Redfish: Menendez, Bort lead Day 1

PORT ARANSAS, Texas — One partner chose the spot, one chose the bait and teamwork gave Bassmaster Elite Series champion Mark Menendez and veteran multispecies pro Ricky Bort a two-fish limit of 15 pounds, 1 ounce to lead Day 1 of the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter.

Heading into Day 2, Menendez and Bort hold a 1-ounce lead over Elite Redfish Tour pros Glenn Vann and Thomas Barlow.

“Not bad for Team Geritol,” Menendez joked of he and Bort’s age (both late 50s). “We had a great day. Ricky and I met a long time ago; we actually fished a championship tournament in the late ’90s, so we’ve known each other through Skeeter Boats for a long time.”

Their familiarity bred a competitive camaraderie that translated into strategic efficiency. Leaning on Bort’s saltwater experience, the anglers started their day in what Bort termed a “culling area” about 8 miles north of the Fisherman’s Wharf takeoff site. After boating one keeper around 8:30 a.m., they ran 54 miles east and spent the rest of their day in a narrow, protected ditch.

“It’s a really unique little place,” Menendez said. “We’re just being really stealthy, trying not to stir things up and watching really good.

“Our timing was perfect today. After Ricky got a good fish in the boat, we picked up stakes, ran to our (main) spot and got lucky and got a couple of good bites.”

Both of those redfish ate a classic bass fishing rig that Menendez has successfully used in multiple Elite events. He pitched and cast a black neon Strike King Rage Craw Texas-rigged on a 5/0 Gamakatsu straight-shank hook with a 3/16-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten weight.

“I’ve caught them in Florida, Louisiana and other parts of Texas doing this,” Menendez said. “It’s just something I’m comfortable with; it’s something I love to do on tour, so it just made it easy to make the conversion over here.”

Bort’s keen ability to spot fish or their movement proved helpful in guiding Menendez’s casts. As Bort explained, watching for waking fish, pushes and shadows was the key.

“Ricky has really good eyes,” Menendez said. “He says, ‘Hey, hey, hey, look to your right.’ I’m getting the hang of it, but with his years of experience, I’m taking his lead on that.”

“It was a great day out there; we had a great week pre-fishing and did really well,” Bort said. “Mark brings a lot from the freshwater world that is new to the saltwater world and that seems to be shining right now. We’ll keep it up and see what we can do tomorrow.”

After an opening round of moderate south winds, the Day 2 forecast calls for 20 to 30 mph north winds. This will greatly hinder a lot of the open-water patterns, but Bort is confident he and Menendez can replicate their success.

“We’re going to go directly to our primary area, instead of starting out in that culling location first,” he said. “It’ll be rough getting there, but once we’re there we’re good.

“We were hoping to get two in the boat really quickly (on the first spot), but there was another boat in there so we had to shift gears a little bit. Once we made the decision to leave, we did well.”

Menendez added this: “Once we reach our area, we don’t have to move around much. We’re fishing the entire time.”

Barlow and Vann caught their fish in the Corpus Christi area. Targeting areas with oyster bars, they did more looking than casting; strategically waiting for one of the schools they’d found in practice to appear.

Needing to fish their baits over the hard shell bottom without snagging, Barlow and Vann hung 1/2-ounce Bill Lewis Saltwater Rat-L-Traps under popping corks. The anglers expanded their creativity by reversing their corks. Traditionally, the wider end faces upward for maximum chugging commotion, but they faced their narrow ends up for minimal disturbance.

“Most of the time a Rat-L-Trap (fished in a cast-and-wind presentation) is a reaction bait, but today, they didn’t want anything but this (cork rig),” Barlow said. “We cast plastics into five different schools and they didn’t eat it.”

With various species of small, shiny baitfish abounding in the marsh areas they fished, Vann surmised that their rigs kept a familiar profile visible in a unique manner.

“It was something totally and completely different; it’s not what they’re used to,” he said.

Seven-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier Chris Zaldain and veteran IFA Redfish Tour angler Ryan Rickard fished far south and placed third with 14-10. Capping their day with Zaldain’s 8-pounder, the anglers wrapped up around 1 p.m. and allowed themselves ample time for a long return ride.

“Typically, the water’s cleaner down south; the water’s clearer down there,” Zaldain said. “In practice, Ryan said, ‘It’s going to blow out of the north (during the tournament).’ We thought that would be today, but it will be tomorrow, so he put us in a protected area.”

Rickard said he considers his team’s choice of weedless gold spoon jigs with soft plastics the reliable redfish favorites. Despite getting only a few of the right-size fish today, he’s confident the area he and Zaldain are fishing holds winning potential.

“I went into today saying I would love to come out with 14-plus pounds, I don’t care if we were sixth place, 10th place, first place — it didn’t matter,” Rickard said. “With the fish we have to go back to, we definitely have a good opportunity to get this done.”

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. CT from Fisherman’s Wharf. The weigh-in will be held back at the wharf at 3 p.m. FS1 will broadcast Bassmaster Redfish LIVE coverage Saturday from 7-10 a.m. with continuing coverage available on

The 2021 Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter is being hosted by the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau & Chamber of Commerce.