PORT ARANSAS, Texas — If not for a poor start, the Midnight Rider might have rode off with the title in the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter.
Capt. Ron Hueston is a longtime guide and successful tournament angler from Naples, Fla., where his Midnight Rider guide service puts clients on a multitude of species in the state’s southwestern fisheries. The name came from his affinity to night fishing for snook.
Hueston teamed with Bassmaster Elite pro Derek Hudnall in November to finish second in the Redfish Cup, and they might have won if not for a poor start. The teams had three days of practice, after which Hueston gave an assessment of his Louisiana partner’s redfishing prowess.
“Derek is clueless,” he said. “But he’s got the qualities. I tell the bass guys, you sight fish, you bed fish, you fish grass, you fish topwater, you fish everything we fish and your fishing ability is there. It’s just figuring out what the redfish do.”
Hueston takes some of the blame for not finding the bigger slot redfish on Day 1, when their team’s two fish only weighed 8 pounds, 6 ounces to put them eighth in the 10-team field. But Hudnall got the hang of it, and they landed 13-5 on Day 2 to climb two spots. On Championship Sunday, they landed the biggest bag of the tournament at 18-3 to finish with 40-8, earning a pair 36-volt Lithium Pro Powerpack batteries worth $4,200.
The team didn’t go far, fishing grass flats and potholes near the Fisherman’s Wharf takeoff. Among their baits was traditional redfish lure, a 1/2-ounce gold spoon, but Hudnall said his Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer with a Missile Bait Shockwave trailer was key.
“Those fish were feeding on little baitfish that were the same size as that ChatterBait with that Shockwave,” Hudnall said. “It was something I could make long casts with.”
A stealthy approach to the easily spooked bullies of the bay was one major lesson the six B.A.S.S. pros learned during the week. Elite Series pros placed in three of the top four spots, with Chris Zaldain teaming with Tampa’s Capt. Ryan Rickard to win.
Hueston, who also fishes bass tournaments in Florida out of the bay boat he runs for inshore species, said he finds transitioning from bass to redfish is a simpler task than the opposite.
“I believe bass is tougher,” he said. “For example, a bass guy will have 30 rods in his locker. Once you get locked into a pattern of redfish, whether it’s grass edges, it’s deep water, it could be riprap, jetties, most redfish anglers only have a couple rods on the deck.”
There’s much more complexity in unlocking a bass fishery, Hueston said, saying lately he’s needed a dozen rods and baits. He’ll go through most in figuring out that day’s bass pattern. In redfishing, there’s more simplicity in what they will eat in any given conditions.
“I’ve been doing this long enough. I’m not fly by the seat of the pants guy. Once I’m locked into something, that’s what I go with,” he said. “I’ll have a backup plan, but I won’t have an A through F. I’ll have A and B. I’m trying to win.”
That plan has evolved since he started fishing redfish events more than 20 years ago. Hueston said tournament anglers starting out need to produce consistently decent outings to interest sponsors, and he adjusted his game plan once he landed a sponsorship deal with Yamaha/Skeeter that’s going on two decades.
“I’ve adjusted,” he said. “When I first started doing this, I knew I was talented. It was about consistency my first three or four years, staying in the AOY, top five, staying in the top 10 so people know who you are.
“Now that I landed corporate sponsors, I’ve got money to travel, to pay my bills. Now it’s time to roll the dice and win the tournaments because people already know who you are.”
Zaldain fishes somewhat like him, Hueston said, rolling the dice on the Elites with his big baits in hopes of producing victory. Hueston closely follows the Elite Series, staying in a house right around the corner from the Palatka takeoffs for St. Johns River events.
Proud to be in the most recent Bassmaster Redfish event, Hueston wasn’t shy about informing all the B.A.S.S. personnel how pleased he was to fish the event and meet them. He has high hopes the tournament is the start of a great relationship.
“I want to see you guys make something out of this sport again,” he said. “If I can stay fishing as long as Rick Clunn … I’ve got the competitive drive, I’m still in good shape. I’ll travel the country to fish for a good purse.”