The Tiger Woods of Bass Fishing: Kevin VanDam - Major League Fishing

The Tiger Woods of Bass Fishing: Kevin VanDam

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Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., is swarmed by the media after weigh in. VanDam, who finished the day in 22nd place, tightened his grip on the prestigious 2001 Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year title. VanDam needs to finish the tournament in 73rd place or higher to be crowned the most consistent angler of the year. Photo by Gary Mortenson. Angler: Kevin VanDam.
June 25, 2001 • Rob Newell • Archives

Michigan native shows that 2001 FLW Angler of the Year title is no fluke

Over the last few years, the name Kevin VanDam has become synonymous with the title Angler of the Year. Ten years ago, VanDam stepped into the sport of professional bass fishing and proved that there is much more to fishing than luck. When it comes to raising the bar in competitive bass fishing, VanDam has done more than his share of heavy lifting.

VanDam, a native of Kalamazoo Mich., turned pro when he was 22 years old. He joined the B.A.S.S. Tour in 1990 and quickly demonstrated that he would be a bass-fishing prodigy of Roland Martin or Rick Clunn proportions.

During the `90s VanDam ruled the B.A.S.S. Tour by winning the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year title three times (1992, 1996, 1999). He has been the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year runner-up twice and finished third once. In fact, VanDam has never finished lower than ninth place in the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year race. He has won six B.A.S.S. tournaments and finished in the top 10 exactly 38 times.

So when VanDam aimed his sights at the FLW Tour in January of 2001, speculation began as to how he would perform. Many bass-fishing fans wondered how the fishing phenomenon would fare on a different tour with a different format. VanDam’s competition undoubtedly hoped that his laser-like intensity would be diffracted somewhat when he added the entire FLW Tour to his already demanding tournament and promotions schedule.

But VanDam remained undaunted by his ever-expanding fishing obligations. If anything, the thought of simultaneously competing on two different circuits only enhanced VanDam’s focus. He captured the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year race by a 55-point margin. Additionally, he finished second in the 2000-2001 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year race. VanDam’s ability to catch fish is reminiscent of Tiger Woods’ ability to sink clutch putts.

While it may seem that VanDam is predestined to win angler-of-the-year titles, the young man humbly denies any magical proclivity for the title.

“Angler of the Year is not something I focus on,” says VanDam. “In fact, I pay little attention to the points race during the season. I fish each tournament to win. If things fall into place and I am leading the points race at the end of the season, that is great. But it is not like I fish every event of the year with Angler of the Year on my mind.”

VanDam maintains an unparalleled intensity, both on and off the water. His inexhaustible energy leave many wondering how he maintains such extreme focus over two fishing tours which commit him to 14 national events per year.

“I just love competitive bass fishing,” says VanDam. “There is probably not a waking hour that goes by that I am not thinking of some better way to find and catch bass.”

VanDam’s fishing passion extends beyond the casting range of his rods. He views tournament preparation as a key element in his success.

“I am fanatical about tackle organization and prepping for a tournament,” says VanDam. “I work very hard on organizing my equipment. I want access to my tackle immediately. If I suddenly need a ¼-ounce spinnerbait with chartreuse blades, I do not want to have to dig around for it. If needed, I can put on a spare trolling motor in less than four minutes. I am not boasting about my mechanical abilities, I am simply pointing out how small edges in preparation can translate into major advantages on tournament day.”

Another aspect of VanDam’s fishing that tends to puzzle his competitors is his uncanny ability to fish in a heavy crowd of anglers and catch fish when others cannot. On two occasions this season, once at Lake Okeechobee and again at St. Clair, VanDam was forced to fish bow to bow with multiple boats in confined areas where he had located fish. In both scenarios VanDam was unfazed by the extreme fishing pressure.

VanDam contends that confidence is a deciding factor in heavy fishing pressure situations.

“The night before a tournament, I might spend an hour painting a bait, maybe just to give it a little different look. Does that small color change make a difference to the fish? Probably not. But it does make a difference to me. It gives me more confidence in the bait.”

VanDam furthers his confidence by identifying the precise actions that make the fish bite.

“I find the exact action of a bait that will trigger a bite,” reveals VanDam. “That triggering mechanism changes from day to day, especially with moving baits like spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and crankbaits. The smallest adjustments in retrieval speeds and actions can make a tremendous difference in how the fish react to them.”

Finally, when it comes to competitive fishing, VanDam vows that he competes only against the fish and adheres to his own standards for excellence.

“I do my own thing. I am not trying to mimic other angler’s styles or strategies,” he says. “I set my own standards. I have had tournaments that I felt great about that I did not win and I have had tournaments where I fished terribly and still won.”

If VanDam’s standards are any indication, fishing fans can look forward to many years of tournament fishing excitement from this sensational angler.