By Lynn Burkhead - April 10, 2014
DENTON, Tex. – At the 2014 Summit Cup in Alpena, Michigan, Kevin VanDam once again showed the world why he’s the best ever.
Storming his way through three rounds of competition on three different Alpena, Mich.-area, waters, VanDam won going away by shattering the single day MLF weight mark with 39 smallmouth bass that weighed a staggering 82 pounds, 7 ounces.
All of that coming in a single day, mind you.
In winning the MLF Summit Cup in his home state, VanDam, who has never failed to make the Championship Round of an MLF event that he has fished in, nearly doubled the final day weight of runner-up Greg Hackney.
Louisiana’s “Hack Attack” had one of the better days in MLF history himself, but still finished far back in the pack behind KVD despite weighing 17 smallmouth bass at 43 pounds, 3 ounces.
But while waiting for the start of Elimination Day Two of the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing 2014 Shell Rotella Challenge Cup at Ray Roberts Lake, KVD acknowledged that Alpena was then and Denton is now. And the two venues couldn’t be more different in his mind.
Unlike the gregarious smallmouth bass of Michigan that feed and move in wolf-pack groups, North Texas bass, primarily the Florida-strain fish that inhabit most of the area lakes, are a bit more on the persnickety side, even if they can grow to be double-digit size.
“It’s a tough area to be at and it’s a tough time of the year too,” said KVD, a winner of 20 B.A.S.S. events and more than $5.5 million in career earnings.
“It’s one of those deals where you’ve got to manufacture strikes,” he added. “You’re going to have to catch them using techniques where you can generate a reaction out of these fish because they aren’t going to want to bite.”
That should suit VanDam’s style of aggressive power fishing just fine.
“(Them not wanting to bite), that means you’ve either got to fish slow and finesse style, which doesn’t fit this format very well, or you’ve got to use real erratic presentations, things that trigger strikes,” said VanDam, a four-time Bassmaster Classic winner and a seven-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year.
With one win in Texas, a B.A.S.S. event on East Texas’ Sam Rayburn back in 1999, does KVD have any experience on Ray Roberts?
“Not really,” he said.
“I’ve fished this lake one time,” said the Kalamazoo, Mich., angler. “Back in 1992, I came here and fished one day and filmed a show for the Bass Pro Shops television show. So I really don’t have any experience (here).”
But KVD does have ample experience in Texas, including a runner-up finish to eventual winner Brent Ehrler at the inaugural MLF event on Lake Amistad back in 2011.
So he does feel like he’s got plenty of knowledge to be successful at this event.
“It’s Texas and it’s the general seasonal pattern for (this time of the) year,” he said. “I know what I’m going to be looking for. I’ve just got to see what stage the fish are in.”
“ A missed fish here, a lost fish there, they are going to be the death penalty (in trying to win this event). ”– Kevin VanDam
What VanDam is pretty sure of is that the bites will be fewer and farther between in Denton than they were in Alpena due to the time of the year that this MLF event is being contested.
“This is going to be a grind,” said VanDam, the 2001 FLW Tour Angler of the Year. “The biggest thing here is keeping your focus and making sure that when you do get an opportunity, you execute on it.
“A missed fish here, a lost fish there, they are going to be the death penalty (in trying to win this event).”
One thing that KVD does plan on doing is learning from the reservoir and its bass population as the day goes along. He expects the bite to get better later on, leading to what could be a climatic third period.
“I’m going to be learning as the day goes along,” said VanDam. “That’s really what this format does. But here, one of the hardest things compared to the other places we’ve been to, is that you don’t get much feedback.
“What I mean by that is you’re not getting a lot of bites (during the course of a day). So you don’t get that idea of what’s going on. It’s not as easy to learn the patterns and get the story told because your clues are few and far between here.”
VanDam says it’s not just the fish that an angler catches at Ray Roberts that will tell the day’s tale, but also any follows, blow-ups, swipes at a lure or missed strikes.
“They’ll all be helpful in putting the puzzle together,” he said.
“For the most part, I don’t fish– Kevin VanDam
likeother guys do. I have my own system.”
Is listening to the MLF leaderboard being announced, a key component in the way the MLF angling game is played, a part of VanDam’s effort to figure out of the day’s puzzle?
“I really don’t (pay that much attention to it),” he said. “I pretty much know what I’m going to do. You do pay attention to it (a little bit) because you have to. It’s there for you regardless (of whether you want to hear it or not).
“If you see a certain guy fishing a certain way (who is) moving up the leaderboard, then that can give you certain clues, so yeah, it’s all part of the strategy here.”
Then again, history’s best professional bass fisherman points out that he’s usually trying to lead, not follow.
“For the most part, I don’t fish like other guys do,” said VanDam. “I have my own system and I try to do my own thing and make it happen the way that I like to do it. Or the way that I think is best.”
As MLF commissioner Don Rucks summoned VanDam and the rest of the day’s field away to get ready for the morning launch, I couldn’t help but ask KVD one final question.
With one Major League Fishing championship already in hand and that career “To-Do” item forever marked off the list, what does he do now?
Does KVD hunger for more Major League Fishing glory?
“No, (one is not enough),” he laughingly smiled. “I want to win two.”
And with that, KVD turned and walked to his Nitro bass boat on a chilly North Texas morning.
A morning where he was ready to hit the waters of Ray Roberts, embrace the lake’s challenging puzzle, and get it all figured out. All in an effort to add to his career resume` by becoming the first angler in MLF history to win not one, but two championship trophies.
If you haven’t figured this out about Kevin VanDam so far, don’t bet against him to do just that.