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But San Jose, Calif., native Chris Zaldain believes an angler will still need 80 to 90 pounds to take home the $100,000 first-place check.
Why? Because it often takes just 20 minutes for magic to happen in the Delta.
“Everybody who makes the Top 12 cut to fish on Sunday — 100 percent without a doubt — is going to be traveling at least an hour and a half one way to the California Delta,” Zaldain said. “There just aren’t enough big fish up in that Sacramento area to make a Top 12. On the Delta, a lot of tournaments are won in a 20-minute window when the tide gets right and the fish go to feeding.”
Competition days will be April 30-May 3, with daily takeoffs at 6:15 a.m. PT from Sacramento’s Discovery Park. Weigh-ins will be held at the park each day at 3:15 p.m. PT, with a full field of 112 anglers the first two days, the remaining Top 52 the third day and the Top 12 the final day.
Zaldain said anglers with experience in the area — like himself, Skeet Reese, Ish Monroe, Brett Hite, Brent Ehrler, Byron Velvick, Jared Lintner and John Murray — will look for times and places when tidal patterns are influenced perfectly by the Pacific Ocean.
Planning for the run downriver will also be an important part of the anglers’ game plans. Yacht traffic, refueling stops and no-wake zones with 5 mph speed limits will all come into play.
“We’re going to be looking for that window, looking for different spots where the tide lines up,” Zaldain said. “That’s what we calling ‘running the tide.’
“Whether it be an outgoing tide or an incoming tide, whichever they prefer, there will be that magical window. If you can find that window, a lot of times you can catch your whole bag in 20 minutes or at least get two or three really good bites that are going to make your day.”
Lintner, who lives in Arroyo Grande, Calif., said mistake-free fishing during that window will be crucial.
“You could be at the best spot in the Delta at the wrong tide, and you’re not going to catch them,” Lintner said. “So your windows for catching the bigger fish are more critical, because you’re only going to have those windows for a certain amount of time. When those windows come, you have to put the fish in the boat.”
Anglers with less experience running the tides won’t necessarily be out of contention.
With springtime conditions just right for bedding, many bass will be in shallow spawning areas that make them easily accessible to knowledgeable anglers. Bites may not come in lightning-strike fashion like they do during the tidal windows, but anglers with patience will still get them.
“With so many fish in and around the spawning areas, not all of them are relating to that incoming or outgoing tide,” Zaldain said. “The non-locals can get around looking for that 20-minute window by placing themselves in spawning areas and just kind of grinding it out all day.”
Lintner said anglers will likely be able to use whichever tactic they like.
“I’ve told everybody this, and I truly believe it,” Lintner said. “You can take off with whatever you like to do — whether it’s swimming a jig, topwater, a spinnerbait or whatever. Whatever your favorite technique may be, you can take off with it and go catch them.”
Both Lintner and Zaldain said they expect to see some 28- to 30-pound bags come from the Delta. And though that’s where they believe the tournament will be won, they said some anglers may choose to take the safe route and stay in the Sacramento River.
The river area isn’t known for producing giant largemouth like the Delta region, but it has plenty of fish in the 2- to 4-pound range. It also has spotted bass and smallmouth bass that give anglers a wealth of options.
A winning weight may not be caught there, but some anglers may find enough fish to make the Top 52 and earn a check.
“If it’s your first trip to the Delta and you don’t know your way around, it can be intimidating,” Lintner said. “But you don’t have to make the run. You can stay up in the ‘Sac’ and catch them. There will be some checks drawn up there, but the average quality is lower. It just depends on what your goals are for the tournament.”
Since many fish are likely to be caught far from the weigh-in site, officials from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife will provide help with fish transport and release. Bass will be returned downstream to the Delta and released in a variety of areas to benefit the fishery and the fish.
The local host of the event is the Sacramento Sports Commission.
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