By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Chris Zaldain had just one tournament finish of 90th or worse through his first five seasons (2012-16) on the Bassmaster Elite Series. This year he's got four such stinkers.
The native Californian who now makes his home in Laughlin, Nev. is far out of contention for the 2018 Bassmaster Classic with the final third of the campaign remaining. His 101st-place position in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race will allow him to fish the last three events with a win-or-bust mentality.
"I really don't know where I am in the points, but I know it's real ugly," he said during a phone interview last week. "Before the last tournament I did the math and figured out that I'd need four top-3 finishes to make the Classic. I got a check in the last tournament (he was 30th at Lake Dardanelle), but it was nowhere near where I needed to be.
"Fishing to win, there's no better schedule I could ask for than what we've got for the last three tournaments. They're big-water, big-run tournaments that you can gamble at, and I'm a gambler. I've truly got nothing to lose."
All three will be on Northern fisheries that offer a mix of smallmouths and largemouths. He struggled a bit on such venues at the outset of his pro career, but he's become a major threat at them in recent years his ledger includes a victory in the 2015 AOY Championship at Sturgeon Bay on Lake Michigan.
"Six years into my career, I don't have a (regular-season) Elite Series win yet. Winning one of these next three tournaments would take a lot of the bad taste out of the season I'm having."
Got Too Anxious
The 32-year-old Zaldain says he knows full well why he's mired in his current points predicament.
"Right off the bat, the first two tournaments were bombs," he said, referring to finishes of 102nd at Cherokee Lake and 98th at Lake Okeechobee. "Then in the third through sixth events, I felt like I had to make up all those points in one tournament. Instead of focusing on getting top-30s and top-40s and trying to work my way into the Classic, I tried to get it back all in one day or with one fish, and that's not the way I should've done it.
"I got in a hurry, when what I should've done was realized that it was still early in the season and I had time to make it up over a series of tournaments."
The visit to Cherokee was his first, and his Internet research led him to believe that it would fish much like the large, rocky reservoirs in Northern California. He expected to fare extremely well, but the fish didn't go along with his program.
"The smallmouths there don't act like they do in other places," he said. "I tried 4-pound line, extra-long leaders on my dropshots, wacky rigs, Neko rigs every finesse trick I knew, and they did not work. And I totally missed the Damiki deal (the fluke-style Armor Shad swimbait was utilized by many check-cashers). I didn't even hear about it until the tournament went down.
"Then I took the frustration of that tournament to Okeechobee and had a major bomb there as well. I didn't have time to take a breather and I tried to catch everything in one day. I felt like I was running out of time when, in actuality, I had plenty of time."
Time Off Has Been Good
It's been more than a month since the Dardanelle derby wrapped up and Zaldain said the extended break has been good for his psyche.
"It helps calm me down the way I'm programmed, I have a hard time slowing down. The last couple weeks I've had a lot of time to think over what's happened this season and the position I'm in.
"I know I can't make the Classic, so I'm going out to try to get a 'W.' I'm glad I have three chances at it and not just one."
He's eager to get things going at the St. Lawrence. He's spent more time there than either of the other remaining venues visiting once per year for the past five years. He's placed 17th and 16th in his two Elite Series visits
"I've learned a lot during those times I've been there and I've come up with something out of the ordinary as far as bait presentation goes. It has to do with very light line you have to be stealthy and sneaky around those fish.
"The potential for a 30-pound bag is there, but those fish have gotten pressured ever since the first time we were there. I know how to get those fish to bite."