UPCOMING EVENT: TACKLE WAREHOUSE PRO CIRCUIT - 2020 - Lake Erie

Zaldain again

Zaldain again
Pro Chris Zaldain retained his lead after three days of FLW Series competition on Clear Lake.

KELSEYVILLE, Calif. - It's hard to run away with a tournament at Clear Lake, but it looks like Chris Zaldain is doing just that. The rookie pro out of San Jose, Calif., caught his third limit over 20 pounds Friday and took a commanding lead heading into the Wal-Mart FLW Series Western Division finals.

On days one and two, Zaldain caught 22 pounds even and 25-11, respectively, to take over the lead by about 4 pounds. On day three he stretched that lead to 7 1/2 pounds over second-place Andre Moore by catching five bass weighing 21-5. In a big-fish tournament with lots of limits, Zaldain has been the only angler out of nearly 400 pros and co-anglers to catch more than 20 pounds each day.

His three-day total weight, 69 pounds even, puts him in the driver's seat heading into Saturday. The rest of the top 10 pros, from Moore down to 10th-place Randy McAbee Sr., are bunched up tight between 56 and 61 1/2 pounds.

"That's a big deficit to overcome, even on Clear Lake," said fourth-place Jeff Billings, a local pro from Clearlake, Calif.

Historically, FLW Outdoors tournaments at this lake have tended to end up pretty close. There are just so many fish - big fish - in Clear Lake that anyone can catch a huge sack on any day. To warp a famous phrase: On any given Saturday ...

But Zaldain seems to have figured something out that the others haven't in order to stay consistent during this fall, transition-time contest. And it hasn't been easy, either. The weather changed drastically Friday. Gone was the sun and calm from the first two days; in came some clouds and a stiff breeze.

"Today, the wind killed me," Zaldain said. "It made the lake fish smaller than it already was. On some of my spots, guys were camped out of the wind a lot closer to shore than they had been. That meant I had to fish a little bit deeper, about 10 to 15 feet."

He stayed with his game plan, though, of running and gunning points around the mainlake with a big white swimbait. He caught a limit early in the morning by flipping on the north end, but when he had five fish in the well he headed back down to hunt for pigs the rest of the day with his reaction bait.

"I'm sticking with the same thing," he said. "The wind did help me yesterday, but today it made it a lot tougher to position the boat. I had to cast over the back of the boat a lot in order to get the right retrieve in the wind. But I hit just as many spots as I did yesterday."

Whatever special thing he's doing with his swimbait - he's not the only top pro throwing one - it's working. And he knows it.

"Every time I pulled up to a spot and no one was on it, I caught a fish," said Zaldain, who had two kickers in the 6- and 7-pound range in his sack Friday. "I'm feeling really confident right now. Just knowing that there will be 186 fewer boats on the water to worry about, that's huge. I feel good about tomorrow."

With one day remaining, Andre Moore is second in the Pro Division with 61-6.Moore pulls up in second

Moore, a two-time Wal-Mart Open pro champion out of Alabaster, Ala., posted a solid limit Friday weighing 22 pounds, 3 ounces and climbed into the runner-up seat with a three-day total of 61-6.

He, too, is throwing a swimbait, but he's catching them very shallow and weeding through a lot of little fish.

""I'm just not doing what everyone else is doing. I'm fishing inside of everyone else," he said. "I caught about 30 or 40 fish today, so I've got to cull through them. Tomorrow's going to be interesting without a net man, but I'm real happy with today."

Jason Newby caught 25 pounds, 2 ounces Friday and leaped to third place in the Pro Division.Newby rockets into third

Pro Jason Newby of Bakersfield, Calif., climbed from 19th place into third by catching Friday's second-heaviest limit - 25 pounds, 2 ounces - totaling 60-9 over three days.

"The wind helped me tremendously today," he said. "I had some fish and I knew they were there, they just bit today," said Newby, who caught a kicker in the 7-pound range in addition to some good 4- and 5-pounders. "I lost another one about 7 or 8 (pounds), too. I hope I can get him tomorrow."

Pro Jeff Billings caught 19 pounds Friday and finished the opening round in fourth place.Billings fourth

Billings caught a limit weighing 19 pounds even Friday and rose to fourth place in the Pro Division with a three-day total of 59-4.

All week long, Billings said he wanted to catch 20 pounds a day to stay in this tournament, and he has averaged almost that. But one look at the leaderboard Friday afternoon told him it might not be enough.

"The rest of us are fishing for second place, unless he just chokes," Billings said about Zaldain. "But I saw him fishing today, and I know what he's doing. And I can't do it.

"At this point, there's no pressure. The worst I can do is finish 10th. I thought a top-10 (finish) in the Stren (series, last April at Clear Lake) was a big deal, but this is a step above that, I'd say."

Hite fifth

Pro Brett Hite of Phoenix, who looked strong in second place coming into the day, faltered Friday and caught just 14 pounds, 7 ounces. He dropped to fifth place with a three-day total of 57-15.

"I'm fishing super, super slow," he said. "I'm fishing for inactive fish, so the wind kind of bothered me a little bit. It should be better tomorrow, though, without all the other boats. I definitely know the areas to fish. I just hope it'll calm down a little bit."

National Guard pro Tim Klinger never gave up and finished the opening round in sixth place.Notable: Klinger

Pro Tim Klinger of Boulder City, Nev., another past Wal-Mart Open champion, caught the heaviest limit of the day and second-heaviest of the tournament with 27 pounds, 4 ounces Friday. He soared up the leaderboard from 67th place to sixth with a three-day total of 57-4.

Fred Contaoi holds up the Snickers Big Bass from the Pro Division Friday. This fish weighed 11 pounds, 1 ounce.Rest of the best

Rounding out the top 10 pros who survived Friday's cut on Clear Lake:

7th: Randy McAbee Jr. of Bakersfield, Calif., 57-3 (day-one leader)
8th: Joe Uribe Jr. of Lake Forest, Calif., 56-13
9th: Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Ore., 56-11
10th: Randy McAbee Sr. of Bakersfield, Calif., 56-1

Fred Contaoi of Lakeport, Calif., earned the day's Snickers Big Bass award in the Pro Division thanks to a huge 11-pound, 1-ounce largemouth he caught on a Zoom Swamp Crawler.

Interactive bass fishing, defined: When your family watches the weigh-in on FLW Live from your boat deck as they anxiously wait for you to weigh in. Here, Team McAbee nervously watches FridayMcAbee wins AOY

While unofficial until the tournament's conclusion, McAbee Jr. also clinched the inaugural FLW Series Western Division Angler of the Year title Friday. In addition to his top-10 finish here at Clear Lake, he finished fourth at Lake Havasu, 11th at the California Delta and 21st at the Columbia River.

"It's been a phenomenal year," he said. "I've been on cloud nine since Havasu. I really didn't expect to compete with these guys like this."

Final round Saturday

The final day of FLW Series Western Division competition at Clear Lake begins Saturday when the top 10 pro finalists take off at 7:30 a.m. Pacific time from Redbud Park, located at 14655 Lakeshore Drive in Clearlake, Calif.

The final weigh-in will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 15960 Dam Road in Clearlake beginning at 4 p.m. The pro winner, if Ranger qualified, will receive $125,000.

Tags: jeff-schroeder  headline-story  2007-10-24-clear-lake 

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