It’s that time of year again for George Kramer to tout the top 40 bass fishermen in the Golden State. But, it’s also never been a more difficult assignment to figure out. The playing field has been an obstacle course for the touring pros as a combination of a poor economy and travel-killing, quagga mussel inspections have kept most fishermen close to home — once deemed to be the kiss of death for maximum career recognition.
With a year to chew on things, more diligent researching of numerous tournament circuits, plus a concern that fishing guides and even non-shared weight co-anglers were not getting enough credit, the California Top 40 Bass Anglers List has a different feel in 2011.
As for perennial or former List-makers you don’t see here, either they died (on tour) or merely fell victim to the numbers game — there are only 40 spots. So where did we find number one? Dionne Warwick’s Top 40 hit from 1968 says it all: “Do you know the way to San Jose?*”
Chris Zaldain, the 27-year-old with a goal and the guts to go for it, took his talent to the Bassmaster Central Opens (some 6,000 miles of travel) yet emerged as its Angler of the Year, punching his ticket into next year’s Bassmaster Elites. It was a very thin margin over a former No. 1 (Brent Ehrler), but Zaldain’s was an accomplishment we just couldn’t deny.
As for the entire list, take a look:
California’s Top 40 bass anglers for 2011
1. Chris Zaldain, San Jose – A steady climb professionally gets him the top in 2011.
2. Brent Ehrler, Redlands — No shame in being No. 2, the same spot he landed in the FLW Tour ranks. His slippage in the BassFan.com World Rankings did not help him.
3. Richard Dobyns, Yuba City — Finally out of the very large shadow cast by his father, Richard’s exceptional Angler of the Year run in the EverStart Series keeps the family name in lights.
4. Kevin Stewart, Elk Grove — He tracked and sacked the fish in a couple of circuits and then the sponsors found him. This guy could be the next big thing in California.
5. Joe Uribe, Jr., Lake Forest — “Little Joe” fishes big and may be the most remarkable tour pro (second in the EverStarts) who actually keeps a full-time job hundreds of miles from any tour lake.
6. Jeff Michels, Lakehead — Can’t find anybody who doesn’t think this guy won’t succeed — even if he jumps to the national arena.
7. Cody Meyer, Grass Valley — Here’s a soft-spoken guy who is just “nails” on the biggest stage (like 15th on the FLW Tour standings and more than $80,000 in winnings this year).
8. “Bradley” Yang, Los Angeles — Forget it. This guy does not just get a good draw every day of every tournament he fishes. His 5th in the EverStarts is real.
9. Bill Siemantel, Castaic — The enigmatic fireman doesn’t win many friends, but when he gives you a tip, you can take it to the bank (the one with the money in the drawers).
10. Mark Daniels, Jr., Fairfield — The “Oversight” committee tries to make amends. But Daniels’ numbers are unworldly, even if they include a ton of digits in his own zip code.
11. Ish Monroe, Hughson — I’m not sure what he’s trying to sell me this year, but recognize the Phat Frogger was the highest finishing Californian in the Bassmaster Elites this year. Stout.
12. Cameron Smith, Oceanside — His peers in San Diego County say Smith is the toughest they face. But he’ll drive 500 miles from home and be just as tough to a bunch of strangers.
13. Greg Gutierrez, Red Bluff — Finding his stride once again, despite a stressful job as a Forest Service fire fighter. We like him.
14. Jimmy Reese, Witter Springs — It’s a family tradition. Someone has to have a good year.
15. Gabe Bolivar, Oceanside — A nice 10th place showing in the EverStart Series while running a successful guide service. This is about right on the Top 40.
16. Matt Allen, Vacaville — I would pay to get in the boat with this guy. His keen sense of Nature and technique help make him a solid, big bass hunter.
17. Mike Folkestad, Yorba Linda — I keep waiting for the meat wagon to take the three-time U.S. Open winner away, but at age 70, he still competes and he still wins.
18. Glen Lockhart, Biggs — Here’s a solid performer (Anglers Choice Pro/Am AOY) who is just as tough on the reservoirs as he is on the natural waterways.
19. Jared Lintner, Paso Robles — At 22nd in the Bassmaster Elites — the highest level of pro fishing — he was second among Californians, and could be much higher.
20. Brian Johnson, Hemet — Regionally acclaimed at Diamond Valley, you know he must be good when his competitors develop a little fear in their eyes.
21. Zack Thompson, Orinda — Eighth in the EverStarts, you get a sense he is getting his groove back.
22. Gregg Silks, Hemet — Not your prototypical bass angler, but a pure hunter-style fisherman who puts his guide clients on the big ones.
23. Dee Thomas, Brentwood — If he’s still breathing (even with assistance), then this legendary angler is a threat to win.
24. Jim Novotny, Shingle Springs — Is this the best bass guy in his hometown? Don’t know, but he was seventh best in the EverStart Series.
25. Kyle Grover, Lake Forest — A maturing tournament pro that also makes a nice “salary” in the team events.
26. Jon Chiarpotti, Sonora — Leaving the tournament ranks for full-time guiding, this guy now treats his clients to great catches on a bunch of different lakes.
27. Sean Stafford, Fairfield — Great talent. A little more consistency and he could become a superstar.
28. Paul Bailey, Willits — Not the best year for “Little Bailey” but he’s still young enough to forge an elite career.
29. Bobby Barrack, Oakley — When he’s not on top of the points, we forget he’s a 4-diamond guide and teacher.
30. Mike Stiles, Bakersfield — Did some digging and found Isabella excellence with big baits.
31. Mike Andrews, Oakley — A rough and tumble Delta cowboy with a knack for power fishing.
32. Joe Everett, Mission Viejo — Okay, more publicity doesn’t mean better performance. But those teener videos at Lake Mission Viejo are still pretty cool.
33. Les Albury, Temecula — Have followed this kid for so long, he’s hardly a kid anymore — but EverStart Co-Angler of the Year.
34. Bob Riehl, Tracy — The Delta has a reputation for hiding talent. But his 11th place EverStart standing is hard to hide.
35. Pete Marino, Moreno Valley — Gushing stories from clients and other anglers he helped this year — plus a whole bunch of top team finishes with three different partners. That’s why.
36. John Morrow, Brea — If this guy’s residency doesn’t check out, I am going to catch some flack. Morrow just catches bass.
37. Wade Strelic, El Cajon — Had a better year than Dad. What can I say?
38. Mike Tuck, Antelope — Got an EverStart win and pretty good numbers overall.
39. Robert Lee, Angels Camp — When this guy just goes through the motions, he’s still better than a lot of guys who are actually trying.
40. Roy Desmangles, Jr., Lincoln — Maybe the best co-angler in Western FLW history, he also endured FLW rule fumbling, but gets his due this year.
*A Burt Bacharach, Hal David number
CHRIS ZALDAIN of San Jose named best bass fisherman in California. BILL MAYS PHOTO