Z ON BZ - THE FINAL REPORT CARD
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
San Jose, CA – This is the final installment of The BASS ZONE’S feature “Z on BZ,” where California’s Chris Zaldain breaks down each tournament in his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
At the end of every “Z on BZ” feature, Zaldain will grade himself on five key elements.
In the last feature, Zaldain assessed his performance for the Wisconsin swing – two back-to-back tournaments at the end of June on the Mississippi River in La Crosse and Lake Michigan in Green Bay. Zaldain struggled on the Mississippi, finishing the tournament in 81st place. He bounced back the following week on Lake Michigan and recorded a solid 14th place finish.
This week, Zaldain recaps the eighth and final tournament of the season on New York’s Oneida Lake and looks back on his overall performance in 2012. After finishing the first day of competition on Oneida just inside the Top 50 cut, he struggled on Friday and brought just three keepers to the scales to finish in 69th place.
Here’s how Zaldain broke down his Oneida Lake performance:
Tournament: Onedia Lake – Brewerton, New York. 69th Place (19-11)
Practice leading into Oneida Lake
“Driving up to Oneida, I couldn’t stop thinking about how Dean Rojas and Ish Monroe had won two events on the lake by fishing a frog because one of the things that I love to do is flip and frog in inches of water.
“During practice, I spent two whole days shallow. I found that everyone else was doing the same thing and had the same frame of mind. There were a bunch of little cheese mats and pieces of grass blown up against the bank. It seemed like there were other angler’s frog trails leading out of the grass, so I could tell that there was a lot of used water.
“In the back of my mind, I knew that I either had to stick with the shallow bite or go fish deep. I had decent bites all three days up shallow. I had something like 14 frog bites on the first day of practice, seven on the second day, and three on the last day of practice. Right there, that told me that the frog bite was dwindling.
Tournament Game Plan
“Even though I knew that the bite up shallow was tough, I decided that I had located enough fish to get one good day out of it. I had also spent some time in practice out deep, so I knew that there were some smallmouth to be caught if the largemouth bite dwindled.”
“I was barely in the Top 50 cut after the first day of the tournament. I only had seven bites and I stuck all of them. When you only have seven bites up shallow and stick all of them, it tells you right there that it’s a pattern that will only be good for a single day.
“On the second day of the tournament, I already knew that the shallow fish were toast. I sampled it anyways in the morning, and I didn’t have a single fish in the well at 12:00.
“I decided to switch it up and fish for smallmouth. From 1:00 to 3:30, I had nine bites on a topwater. I put three in the boat and I had three others hooked up that came unbuttoned. I also had numerous smallmouth do cartwheels and jumping jacks over the bait and they just wouldn’t hook up.
“It was just one of those tournaments where the fish just wouldn’t come into the boat. I really felt great on the second afternoon, and I was convinced that good things were going to happen. I made the right adjustments, but for some reason the only thing that the smallmouth would strike was a topwater.”
Zaldain’s Report Card
Overall grade for Oneida – (C)
“I got caught up with the shallow bite froggin’ and flippin’, and I just didn’t spend enough time out deep trying to figure out how to get the smallmouth to commit fully.”
Confidence level throughout the tournament – (B)
“I knew that I was going to catch fish on the first day of the tournament, but I also knew that there was a possibility that I could be in trouble on the second day.”
Execution at Oneida – (B)
“I felt like I did everything that I could do to hookup and land the smallmouth on the second day. I changed treble hooks, added a feather to the back of the topwater that I was throwing, and made sure that everything was sound. They just didn’t hook up and when that happens, somebody has to be at fault. That someone would be me.”
Decision making – (B)
“I got the bites, they just didn’t get to the boat."
Zaldain’s Season Ending Report Card:
“First of all, it seems like the season flew by so fast – it’s like it was just yesterday when I walked into the meeting room at the St. Johns River back in March to start this whole thing. At the time, I was star struck seeing Kevin VanDam, Iaconelli, and Reese. Now, I feel like I can call those guys my friends.
“After eight tournaments, I don’t have any more jitters. When I pull up to the lake I feel like I can compete. I had three great tournaments and the other five were great learning experiences. I knew that I wasn’t just going to go out there and jack on them because there were a lot of new fisheries for me on the schedule.”
Overall season – (B)
“It was slightly above average, and the lack of experience is what really held me back this year.”
Confidence level throughout the season – (A)
“My confidence was sky high and I didn’t want the year to end. There wasn’t a single day where I thought that I didn’t belong here. When I launched my boat in the morning, I never let anything affect me or distract me.”
Overall execution – (B-)
“There are going to be times when you lose fish. Looking back at Toledo Bend, I was catching fish in some really nasty lilies and I was lucky to land what I did. Then, there are tournaments like Oneida where I was fishing open water and couldn’t get them in the boat.”
Overall decision making – (B-)
“It all comes back to lack of experience. At the time, I felt like I was making the right decisions, but I’m sure that when I look back on this year in five or six years, I’ll realize that I made quite a few mistakes.”
Favorite Elite Series destination in 2012 – Toledo Bend.
Least favorite lake on the 2012 schedule – St. Johns River.
One thing that was exactly as expected before the season started – The professionalism and skill level of all the other anglers.
One thing that was unexpected – By far, the two and a half days of practice. I thought that I’d be able to figure these lakes out in two and a half days, and I couldn’t even scratch the surface.
High point of the season – Toledo Bend. That was the tournament where I realized that I had to fish with an open mind.
Low point of the season – Douglas Lake. When Brandon Palaniuk and I went there for pre-practice, we located giant schools of fish that were still in the exact same spot when we went back for the tournament. The only thing was that the lake had risen 30 feet. I did everything that I could think of to get those fish to bite and they just wouldn’t.
One fellow angler that you unexpectedly became friends with – Skeet Reese, only because he’s superstar status. We ended up rooming at the Mississippi River, and he’s just a normal guy.