Melton seals Delta double in dominant fashion - Major League Fishing

Melton seals Delta double in dominant fashion

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Cristian Melton closed out an Angler of the Year season with a win on the California Delta. Photo by John Zeolla. Angler: Cristian Melton.
June 7, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Toyota Series

OAKLEY, Calif. — Cristian Melton closed out his first professional win the same way he punctuated a dominant season in the Western Division Presented by Tackle Warehouse — with style.

Melton, who led after Day 2 of the Toyota Series Presented by Phoenix Boats event on the California Delta, which was presented by Suzuki Marine, weighed in 20 pounds, 13 ounces on the final day to put an exclamation point on his victory. The biggest bag of Day 3, that brought his total to 61-7, putting him 4-15 clear of runner-up Christian Ostrander.

Not only did Melton pocket $22,866 for the win, he added another $5,000 as the winner of the Fishing Clash Angler of the Year award for the Western Division. That title, too, he claimed in convincing fashion after finishing fifth at the season-opener on Clear Lake and second on Lake Havasu prior to his triumph at the Delta.

“It’s crazy,” Melton said. “It’s going to take me probably two days for it to really soak in. I’m just going to be like, oh my gosh, that just happened.”

Melton’s magic spot produces again

Melton arrived at the Delta solely focused on securing the AOY title. And even as well as he performed during the first two days, with each of the second- through fourth-place anglers entering the event also making the Top 25 cut, he had some work to do Friday before he could turn his attention to hoisting his first trophy.

It took him about 10 minutes to assuage those concerns.

Returning to the area where he’d caught most of his 22-pound Day 2 bag, on about his fifth cast, Melton hooked up with a Delta giant. The bass weighed 8-12 — the biggest caught by any angler during the event. Once it entered the net, Melton knew he had one victory wrapped up and was well on his way to a second.

“Me and my co-angler, Deanna (Moreno), we were just ecstatic,” Melton said. “I was like, well, that’s my AOY fish.”

One key spot produced most of Melton’s winning weight, including an 8-12 lunker on the final day. Photo by John Zeolla

Staying in that area, Melton filled his limit by 7:30 a.m. After running around for a few hours and catching “one here and one there,” he returned to the honey hole and upgraded a couple more times, all but sealing a second victory.

Melton described the spot as a slack-water pocket in the central San Joaquin River. Protected from the current and the wind, it featured cleaner water and healthier vegetation than most of the surrounding areas. As a result, while there was a lot of fishless water in the massive system this week, the spot was “teeming with life,” producing regardless of the tide.

 “Clean water is a big thing,” Melton said. “Clean, healthy grass, just a clean ecosystem. Not like blown-out stuff that’s getting new water every day. Just more protected from the elements, whether it be the wind, the current, just anything, stuff pushing into it all the time. And these fish somehow find it, and they just load up.”

Melton believes the area held bass in all three phases of the spawn. He sight-fished a few off beds, but “90 percent” of his keepers (including the 8-12) ate a wacky-rigged 5-inch Yamamoto Senko.

“It was just a mixture of what I believe is prespawn, spawn and postspawn (bass), because there were bluegill beds, and then right next to it was bass beds, and then there was postspawners off the bank, and I was watching fish funnel in these areas,” Melton explained.

Past lessons pay off

Melton located the stretch of the San Joaquin that produced his debut win two years ago, when he fished his first Toyota Series event on the Delta in June 2022. Recognizing that the timing and conditions of this event aligned with that one, he checked it out on a low tide during practice, when he could see fish better, and spotted what would prove to be the winning population.

“It was set up the exact same way,” he said of the 2022 event. “So, I checked out all those areas I learned that trip and went to a few other areas, and they were there.”

That was a common theme for Melton as he reflected on his blistering season. While he performed solidly during his first two years fishing the Western Division, finishing in the top 30 in the points both times, he never logged a Top 10 at any event before reeling off three straight this year. He did so by putting lessons learned at those past events into practice.

“Every time I’ve came out to these events, I’ve taken the losses as just huge learning experiences, figuring out what I’ve done wrong and listening to what other people have done and just accumulating all the info I’ve ever received,” he said. “You can’t learn unless you put yourself into it, and the last two years have just been learning and learning and learning. And I put in a lot of time just fun fishing, just because I love it, understanding fish nature and habits and stuff.

“I’ve been bass fishing for a long time now, and it’s starting to just make sense. Things are just starting to click.”

If there’s one thing Melton learned that paved the way for his AOY campaign, it was striking a balance between developing a tournament strategy — anticipating change and having backup plans in place to succeed across multiple days — and not getting ahead of himself.

“Just taking it one day at a time and not focusing on, oh, I need to get five,” he said. “I just need to get one fish, and focus on the next one, and focus on the next one.”

Melton, who has a day job designing and installing surveillance equipment, would love to make a career out of fishing one day. He’ll get his first chance to compete against a national field at the Toyota Series Championship on Wheeler Lake in November. In the meantime, he plans to continue to compete on the Pacific coast and build his sponsor network.

He left no doubt this season and this week that he can hang with the best in the west.

“It’s an insane feeling right now,” he said. “Each tournament — and also locally, in all my local tournaments and everything — it’s just kind of been clicking and just giving me more and more confidence in knowing that I have what it takes to compete at this level.”

Top 10 pros

  1. Cristian Melton – 61-7 (15) – $22,866
  2. Christian Ostrander – 56-8 (15) – $8,860
  3. Rodney Brinser – 54-2 (15) – $6,860
  4. David Valdivia – 50-0 (15) – $6,016
  5. Mark Cobey – 49-10 (15) -$5,645
  6. Hunter Schlander – 48-7 (15) – $4,573
  7. Phil Tilbury – 45-10 (15) – $4,001
  8. Jon Strelic – 45-4 (15) – $3,430
  9. Louis Fernandes – 44-12 (15) – $3,358
  10. Micah Jones – 43-10 (15) – $2,287

Complete results