event, the anglers caught fish on a 6-inch Bass Mafia Daingerous swimbait on a 7/0, 1/4-ounce belly-weighted hook, 4-inch paddletails and 1/4-ounce Aqua Dream spoons.

“Today, the spoon produced both of the fish we weighed and I went to a 3/8-ounce to get more distance,” Rickard said.

After fishing a protected area of the upper Laguna Madre between Padre Island and the Intracoastal Waterway, Zaldain and Rickard were hopeful that the final day’s calm, sunny conditions would crack the whip on the big fish they had located.

“There was so much boat traffic in the area we wanted to fish,” Rickard said. “First thing this morning when we pulled in, it was right; we had fish pushing, we had fish tailing — they were there.

“Within about 30 minutes of us arriving on the flat, there was so much drive-through (recreational) traffic that those fish got very aware and they just didn’t want to cooperate.”

Late in the day, the anglers relocated to a backup spot in Corpus Christi Bay and located another group of big redfish. Plucking two good ones from that area gave them their finishing weight.

Zaldain said the experience has heightened his fishing knowledge. “I’ve been on the Bassmaster Elite Series for 10 years, but I have learned so much from Ryan; he is an absolute redfish hammer.”

The all-star team of Elite Series champion and 2019 Rookie of the Year Drew Cook of Cairo, Ga., and Elite Redfish Series pro Kevin Akin of Corpus Christi, Texas, finished third with 43-14. Posting 13-11 on Day 1 put them in fourth place and their second round catch of 14-4 moved them up a notch. In the final round, Cook and Akin turned in their best catch — 15-15.

At the Day 2 weigh-in, Cook alluded to a certain strategy point that he and Akin figured out late in the day. Leveraging this knowledge paid off big in the final round.

“We probably caught more fish today than the first two days combined,” Cook said. “What we figured out was to turn off the electronics. The transducer was pinging and as soon as we turned that off yesterday, we caught five.

“Today, we never ran it and we caught them all day long. It seemed like they were getting a lot closer to the boat and we weren’t catching them only on the superlong casts.”

Cook and Akin caught their fish on soft-body swimbaits with what Akin called a “cracking” technique. Essentially, they would make a cast, let the bait fall and then erratically twitch it in place, rather than immediately starting a forward retrieve. Keeping the bait near the point of entry gave fish time to react to the splash.

The 2022 Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter was hosted by the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau & Chamber of Commerce.