Michigan’s Kevin VanDam Visits ESPN Headquarters

BASS Reporter’s Notebook

In recognition of his winning the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., visited ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports, on Monday, one day after the conclusion of the 2008 Elite Series season.

VanDam and his family traveled to the Bristol, Conn., campus from the season finale in Syracuse, N.Y., and the four-time Angler of the Year made stops at ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning; First Take; and ESPNEWS.

In his first stop, at Mike & Mike in the Morning, VanDam was quizzed by a curious Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg — who attended the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 20-22 out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La. — about VanDam’s favorite lure, the Strike King Series 6 crankbait in the Sexy Shad color, a crankbait KVD designed and one that helped him win four tournaments through the past two Elite Series seasons. The radio show hosts wondered what drove VanDam to name the color “sexy shad.”

“I think the highlight of the day for me was Greenie talking about Sexy Shad,” VanDam said. “We wanted to name it something catchy and transcendent — and when a guy who’s not an avid angler wants to talk about it, then that strategy worked.”

VanDam, also a two-time Bassmaster Classic winner, drove his tournament rig to the ESPN campus and parked it for the day outside the cafeteria, where hundreds of curious employees made stops to inspect his fully wrapped truck and his boat, including the on-board electronics, trolling motor, engine and more.

“It was neat to see how many people came to check it out,” said VanDam, who answered questions and posed for photographs with fans. “It was a really great day. We had some BASS fans out there.”

VanDam was then interviewed by ESPN’s Michael Kim for First Take in a segment that will air Wednesday, Aug. 13, on ESPN2 and, finally, he talked with Cindy Brunson for a Monday afternoon spot on ESPNEWS.

DAVIS BACK IN CLASSIC. Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., is right where he wants to be: a Bassmaster Elite Series angler headed for his 14th Bassmaster Classic.

Davis is one of six past Classic champs with invitations in hand to the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 20-22 on Louisiana’s Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City. But Davis’ story is a bit different than those of the other five other Classic champions.

Davis was the Classic champ in 1995, the same year he won his first of three Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles. He is the only pro to capture both the Classic and AOY trophies in the same year. His other AOY crowns came in 1998 and 2001.

He opted out of joining the newly created Elite Series in 2006. The next year, he decided to return, but he couldn’t pick up where he’d left off. He elected to compete in the 2007 Bassmaster Southern Open circuit to get back to the Elite level. Although he was successful in his Elite bid, he missed earning a Classic berth by just one spot.

Through 11 Elite competitions this season, he didn’t win, but his consistently strong finishes earned him a 12th-place finish in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race, far above the 36th-place cutline for the Classic.

“The Classic was my goal. I feel good, and it’s been good this year to be back with BASS,” Davis said Monday morning.

Davis was barely more than 20 years old when he qualified for his first Classic, in 1987. Since then, the Classic’s changed, noted Davis, who’s now 44.

“The event’s bigger now, for sure,” he said. “The Bassmaster Classic is recognized more widely, and not just in fishing circles. Now people who don’t even fish know what the Bassmaster Classic is.”

One thing hasn’t altered, and that’s the jolt the Classic can deliver to the winner’s career.

“When I won in 1995, it changed my career forever. I was thrust into the limelight, (especially) with winning Angler of Year the same year I won the Classic. The Classic was more of a life-changing title for me than being Angler of the Year — although, as it should be, Angler of the Year is now a more prestigious title.

“I love to fish as much as I ever did. Maybe the years have taken away some of my drive, but I’m looking forward to kicking the year off with the Classic.”

He’ll be up against five other Classic champs, including Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., who last week took his fourth Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. His Classic wins came in 2001 and 2005.

The other Classic champs slated to go for another title in 2009 are Michael Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J. (2003), who was also the AOY of 2006; Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala. (2007); Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C. (1999), who was AOY in 1997 and 2002; and defending champion Alton Jones of Waco, Texas.

LAST ANGLER IN: Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., started his Bassmaster Elite Series season in last place in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race. Sunday, through the same points system, he scored a berth in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 20-22 on Louisiana’s Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City.

Zero to hero. Or, at least, to 36th place in points — good enough for a coveted Classic berth.

Hackney finished last in the Elite season’s first event, thus earning minimal points toward a Classic spot. He slowly fought his way back. He was in 41st place last week going into the season’s final event, the Champion’s Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide in New York.

His 30th-place finish in New York was just enough to do the trick. So far, Hackney is the only home-state qualifier for the Louisiana Classic. It will be his seventh time in the world’s most prestigious fishing competition.

Classic berths are awarded to the top 36 in the Elite Series points race. Yet Hackney wasn’t the last angler in. That distinction goes to Davy Hite of Ninety Six, S.C., who was the Classic champion in 1999 and has two AOY titles on his resume.

Placing 37th in points, Hite scored a Classic spot because reigning Classic champ Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, gets an automatic entry. With Jones ending in fifth place in points, his Classic spot went to the pro in 37th place, who turned out to be Hite.

LIFTING AWARDS. While all Bassmaster Elite Series pros are the heavyweights of the sport of bass fishing, a dozen Elite pros earned awards in 2008 to prove they can hoist the pounds.

Styled after the trophy belts weight-lifters or professional fighters receive, the awards were presented last week to 12 Elite anglers for surpassing the 100-pound mark at a single event in the 2008 Elite season. Their accomplishments gave them entry into the BASS Century Club.

The pack of 2008 Century Club belt recipients was led by Paul Elias, whose 132 pound, 8-ounce haul April 3-6 from Falcon Lake set the new BASS record for heaviest four-day catch.

Like Elias, 11 other pros made the grade at the Falcon event. They were Terry Scroggins, Palatka, Fla., 132-4; Byron Velvick, Del Rio, Texas, 131-15; Aaron Martens, Leeds, Ala., 129-7; Mark Davis, Mt. Ida, Ark., 128-15; Scott Rook, Little Rock, Ark., 125-10; Scott Campbell, Springfield, Mo., 120-1; Jason Williamson, Aiken, S.C., 118-2; Ben Matsubu, Hemphill, Texas, 114-13; Casey Ashley, Donalds, S.C., 113-3; Mike Iaconelli, Runnemede, N.J., 112-6; and Rick Morris, Virginia Beach, Va., 108-7.

BASS Tournament Director Trip Weldon was given a special belt because he was literally the greatest weight-lifter of all at the Falcon tournament.

Weldon handled the tournament’s total poundage of 10,590. His Herculean task was to heave each bag of bass onto the scales and weigh the fish.

RESCUE ON ROUGH ONEIDA. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Davis of Mount Ida., Ark., rescued two local anglers clinging to a capsized boat Sunday on Oneida Lake.

Davis was competing on the New York lake near Syracuse in the final-day showdown of the Champion’s Choice presented by Ramada Worldwide, in which the first prize was $100,000.

“The wind was blowing really, really hard and the waves were high. I was fishing the center of the lake in open water and I kept thinking I heard someone yelling. I asked the cameraman in the boat with me to use his zoom lens to see if he could spot anything. He said, ‘Yeah, I think there’s something floating over there.’

“I immediately pulled up my trolling motor and made my way out there. Sure enough, there were two men hanging onto a capsized boat, what looked like a 12- to 14-foot V-bottom model. They didn’t have their life jackets on. One guy was holding a big tacklebox.

“They were in bad shape, and they sure were glad to see us. We were able to get them both into my boat — and the guy’s tacklebox.

“We were able to call (an ESPN) camera boat to help out,” Davis said. “The boat driver found us, and took the two back to shore. I think the driver was able to come back later and tow their capsized boat for them.

“The men told me they’d been out there for about 45 minutes to an hour, just clinging to that little boat. They didn’t say much else. Picking them up cost me a little fishing time, but I was glad to do it and make sure they were safe. It all worked out fine.”

THE BIG OUCH: "I've had the kind of year that everything that could go wrong did. It could have been raining $100 bills this year and with the luck I've had, I'd get hit with a sack of nickels." — Bassmaster Elite Series pro Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., who failed to qualify this season for his 10th Bassmaster Classic

DEAN ROJAS GETS ONE: “It’s been seven years, folks, since I won my last event, and I’ve fished about a hundred bass tournaments since then. This field is so stacked, it’s unbelievable. When you’re going up against VanDam and Brauer and Iaconelli — all the guys, they’re all sticks — you gotta catch them, you gotta raise your game all the way to the top, as far as you can.” — Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., on Sunday as he broke his dry spell by winning the Elite season ender, cemented a 2009 Bassmaster Classic berth and became the newest member of the BASS Millionaires Club

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 Bassmaster.com and 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 an array of services to its more than 500,000 members while spearheading progressive, positive change on issues related to conservation and water access. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.