But what has gone somewhat overshadowed is the fact that he has a chance to make BASS history by winning a fourth-consecutive tournament trail event.
The veteran Michigan pro enters this Bassmaster Classic with the kind of momentum never before enjoyed by a defending champion (or anyone else) — three consecutive BASS victories, including his second Bassmaster Classic championship last July in Pittsburgh.
“I think it would be pretty big for the sport, but it would be huge for me personally,” VanDam said of the potential for winning a fourth BASS event in a row. “My goal is always to go out there and win events. I’m definitely a competitor first.
“To be fortunate enough to win three in a row is amazing, because in this day and age the guys are so good and it’s just so tough to win. So I know how blessed I am to be able to win three in a row. To have an opportunity to win four is not something I’m taking lightly.”
By winning the final two events of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite 50 season last year, then prevailing at the Bassmaster Classic, VanDam joined Roland Martin (1980-81) as the only other angler to win three consecutive BASS tournaments.
“I am still kind of shocked about three in a row,” he said. “I knew I had a good shot at winning in Pittsburgh when I got there. The momentum coming from the Elite 50s didn’t hurt by any means.
“It is so tough in today’s climate just to win, period. I’ve been close so many times. Until this year, it had been since 2001 that I had won an event. I’ve had myself in position a lot of times in that period, but I just hadn’t been able to seal the deal.
“It kind of wears on you a little bit,” VanDam explained. “But I’ve always believed that sooner or later the moon and the stars will line up and I’m going to win on that final day.
“And that’s what’s happened. My consistency is finally paying off. The chips have fallen the other way, and I got those three.”
Momentum is not the only factor that has VanDam excited about his chances in Bassmaster Classic XXXVI on Florida’s Lake Tohopekaliga. He was fourth to Shaw Grigsby during the January 2000 BASS event held here at Lake Toho, and 12th to Takahiro Omori in the January 2005 tournament staged on the same waters.
“To win in Florida — and, believe me, I’m going to try my best — I know it’s going to be quite a challenge,” VanDam said. “Florida has never been one of my real strengths, in general. But I think in the past when I’ve gone to events there, I haven’t gone with that total focus to win.
“This is not a points event. This is an all-the-marbles event and, down there, there are only a few techniques that you need to fish to have a shot at winning. Toho is a phenomenal fishery, and it’s going to take a lot of big fish to win. It’s going to be one of the best Classics ever … fish-catching-wise.”
You can hear VanDam talk about his Bassmaster Classic chances on BASS INSIDER Radio at www.bassinsider.com.
BASS AND THE POLYGRAPH. After a three-year absence, BASS officials have reinstated the option of using polygraph tests in its tournaments.
BASS tournament director Trip Weldon told Inside BASS that the polygraph exams will be reinstated in 2006, but there was no incident that prompted its reinstatement.
“Our interest is in protecting the integrity of the tournaments and dealing with allegations of irregularities,” Weldon said. “As the worldwide authority on bass fishing, we want to be as accurate as possible when conducting tournaments.”
Weldon said the polygraph is used only as a last resort when an angler is accused of a rule violation. BASS tournaments have an excellent track record and the test had only been used about a half-dozen times in the 12 years preceding its elimination in 2002, he said.
WEIRDEST CATCH. North Carolina pro Dustin Wilks once caught a 2½-pound Lake St. Clair smallmouth that he temporarily shared with an amateur partner. “I laid my rod down and tried to net my partner's fish, but it was hooked in the belly and got off,” Wilks recalled. “When I picked my rod back up, I had a fish on it. I reeled it in only to find it had a grub snagged in its side.
“It was the same fish my partner had just lost. It didn't fight very well because he had worn it down already. I don't know if our baits were real close together … and it ate mine and swam over to his, and he set the hook before I did.”
DID YOU KNOW? In the upcoming inaugural season of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, Jarrett Edwards will be the youngest competitor at 26 and Guy Eaker the oldest at 66.
PRO BIRTHDAYS. Mark Tucker, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Missouri, will blow out 45 candles on Jan. 31. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jay Kendrick turns 38 on Feb. 8.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO… 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open winner Andy Morgan said he would most likely still be working in an electrical-supply store.
THEY SAID IT. “Ricky is a true friend. He taught me how to be a thinker. But the most important thing he taught me is how to deal with the battles that I have within myself. He really gave me the outlook that there’s more to fishing than just the actual art of fishing. To look beyond. To create. And not set any limits. That’s always been one of the great things about him, in that there are no boundaries. And he taught me that I can become as good as I want to be or as good as I allow myself to become. That I owe him for a lot.” — Veteran Texas BASS pro Gary Klein, on friend and fellow competitor Rick Clunn.
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 www.bassmaster.com.
BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation 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 550,000 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 www.bassmaster.com.