Don’t Look Now – KVD’s Gaining in Angler of the Year Race

Inside BASS

Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige once cautioned, “Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.” That is good advice for Michael Iaconelli, who has led the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race for most of the season. With two CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments remaining, Iaconelli leads Steve Kennedy and Dean Rojas by 50 points and 53 points, respectively. But improbably, there is a new pursuer right behind them with a familiar name entering this week’s Capitol Clash on the Potomac River in Maryland. Tied with Kevin Wirth, Kevin VanDam is in fourth in the standings, just a point behind Rojas. This is implausible not because it’s uncharted territory for the three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year, but because KVD has somehow climbed back in the chase despite spotting his competitors one entire tournament. VanDam’s Angler of the Year chances became an uncharacteristic long shot in March, when he was disqualified at South Carolina’s Santee Cooper Showdown for allowing his co-angler to drive his boat during practice while he stood on the front deck, searching the water ahead. He said it was an honest mistake; but it was one that sent him home to Kalamazoo, Mich., and forced him to miss a BASS tournament for the first time in his career. “If I was Ike and those other guys, my knees would be shaking with KVD so close behind, going in to the final two tournaments,” said veteran Elite Series pro Bernie Schultz. “Nothing against those guys, but my money’s on VanDam.” The expanded, 11-event Bassmaster Elite Series season gives KVD fans reason to hope for such a comeback. But after failing to score a single point in a tournament, a successful Angler of the Year campaign hardly seemed realistic … until now. One of the axioms of this sport is that the bass — and KVD’s competitors — are in trouble when the two-time Classic champion gets mad. “When that whole deal happened at Santee Cooper, how it went down still doesn’t sit well with me,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it now, but it made me very driven to still win Angler of the Year. “I knew mathematically it was possible with more events, or I thought it was. So it’s (remained) my goal. It’s been a frustrating year. I’ve had a couple of stretches where I had opportunities (to win) and things didn’t go my way. And I’ve had some bad things happen. But I just haven’t let any of them get me down. “I just go out there at every event and really try to do what I can to win. I know that you’ve got to make those cuts to win. And to win Angler of the Year when you’re down that far, you’ve got to get into the top of the points in each tournament where there’s a three- to five-point increment. You’ve got to make top-12s. If you lead days, you get bonus points and things like that. “That’s how you make up on the field. Unfortunately, Mike Iaconelli — and Dean Rojas for the first part of the season — have been on fire. They haven’t slipped. Even though I’ve started to do well, those guys have done even better.” Consider VanDam’s remarkable performance this season: He finished sixth and third in the first Elite Series events, followed by the DQ at Santee Cooper. KVD bounced back in championship style with a fourth at Lake Guntersville before enduring his worst finish (50th) of the season at Clarks Hill Lake in Georgia. Since then, he was 22nd at Grand Lake in Oklahoma, third at both Kentucky Lake in Kentucky and Oneida Lake in New York, and ninth at Lake Champlain in New York. He followed that with a second-place finish at the recent Bassmaster American presented by Advance Auto Parts on Lake Wylie, though the Bassmaster Majors don’t count toward Angler of the Year standings. And here are two more reasons for Ike and Co. to be worried: - VanDam absolutely loves the Potomac River, where he has posted five top-five finishes in the last six pro BASS events, including a win in 1997. - The final Elite Series tournament is on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake, where KVD placed fourth last year. “It’s a long way from over, but it makes it interesting,” VanDam said. “I’m not going to be happy at the end of the year if I don’t win Angler of the Year because I’m having a hard time with the mistake that I made at Santee Cooper. “I’ve only made a few mistakes in my career, and that one is extremely costly.” DOGGONE FRUSTRATING. On the second day of the Bassmaster American on Lake Wylie, Gerald Swindle had a comical encounter of the four-legged kind. “I was trying to fish a pocket where I saw a 4-pounder under a dock the day before that had chased my bait out,” said the Elite pro from Alabama. “And I caught a 10-incher in front of him. So I went in there today, and every time I’d get next to this dock this yellow lab would run down there and run out on the pier. “So as I got closer, I called the dog right over to me. Then I put the trolling motor on high and took off down the bank. The dog raced me. I skipped under the pier, but I didn’t catch him. I thought, ‘Well, at least I beat the dog.’ “So I get on the other side of the pocket and started flipping in a tree. The dog jumped in and swam all through the brushpile I was fishing and left. I said, ‘I don’t believe I’m meant to catch one here, boys. We’re leaving.’” WARRIORS ON THE WATER. As a gesture of support and gratitude to the U.S. military, BASS and HOOAH!, a brand of energy bars and drinks, provided observer slots to nine active-duty men and women from the U.S. Army at the recent Bassmaster American on Lake Wylie. The soldiers were paired with BASS anglers who qualified for the top 12 cut on Day 3. Notable anglers included two-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam, eventual Bassmaster American champion Dave Wolak and local favorite and former Lake Wylie guide Jason Quinn. Master Sgt. Katrina Walker was paired with Quinn and experienced the fantastic spectator following that traced Quinn’s every move on his home lake. Walker, 39, served in Iraq until November 2005 and was appreciative of the opportunity. “It was a wonderful experience,” Walker said. “It’s a nice departure to be able to do something like this. “ The special observers were honored both at the Day 3 tournament launch at Copperhead Island and the Day 3 weigh-in at Cricket Arena. “To be able to talk to and learn from the Bassmaster pros is a remarkable experience,” added Staff Sgt. Todd Busch, who was paired with pro Terry Scroggins of Florida. “This was one of the best weekends this soldier has had in a long time.” FAIRCLOTH EXPECTING. While Todd Faircloth is one of many Elite anglers looking forward to February 2007 for the CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake in Alabama, the talented Texan has one more reason to be excited: He’s going to become a dad – again. “I hope it’s a girl,” Faircloth said of his second child, who will join him, his wife Angie and 2-year-old son Hudson. “But first and foremost, I just want the child to be healthy.” Currently, Faircloth is on the bubble to qualify for bass fishing’s most major event. He’s 38th in the Angler of the Year standings with two Elite Series events remaining. Only the top 36 anglers qualify from those standings. “There is a lot of pressure with so few events remaining, but I feel I can do fairly well on these next two fisheries.” BAFFLING BASS. For Denny Brauer, it was a Lake Wylie largemouth that provided a dose of dock frustration. “Everybody’s got stories about fish that got away,” said Brauer, fresh from his Elite Series victory at New York’s Lake Champlain. “I never see fish, but I saw this 4-pounder swimming along eating mayflies off the top. So I flip a tube over to it, and it eats the tube — bites it in half and I miss him. “I pitch the tube back in there and miss him again. I reel in, pick up another rod and pitch a jig. He goes down and eats it. I get him all the way to the boat and he comes off. “So I go back to that dock the next day with a big chugger. I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to fool him.’ I fired it up underneath that dock and chugged it about three times, and he inhales it. Got him all the way to the boat. He looks at me, (spits out the topwater) and says, ‘Here’s your chugger.’ WRAP RAP. Britt Myers’ Elite Series boat wrap promotes CS Motorsports, a business he started in 1993 at the age of 19 in Mount Holly, N.C. Together with a second company he later started (Audio Excellence), the business specializes in car stereo, security, mobile video and navigation systems, auto customizing, wheels, tires and accessories. Myers’ companies have long sponsored close friend and fellow Elite Series pro Jason Quinn. WEIRDEST CATCH. Imagine the emotional swing Jeff Kriet endured on the second day at Lake Wylie, when he hooked into what he thought was a valuable bass. “The highlight of my day was hooking into a Country Crock butter tub,” the Oklahoma pro said. “After I set the hook, I told my partner, ‘This might be a boat fish for you.’” That was the day when the round’s biggest bass was worth a new Triton/Mercury rig to the observer riding with the pro who caught it. DID YOU KNOW? Somewhat overshadowed by Dave Wolak’s $250,000 victory at the Bassmaster American was Takahiro Omori’s entry into the BASS millionaire’s club. He is the 17th pro to earn more than $1 million from BASS tournaments. IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO …Elite Series pro Kevin Langill might be better known for his artistry in a rock-hard medium. “I’ve done concrete work for 14 years now,” the North Carolina angler said. “Driveways and stuff like that, as well as some commercial work. I specialize in decorative stamp — doing different patterns like herringbone, brick, slate. I do seven different patterns and 50 different colors.” THEY SAID IT. “I’d be whining about the fish not biting or the weather being too hot, and she'll say, ‘You know, there are worse places you can be.’” — Lucy Mize, a Mercury Marine Women’s Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats competitor, tells the Charlotte Observer that her daughter Melinda has a way of keeping everything in perspective when they talk by phone. National Guard member Melinda Mize wanted to compete on the WBT circuit this season but was called up and is serving in Kuwait. News exclusives, audio and video clips of bass fishing's biggest stars, loads of discounts and more are all part of BASS Insider, an exclusive membership, now available at http://www.Bassmaster.com. BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation Nation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years. BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 530,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla. For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208. To join BASS, call 1-800-BASS-USA or visit http://www.Bassmaster.com.