Michigan’s Kevin VanDam Capitalizes on Big Bite to Take Lead at Citrus Slam on Kissimmee Chain

LAKE WALES, Fla. -- While a strong wind frustrated the field Saturday, a familiar face leaped to the top of the leaderboard with three days of consistent fishing. Kevin VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Mich., has the advantage going into the final day of the Bassmaster Elite Series Citrus Slam presented by Longhorn at the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes with 49 pounds, 1 ounce overall after a five-fish limit on Day 3 weighing 13 pounds, 6 ounces.

On Saturday, the three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year changed strategies, as the wind made boat positioning difficult. He wasn’t able to fish thoroughly in small spots of isolated offshore grass in 7-10 feet of water on Lake Tohopekaliga, as he had done Thursday and Friday.

“I’m not a big believer in luck, but I’ve been very fortunate,” said VanDam, who has 12 career BASS wins. “The first day it was real calm and slick. The second day was a little bit tougher. I did get a big bite, and I got a big bite today. Fortunately, I landed both of those fish, and that’s why I’m in the position that I am right now.”

Fishing fans can catch live, streaming video of the daily weigh-ins in addition to a real-time leaderboard, analysis, photo galleries and more on Bassmaster.com. Coverage from the second Elite event of 2008 airs on ESPN2 Saturday, March 22, at 9 a.m. ET.

Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark., stuck with fishing hydrilla in Lake Kissimmee in 2-3 feet of water, which proved successful enough to move him from fifth to second place, also with 13-6 Saturday for a total of 47 pounds, 0 ounces. Ray Sedgwick, of Cross, S.C., hauled himself from 20th place to third with a limit of 18-4 for an overall 46-4, and Bill Lowen of North Bend, Ohio, took fourth with 44-12.

Day 2 leader Kelly Jordon of Mineola, Texas, came in Saturday without a bag, but his solid two-day total of 44-3 put him in fifth place, well within the cutoff of the top 12 anglers who will fish Sunday. Day 1 leader Byron Velvick of Del Rio, Texas, fell to 15th with 39-8.

“I didn’t have as many big bedders,” Jordon said of his luck Saturday after bags weighing 22-14 and 21-5 the first two days, respectively. “I had one big one, and I never could see it because the waves were coming in on it because of the wind. So then I fished some other ways I had been catching them, and I didn’t have a bite in an hour, and I thought, ‘Man, I can run down to Kissimmee and catch a limit.’ ”

Jordon said he ran from Lake Toho to Lake Kissimmee, fished for three hours and came up empty.

Butch Tucker of Georgia went wire to wire to win the co-angler division and the top prize of $25,000 with a three-day total of 26 pounds, 10 ounces.

With a victory Sunday, VanDam, the Elite Series’ all-time money leader, would claim the $100,000 first-place prize, bringing his BASS career earnings to more than $2.7 million.

Local favorite Bobby Lane of Lakeland, who has remained steady through three days, is 10th with 41-7. The 2008 Bassmaster Classic champion, Alton Jones, also made the cut, coming in ninth Saturday with an overall weight of 41-9, while 2007 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Skeet Reese wound up in 22nd for the tournament with 37-3.

Elite pros are building points in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. The winner of the seasonlong points competition will earn $250,000 and the standings will determine 36 qualifiers for the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.

The final-day launch is at 8 a.m. Sunday, with the weigh-in at 4 p.m. Both are free and open to the public.

Sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite Series include Toyota Tundra, Advance Auto Parts, Berkley, Lowrance, Mercury, Purolator, Skeeter, Yamaha, Evan Williams Bourbon, Longhorn, OPTIMA Batteries, Triton Boats, Costa Del Mar, MotorGuide and Ramada Worldwide.

About BASS

For 40 years, BASS has served as the authority on bass fishing. With its considerable multi-media platforms and expansive tournament trail, BASS is guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry leading publications Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times and Fishing Tackle Retailer and comprehensive web properties in www.Bassmaster.com and www.ESPNOutdoors.com, the organization is committed to delivering content true to the lifestyle. Additionally, television programming on ESPN2 continues to provide relevant content from tips and techniques to in-depth tournament coverage to passionate audiences.

The organization oversees the prestigious Bassmaster tournament trail which includes the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Opens, Women’s Bassmaster Tour and the Bassmaster Classic, the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing. Through its grassroots network, the BASS Federation Nation, BASS sanctions more than 20,000 events annually.

BASS also offers a wide array of services to its more than 525,000 members while spearheading progressive, positive change on issues related to conservation and water access. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.