GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. – Furthering his reputation as the best angler on the planet, three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., scored his 14th BASS victory Sunday at the Bluegrass Brawl presented by DieHard® Platinum Marine Batteries on Kentucky Lake with a four-day total of 81 pounds, 13 ounces. VanDam held off by just 1 pound a hard-charging Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., who weighed in 24 pounds, 11 ounces Sunday to make things interesting.
In addition to the $100,000 victory, VanDam claimed the lead in the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. With only three events remaining in the Trail to the Trophy, VanDam leads Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, by 65 points, a modest margin. Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., is third and reigning AOY Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., is fourth. The eventual winner will take home $250,000, and the standings will also determine the brunt of the 2009 Bassmaster Classic qualifiers.
After narrowly missing out on an Elite victory by 8 ounces last week to Jeremy Starks of Charleston, W.Va., on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake -- part of the Tennessee River chain along with Kentucky Lake – VanDam was able to exact some redemption on the Elite field. At Wheeler, he absorbed trash talk from Starks and relinquished the lead on the final day. But, on Kentucky Lake, VanDam led wire-to-wire and pushed his career BASS earnings to nearly $3 million.
“This win means more to me than any that I have experienced in a long while,” VanDam, 40, said of the Father’s Day victory. “Two years ago, I finished third in this tournament, and this year I was smart about it. I planned for the boat traffic and made sound decisions.”
Fishing fans can catch all of the action on The Bassmasters on Saturday, June 21, at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2. As always, live, streaming video of the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboards was available on www.Bassmaster.com.
Plagued by boat traffic from competitors in other tournaments, VanDam was able to catch more than 20 pounds each of the first three days of competition. Surprisingly, he struggled Sunday, the one day the boat traffic decreased. But VanDam had saved for late in the day a final spot that he identified during practice, and he was able to upgrade his weight in the final hours of competition. The victory is his fourth in Elite Series competition, the most of any angler since the format was created in 2006.
Throughout the tournament, VanDam mixed it up with a variety of lures. His most productive, like last week on Wheeler, was a Strike King series 6 in sexy shad color. He said he used jigs, spinnerbaits and other crankbaits throughout the four-day competition. The key to victory, he said, was keying on rough spots on shell beds in the bottom of the lake. VanDam felt the fish were bunched around these spots and found most of his productive schools at these locations.
Now, after his fourth consecutive top-12 cut, VanDam’s focus turns to the all-important Angler of the Year race.
“That is the ultimate goal,” said the two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. “Amongst the anglers, that’s what we talk about. It’s just an honor to be in the hunt.”
Horton, who totaled 83 pounds, 12 ounces through four days, nearly made an amazing comeback. He trailed VanDam by almost 7 pounds heading into the final day, and though he was satisfied with his catch Sunday, he lamented a few lost fish that he felt would have won the event for him.
He threw a crankbait like most in the field, but the key to Horton’s success was shaving the edges to allow the bait to swim through the water with greater ease.
“This one is a little bit easier to swallow because I came in thinking I was fishing for second place,” said Horton, the 2000 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. “You just don’t expect Kevin to slip. But it was a great tournament.”
In third was Terry Butcher of Talala, Okla., who moved up from sixth with 78 pounds, 3 ounces. McClelland moved up from seventh to fourth with 77 pounds, 1 ounce. Rounding out the top five was Paul Elias of Laurel, Miss., with 75 pounds, 14 ounces.
Elite rookie Wade Grooms of Bonneau, S.C, finished seventh and four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn, second heading into the day, slipped to ninth.
In addition to the Angler of the Year race, the Advance Auto Parts Rookie of the Year race will be settled based on Elite Series performance. Elite rookie Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., has opened up a commanding margin of 257 points over Grooms. With only three events remaining, Lane will need to falter to relinquish his sizable lead.
Next, the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit heads to Old Hickory Lake out of Hendersonville, Tenn. The ninth event of the season, recently rescheduled from the Mississippi River because of unsafe conditions in Fort Madison, Iowa, is set for June 26-29.
Straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee border, Kentucky Lake is 185 miles in length, with 160,000 surface acres and 2,380 miles of shoreline. Barkley, a navigable canal, adds another 80,000 surface acres. The Bassmaster Elite Series made its last stop at Kentucky Lake in June 2006, when the top seven pros each caught more than 60 pounds through four days. Winner Morizo Shimizu weighed in 66 pounds, 9 ounces.
For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit Bassmaster.com. Visit ESPNMediaZone.com for ESPN’s latest releases, schedules and other news, plus photos, video, audio clips and more.
The local sponsor of the Bluegrass Brawl is the Kentucky Sports Authority.
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.