Repeat requirements

One of this event’s objectives is to highlight the crossover interests and techniques of bass and redfish anglers. With half of the field comprising all-star teams, each with a member from the freshwater and saltwater arenas, fans have seen these similarities unfold across the coastal Texas waters.

Epitomizing this integration of styles, 2021 champions, Bassmaster Elite veteran Chris Zaldain and IFA Redfish Tour standout Ryan Rickard, have positioned themselves for a potential repeat by placing second on Day 1, less than a pound behind 2022 Redfish World Series Champions, Sean O’Connell and Edward Adams.

“We just tried to pick where we left off last year,” Zaldain said after he and Rickard weighed their opening limit of 15-13. “You know, (a year) ago, we were standing on this stage holding up that Yamaha trophy and it was so much fun.

“I said it last year, when the freshwater and saltwater worlds collide, magic happens — and it happened again (on Day 1).”

Rickard agrees and noted the synergy that feeds their ambition. “It’s great being on the boat with Chris. He is the spitting image of me on the bass side. We’re super-high energy, super-fun; we joke around, cut up and have a good time.”

Fishing the conditions

The defending champs are hoping to expand on a strong first-round effort and the fact that they’re fishing the same general area that produced last year’s win plays to their favor — at least, in terms of familiarity.

“We have several areas that we ran through in practice and (on Day 1) and we have plenty left,” Zaldain said. “We didn’t have to burn a lot of our stuff.”

Of course, fishing for any species offers only one guarantee: Wet targets.

Beyond that, you gotta make it happen. Zaldain and Rickard have done their homework and know their opponent and the playing field. However, fall’s volatility is on full display this week, as yesterday’s strong southeast wind has switched to a northeast angle.

North winds are always cooler and today’s high of 74 degrees is about 7 less than Friday’s. The shallow waters most of the anglers are fishing will cool a little, but not enough to completely shut down the bite.

The shifting weather changes, particularly the barometric fluctuation, will likely rattle the fish just enough to disrupt their patterns — the when and where stuff — and require more searching. Yesterday, Rickard and Zaldain opened with an 8-pounder at 8:35, while their first fish of Day 2 was a 3-pounder just after 9.

Finding one around 7 an hour and a half later could indicate the right trend.

Knowing the week’s changing winds would disturb exposed area, Zaldain and Rickard are targeting protected Laguna Madre waters between Padre Island on the east and the Intracoastal Waterway’s spoil islands to the west. Similar to last year, they’re working grass flats with sand holes and targeting their fish with 4-inch paddletails, spoons and 6-inch swimbaits.

Big hopes

At the Day-1 weigh ins, Zaldain echoed Rickard’s pre-tournament comments on finding more quality than quantity. In 2021, they encountered schools of redfish and picked off what they could to build their winning weight. On Day 1, it was fewer fish, but mostly bigger.

“These fish are not pale and skinny, like some of the ones I’ve seen here, these fish are vividly colored, fat, thick, big shoulders,” Zaldain said. “It’s kind of like smallmouth bass on the flats up north; you have those pale, skinny ones that do a lot of swimming, but those dark colored ones that hang out on the grass and rocks — those are the fat, healthy ones.”

One of those fish weighed 9 1/2 pounds, but stretched just over the 28-inch maximum. Bummer, but Rickard replaced the frustration with optimism.

“We know we’re around the right size and we know if we just take our time and not fish really rushed, we’ll have our opportunities,” he said. “We actually lost two big fish, one right after the other, but we’ll have some other opportunities.”

Zaldain and Rickard may need to grind through long, unproductive periods to find their bites. However, if they remain around the bigger fish, they could experience a flurry that dramatically changes their situation.

One of Zaldain’s Day-1 comments, no doubt, applies to what is shaping up to be a lean Day 2: “Ryan said (the morning of Day 1) ‘I don’t care if it’s two bites, if we have over 15 pounds, two bites is fine.’ That’s my style of fishing; that’s his style of fishing.”

Bottom line: To earn back-to-back titles, Zaldain and Rickard will have to track down another competitive limit today and then step on the gas during Sunday’s forecasted calmer, warming conditions.

They’re definitely capable of doing so, but nine other teams are driven to make their mark in Redfish Cup Championship history.

At the end of the Sunday’s weigh in, the two anglers who weighed the six heaviest redfish will lift the trophies. At this point, there’s no predicting who that will be.

That’s what makes it interesting.