Whatever you do, don’t let the former CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion and three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year set that angular jaw and focus that famous steely determination of his squarely on the sport he has mastered. If you’re a competitor, it can mean nothing but trouble.
For a case in point, just look at the 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour season.
The 37-year-old Michigan pro started the year off with a very VanDam-like performance, finishing 12th at Lake Tohopekaliga. Then the wheels seemed to come off.
The following tournament at the Harris Chain was a disaster. He finished a dismal 98th and followed it up with a 74th-place showing at Lake Guntersville.
Suddenly, people were asking, “What’s wrong with VanDam?” and the longest active Classic streak (14 and counting – which he shares with Jay Yelas) seemed in danger.
“My year has not made me very happy,” VanDam said before finishing fifth at the Bassmaster Elite 50 Tour season-opener at Smith Lake last week. “I had a real poor performance down at the Harris Chain, and I’ve had a lot of missed opportunities. I’ve finished a lot stronger the last few events. I’ve really been on the right fish to do real well in three tournaments, but I haven’t had the finishes to show it.
“I had trouble losing fish, which really got me thinking. I reassessed hooks, rods, line – everything – to see how I could do a better job. I think all pros do that. We’re constantly assessing the way we fish and trying to adjust to execute better.
“I never really thought about the streak. To be honest with you, after Guntersville I was just pretty mad at myself for not having a better finish there. I had the opportunities to do well there, but I really wasn’t on the right pattern.
“I told myself I just wasn’t going to not catch them after that.”
After VanDam got mad, he finished 12th at Clarks Hill, 17th at Lake Norman and fourth at Table Rock. Then he kicked off the Elite 50 season at Smith Lake by leading the event for the first two days and finishing fifth.
“I really had a phenomenal practice at Clarks Hill and turned it into a decent finish, although I should have done exceptionally well there,” he said. “It was a little bit frustrating, but I carried that momentum into Lake Norman.
“Any of the lakes that you can pattern fish on – the ones where you don’t have to fish little spots – I’m going to do better there. They fit my style. Guntersville is not a pattern lake – it’s a location lake – but Norman and Clarks Hill and Table Rock are definitely pattern lakes. I like fishing those kinds of lakes better.”
Add Smith Lake to that list.
“This was a really important year because of two Classics being on the line,” said VanDam, who finished seventh in the Angler of the Year standings. “I’m glad I made it.”
FISHING FOR AN AUDIENCE. It’s obvious that Kevin Wirth loves an audience.
The former Kentucky Derby jockey put on a show for a shore bound audience that had just watched the pros launch for the opening day of last week’s Elite 50 event. Instead of running across Smith Lake, Wirth didn’t even crank up his Mercury outboard. Instead, he just lowered his MotorGuide trolling motor and started fishing nearby.
On the spur of the moment, the Kentucky pro decided to fish for a spawning bass he had spotted while waiting to launch. He then enjoyed some sight-fishing action within easy view of his bank audience.
“I hadn’t planned to fish for those fish that morning,” Wirth said. “When we were waiting to take off, several guys were looking at the fish, but nobody stayed to fish for them.”
Wirth proceeded to catch a keeper-sized largemouth and a few short bass before firing up his big engine and heading elsewhere. That good start helped him to finish second in the tournament.
GREATEST ANGLER DEBATE. Former Classic champion and Bassmaster Angler of the Year David Fritts was one of the 35 semifinalists in the Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere. Inside BASS asked him whom he would vote for as the best of the best.
“I don’t know — it’s close,” he said. “It’s probably Rick Clunn.
“He’s been there for years and years and years. If it was for over the last five years, it would have to be Kevin VanDam or Mark Davis, but over the long haul, it would have to be Rick Clunn.”
The Greatest Angler Debate series is part of BASS Saturday on ESPN2. The programming features biographical shows on the top 10 anglers as well as debate among experts. Fans will find stats and stories in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times, Bassmaster.com and on the weekly ESPN Outdoors radio show. In June and July, the debate will heat up again as the fans choose between the top two anglers during a second round of voting on Bassmaster.com.
The debate will conclude in Pittsburgh — at the 2005 Classic — when two champions are crowned. One will be given the Classic trophy and the other – or perhaps even the same angler! – will be hailed as the greatest angler of all time.
WEIRDEST CATCH. CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year runner-up Marty Stone was asked to name the weirdest item he had ever hooked while fishing.
“That would be a long list,” the North Carolina pro replied. “I’ve caught a chair, a tire, a license tag. I’ve caught shirts and life jackets. I don’t know which is the weirdest.
“I hooked a license plate at Lake Wheeler. I was ripping a 1/2-ounce lipless crankbait across a flat. I fought that plate for two thirds of the way back to the boat because it loaded up just like a cold-water bass bite. I had it hooked right in the little hole where the screw goes — what are the odds of that? It was on its side, so I felt the weight dragging against the water Finally, I saw the silver on it and new it wasn’t a fish. It was an Alabama license tag.”
DID YOU KNOW? On the average, it takes a Classic champion 4.88 Classic appearances before winning the world championship event.
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Former Classic champion Woo Daves will be 59 years young on April 25th. Arkansas’ Stephen Browning blows out 39 candles three days later. Japanese pro Ysuke Miyazaki rounds out the April birthdays when celebrating his 35th on the 30th.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO… Michigan pro Marcel Veenstra says he would likely be a fishing guide. In his previous occupation, he ran the data department for an educational testing center.
THEY SAID IT. “I’ve talked to a few sponsors. I’d love for my wife to handle the business aspect, but she works as well. I don’t have time. When I’m out practicing, I don’t even answer my cell phone.” Toyota Rookie of the Year Dave Wolak fished the entire Tour without the support of a single paying sponsor, but figures to create some interest in his services on the strength of his outstanding performance.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail, which includes the Bassmaster Elite 50 series, is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite 50 Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops and Cialis (tadalafil).
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.