But the events of the past week left him sounding both frustrated and devastated when reached at his Kalamazoo, Mich., home while his fellow CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pros were scouring the big-bass waters of South Carolina’s Santee-Cooper Reservoir.
Unless you’ve been cave-diving for a week, chances are you have read or heard that the man known simply as KVD was disqualified for allowing his co-angler to drive his boat during practice while he stood on the front deck searching the water ahead.
For the first time in his career, VanDam was left on the outside looking in while a BASS event was going on.
“I’m working on taxes when I should be fishing,” VanDam said by telephone. “But that’s the way they chose to make it roll.
The three-time CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year was off to the best start of his illustrious career after finishing sixth and third in the first two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments. The DQ obviously puts a major hurdle in his hopes of extending the longest active consecutive Bassmaster Classic streak, which stands at 16.
Mentally, VanDam wasn’t looking that far ahead.
“I’ve never missed an event, ever, and this is my 17th season,” he said. “This is hard.
“It’s only worth worrying about variables you can control. And I can’t control this one anymore. So I’ve just got to look at it like when this is over, see where I’m at and focus on pulling back to the top.
“I could be dealing with a lot worse things, though, in the big scheme of things. It’s a variable, something that’s out of my control at this point. So it’s not worth losing a lot of sleep over … even though I have.”
The personable pro took little solace in the fact that the expanded Bassmaster Elite Series schedule of 11 tournaments offers him a better chance to make a comeback than in previous tour seasons.
“There’s no doubt that it helps,” VanDam said. “But it’s kind of like losing a 10-pound bass in Pittsburgh: You can look at it any way you want, but it’s awful hard to make up for that.
“But I’m not giving up, that’s for sure. I’ve just got to move forward and focus on the upcoming events.”
WILKS UPDATE. After missing the second Bassmaster Elite Series stop at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas because of an elbow ailment, Dustin Wilks tried to give it a go at the Santee Cooper event last week before eventually pulling out.
“I had made up my mind I wasn’t going to go and then, late Monday night, I decided to try it,” the 29-year-old North Carolina pro said. “I went out there for about five hours on Wednesday (practice) and saw that it just wasn’t going to happen. So I came on back home.”
The four-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier has been fishing with pain for some time.
Last year, he persisted through the entire season before yielding to arthroscopy to remove scar tissue on the inside of both elbows. But his current problem is unrelated and limited to tendon pain in his right elbow.
“It’s starting to get better,” Wilks said. “I’m just scared that I’m going to injure it more before it’s healed. I’m thinking by Guntersville (the fourth stop in the Bassmaster Elite Series, April 20-22, in Alabama) I’ll be back in action.
“All fishermen have had tendonitis before that we just fished through; but this is not normal. I’m getting an MRI next Wednesday. I’ll have to see what that says. If it’s torn, I guess I might be out longer than just another tournament. But if it’s just regular, old tendonitis, then I’m going to put the brace on, pump up on Advil and head back out.”
The ailment is a cruel development for Wilks, who enjoyed a pain-free fall while fishing for fun.
“I did a lot of fun fishing this fall and was doing great. But I just got hurt again. The only thing I can figure is I was nursing it so much last year and it was such a shock to do three 10- to 12-hour practice days and then the competition days going full force.”
PLANO ON BOARD. Plano, the country’s top maker of tackle boxes and other storage cases, has signed on as a sponsor of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail and will be particularly active in the Mercury Marine Women’s Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats and BASS youth initiatives.
“As a recognized leader in tackle storage, being involved in something that grows the sport just makes perfectly good business sense,” said Jesse Simpkins, Plano’s director of marketing. “2006 is a big year for us. We understand that as a category leader, when we can do something that tries to grow the entire pie — getting women and children involved — it’s something we need to do.
“When the LPGA was brought around, there was a little talk,” Simpkins said. “Then it started to grow and it snowballed. We’re poised to do something similar. Whether competitive bass fishing for women can come to the forefront is still unknown, but BASS and ESPN have the tools to do so. These programs are in their infancy and, realistically, I don’t think you can expect a lot out of the first year, other than bringing awareness.”
FULL FIELD. The season-opening event of the Mercury Marine Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats will showcase a full field of anglers and co-anglers April 20-22 on Neely Henry Lake in Gadsden, Ala. On the final day of competition, the top-six Women's Bassmaster Tour anglers will weigh-in at Guntersville High School with the Bassmaster Elite Series pros. “A full field at the season-opening event speaks to the success we are currently having with the WBT,” said Tournament Director Bruce Mathis. “These ladies are so excited to have an outlet to fish competitively, and a good number of them will fish all five events throughout the year.” The top 12 anglers from this inaugural tournament season will advance to the 2007 Women's Bassmaster Tour Championship, to be held in conjunction with the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic.
WEIRDEST CATCH. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mike McClelland once hooked a beaver. “I didn’t land it right away,” the Arkansas angler said. “Believe it or not, I hooked it on a jig. It was one of those freak accidents, where I was fishing around a beaver dam and it was either curious or aggravated about what I was doing there. I actually hooked him pretty close to the tail, and it was quite a chore to get him out of there.” McClelland can’t remember where the incident happened. It might have been Beaver Lake in Arkansas, he said.
DID YOU KNOW? Before his disqualification, VanDam had finished for the top-10 in his last nine tournaments. That remarkable feat harkens back to a time when Roland Martin started his BASS career by finishing first or second in 15 of his initial 23 BASS tournaments. (Martin’s worst showing during that period was 16th place.)
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Peter Thliveros of Florida turns 46 on April 7, while fellow competitor Matt Reed of Texas will be 44 on April 12.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO … California’s Fred Roumbanis, 27, who got off to a strong start by finishing second in the Bassmaster Elite Series opener on Texas’ Lake Amistad, would likely still be working for tackle manufacturer Okuma.
THEY SAID IT. “Honestly, if someone would have come to be with a business plan that said a competition involving anglers with bass boats and bags of fish would eventually add up to something akin to the Super Bowl, I would have said, ‘No way. It can’t be done.’ But it was done.” — Mike Nussman, president and chief executive officer of the American Sportfishing Association, in praise of the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic
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