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Melton wins at Cal Delta, wraps up AOY

Melton wins at Cal Delta, wraps up AOY

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

Melton, who led after Day 2 of the Toyota Series event on the California Delta, 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 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 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.”

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.

Here are the final totals for the Top 10:

1st: Cristian Melton, Menifee, Calif., 15 bass, 61-7, $22,866
2nd: Christian Ostrander, Turlock, Calif., 15 bass, 56-8, $8,860
3rd: Rodney Brinser, Discovery Bay, Calif., 15 bass, 54-2, $6,860
4th: David Valdivia, Riverside, Calif., 15 bass, 50-0, $6,016
5th: Mark Cobey, Woodland, Calif., 15 bass, 49-10, $5,645
6th: Hunter Schlander, Modesto, Calif., 15 bass, 48-7, $4,573
7th: Phil Tilbury, Escalon, Calif., 15 bass, 45-10, $4,001
8th: Jon Strelic, El Cajon, Calif., 15 bass, 45-4, $3,430
9th: Louis Fernandes, Santa Maria, Calif., 15 bass, 44-12, $3,358
10th: Micah Jones, Kingman, Ariz., 15 bass, 43-10, $2,287

History was also made Friday in the co-angler division. Although females have won previously in the Toyota Series, this event marked the first time in MLF history that female anglers finished in both first and second place,

Deanna Moreno of Salida, Calif., brought a limit of bass to the scale totaling 13 pounds, 1 ounce on Day 3, slamming the door on her first career win in the co-angler division. Her three-day total of 40-15 topped runner-up Rachel Uribe of San Diego by 4-5. For the victory, she earned a Phoenix Boats prize package worth $33,500.

Moreno became the third woman in MLF/FLW history to win a Toyota Series event and the first since 2001, when Renee Hensley won the co-angler competition at the Toyota Series Championship on Pickwick Lake.

“That’s an honor,” she said. “Not that I want to be separated from males, because we’re all fishermen. But it’s an honor to do it as a female.”

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