O’Connell And Adams Take Lead At Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship

Sean O’Connell of Mandeville, La., and Edward Adams of Metairie, La., dialed in a productive zone, made the right weather adjustments and turned in a two-fish limit of 16 pounds, 10 ounces to lead Day 1 of the Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter.

The leaders head into Saturday’s competition with a 13-ounce advantage over the all-star team of Bassmaster Elite Series veteran Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, and IFA Redfish Tour standout Ryan Rickard of Brandon, Fla., who won last year’s event.

O’Connell and Adams, the 2022 Redfish World Series Champions, fished the southern end of tournament waters — which extend from Port O’Connor south to Bird Island — and found their fish in a 1/4-mile area of grass flats with scattered potholes.

“These flats undulate in depth from about 2 to 4 feet and we found these fish were sitting on a specific line that really stood out in pre-fishing,” O’Connell said. “We bounced around a little bit, but we found this one concentrated area and we made probably three drifts within 100 feet of each other and the fish were there.”

Adams said he and his partner got bit two to three times per drift. Happy with that level of productivity, they repeated these passes and made a strategic move to manage the 20- to 25-mph Southeast wind.

“The way the wind was blowing today, we were drifting across the lines, so we had to come back through,” O’Connell said. “We knew we had a couple hundred yards of that line where the fish were sitting, and we slowed down our drift with a drift sock to stay in there a little bit longer. That was our best drift.”

While O’Connell sampled spoons, ChatterBaits and other options, Adams said their fish would only bite 3/8-ounce jigheads with Berkley Gulp swimbait tails. Adams stuck with a 3-inch tail, but when speckled trout became a bycatch nuisance, O’Connell switched to a 4-inch tail in hopes that the larger profile might intimidate the time-wasting trout.

“You had to keep the baits moving because there was so much grass,” Adams said. “It looks like we were really jerking out baits, but we were mostly trying to keep those baits clean.”

While their day produced what they needed, O’Connell lamented missing a few opportunities that didn’t match their current tactics. As he explained, catching “floaters” — redfish hovering just under the surface — requires quick response with short, precise casts. But by the time they were in position, the moment had passed.

“We’re from Louisiana and we’re used to sight fishing, so we keep our eyes peeled all the time,” O’Connell said. “The problem was, our baits were 200 yards away and those fish were right there in front of us. We didn’t have time to get the bait in fast enough to get it in front of their face.

“We saw them and that’s a good sign that they’re there.”

The Day 2 forecast again calls for strong winds, but this time they will come out of the Northeast. Adams said he and O’Connell had their fish by about 11 a.m. and then went scouting to expand their area.

“I’ve fished here before, so I looked for some of the sweet spots,” Adams said. “We’ve been fishing where our best spots are, so if we get one or two of those good bites tomorrow, we’ll be right where we want to be.”

O’Connell agreed: “We’re in an area that holds big fish, but we just got bit right today. Our area got a little mucked up with the wind today, but hopefully, we have enough fish out there tomorrow to do the same thing.”

Returning to the same general area they fished in 2021, Zaldain and Rickard got off to a fast start with an 8-pounder around 8:30. They followed about 20 minutes later with a 5-pounder and recorded the day’s first limit.

Just before 9, Zaldain put the brakes on a 7-pounder that culled their smaller fish and gave them a total of 15-13.

“We really exceeded where I wanted to be by (topping) our Day 1 weight from last year (14-10),” Rickard said. “I said going into Day 1 last year that we need to have about 14 pounds. I knew that wouldn’t be leading the first day, but that’s not really the goal on Day 1.

“I wanted to back that up this year with 14 pounds, so we exceeded what I wanted to do. I feel really good about it because we have (several more spots) to go to if we need it.”

Rickard noted that the fish in their main area didn’t seem to be gathering as much as they did in 2021. Typically, fall sees good schooling activity, but Rickard surmised that higher salinity could have the fish less comfortable.

“The one big thing that stands out this year is less numbers and slightly better quality,” said Zaldain, who cringed at the memory of releasing a 9-pounder that measured slightly over the 28-inch maximum.

While Rickard threw jigheads with paddletails, both of their weight fish ate Zaldain’s 6-inch swimbait rigged on a 5/0 belly-weighted hook.

Elite Redfish Series Team of the Year Barnie White of Brewton, Ala., and Dwayne Mills of Cantonment, Fla., placed third with 14-0. Focusing on marshy shorelines with depths of 2 to 4 feet, they caught their fish on popping cork rigs with jigs and scented Fishbites Butt Kicker paddletails hung on 18-inch leaders.

“Those popping cork rigs work well because the cork simulates the sound of a feeding fish and that attracts the redfish,” Mills said. “They swim toward that noise, then they see and smell that bait.”

White said he and his partner are comfortable with their opening effort and look forward to Day 2.

“On Day 1 all you can do is lose it; you can’t win it,” White said. “All we can ask for is to be in contention when Day 3 gets here and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:05 a.m. CT from Fisherman’s Wharf. The weigh-in will be held back at the wharf at 3 p.m. FS1 will broadcast Bassmaster Redfish LIVE coverage Saturday from 7-10 a.m. with continuing coverage available on Bassmaster.com.

The 2022 Yamaha Bassmaster Redfish Cup Championship presented by Skeeter is being hosted by the Port Aransas Tourism Bureau & Chamber of Commerce.