The “Old Men and the Sea” is Mark Menendez’s suggested team name for himself and Ricky Bort this week.
Being quinquagenarians (people in their 50s), they have experience on their side for the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter. They also discovered they have like minds.
While Bort, a 55-year-old Matagorda constable who lives on the Texas Gulf Coast, scouted the tournament waters around the Port Aransas takeoff, Menendez, 57, of Paducah, Ky., researched maps. They surprised one another when talking for the first time since meeting at a Skeeter owner event years ago.
“He asked me, ‘You look at the waters?’” Menendez said. “I made a mention of one area. He said, ‘Did you have a tracking device on my boat?’”
Bort took it as a great sign that Menendez pinpointed an oddball spot he found before the off-limits period.
“I was like, ‘How’d you know where I was at?’ It’s a unique thing,” said Bort, who added the spot was a bit of a run. “I think we’re going to surprise some people with the style of fishing we’re doing.
“This is a one-winner, made-for-television event, so we’re going to swing for the fence.”
Menendez and Bort make up one of 10 teams that will ply the waters Nov. 12-14 for their two heaviest redfish between 20 and 28 inches. They have three days of practice that started Monday to solidify their game plan in hopes of winning the $50,000 first prize.
B.A.S.S. media crews are covering the event much like an Elite tournament. The Redfish Cup will be documented in stories, photos and videos, and the three days of competition will air on Bassmaster Redfish LIVE, including on FOX Sports 1.
“I told my wife I haven’t been this excited about fishing a tournament in about 20 years,” Bort said. “I’ve been waking up about 4 o’clock in the morning, and my brain is just nonstop. It’s been that way for three or four weeks now.
“She’s been laughing at me. My son, who does some tournament fishing, said, ‘Dad, you haven’t been this stupid in a long time.’ It’s a chance of a lifetime. A lot of folks think you get a lot of them, but you really don’t. You’ve got to make all you can with the ones you get.”
Four teams are made up of redfish pros, and six more decorated redfish anglers are teaming with Bassmaster pros Matt Herren, Derek Hudnall, Patrick Walters and Chris and Trait Zaldain. Menendez, who says he knows a little more about saltwater angling than “the average Kentucky bass fisherman,” likes his team’s chances.
“You’ve got two experienced anglers who have fished for a lot of different species,” he said. “I’m kind of giddy to do something out of the norm but under the same parameters of what I do in bass fishing. It’s different quarry, so that’s exciting. It’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun.”
Menendez said he perked up more when his conversation with Bort was like two old fishing buddies catching up. They covered almost everything about their week, the area, lures, line, strategy and travel time, including going slow for aching backs. Menendez knows some saltwater tactics he gleaned from bass mentor Clyde Watts, who moved to Florida’s east coast and showed him his newfound saltwater expertise on trips.
Bort started as a bass angler, winning a Phoenix BLF back in 1995 and fishing events like the Red Man All-American. Going back to the “beginning of history,” Bort explained how he switched over to salt. He was at a Red Man angler meeting when the field was asked about their interest of expanding to saltwater events.
“I stuck my hand up — everybody said I was crazy,” said Bort, who as a peace officer in Pearland, Texas, 15 minutes from the coast and jumped right in.
With a new Skeeter bay boat, Bort ventured south to Baffin Bay for his first event pursuing sea trout. “I had never been there, and I knew nothing of the rocks, but did fairly well,” he said, going on to fish redfish circuits for years.
Recently retiring to Matagorda, Bort figured he would relax, fish a bunch and enjoy his grandkids, but he was talked into running for an elected constable position in the county’s 6th precinct and won. Bort also feels like a winner drawing Menendez, who he asked to bring any and every bass trick for this Redfish Cup.
“Two fresh set of eyes is what I’m looking for,” Bort said. “There may be things he will key on that I will not. We tend to get locked on to certain things. It’s unusual for the bass guys to fish as a team, so that’s a benefit for him also.
“I truly believe if you have structure, you got bait, you’re going to have fish. If you can find those things whether in freshwater or saltwater, you’re going to do well.”
When contacted, Menendez was scouring his tackle for choice selections to pack. He said Bort has all the usual suspects of gear for redfish, the popping corks, etc., and big spinning rods with braid.
“He said, ‘You just play.’ Bring anything you want that you can combine as a non-saltwater technique presentation,” Menendez said. “He wants me to bring things in which I can make fish trigger by retrieve or flash or vibration, something they may have never seen. We’re just trying to take bass fishing techniques to tailor it for redfish.
“He’s really dialed in to the stages of the tide, what these fish tend to do on the tide, what happens if we get cold weather, if we get overcast. He’s looking for me to be the wild card for something he’s not used to seeing.”
Weather has already thrown the anglers a curve. Bort said a front with strong winds in late October left marshes and flats high and dry, and the first arctic blast last week surely kept redfish moving.
“It’s going to take time for bait to start moving back into those areas, so it’s going to throw a little kink into everybody’s program,” he said.
Redfish, more easily spooked than bass, are greatly affected by weather changes. Both men admit their initial spot might not even work, but they are holding out hope.
“The area we’re fishing, the (weather changes are) not going to affect us as much,” Bort said. “Those fish are moving, and I hope I know exactly where they’re moving to.”
Menendez is optimistic because they only need to bring in two fish each day, not the five he’s accustomed to in bass events.
“We’re just trying to catch the biggest two we can under that 28 inches in one day, so our tactics we are going to be geared toward that, a bigger presentation, abnormal stuff,” he said. “This is the first event where I could care less if he catches both or I do.”
And just maybe the older guys can conquer the sea.