By Lynn Burkhead - August 9, 2014
It was a virtuoso performance.
It being the on-the-water smallmouth bass catching beat-down that Kevin VanDam threw out in August 2013 on Grand Lake as the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing 2014 General Tire Summit Cup wound down in Alpena, Mich.
As an outdoor writer, getting to sit in a camera boat within 100 yards away as VanDam caught smallmouth after smallmouth after smallmouth on the 5,660-acre lake was something that I felt privileged to watch.
It was the kind of sports moment that you will never forget and go back to in the years to come while reliving it over and over again.
Kind of like watching Vince Young lead the Texas Longhorns on a stunning fourth quarter comeback against the USC Trojans in the 2006 BCS National Championship game. Like the back nine of Augusta in 1986 as the Golden Bear (Jack Nicklaus) roared from behind to win a record sixth Masters’ green jacket at the age of 46. Like Pebble Beach in 2000 as Tiger Woods stormed to a 15-shot victory in the U.S. Open and began marching towards his “Tiger Slam.” Or like being in Lake Placid in 1980 as the U.S.A. hockey squad showed the Winter Olympics crowd and the entire world that it’s still okay to believe in miracles.
Yeah, what KVD did in August 2013 to that day’s championship field – Brent Ehrler, Shaw Grigsby, Greg Hackney, Timmy Horton and Aaron Martens – was that good from a fishing standpoint.
If you think I jest, then consider how the day unfolded once again.
With thick cloud cover making for a slower than expected first period, VanDam hung tough and managed to fight his way into a second place position behind Grigsby.
As a mix of clouds and sun greeted the anglers during period number two, VanDam fine tuned his assault on Grand Lake’s smallmouth bass, grabbed the lead, and started to build towards his first ever MLF Cup championship.
And when the sun burned the clouds away completely as the third period began, KVD was in full “Storm Trooper” mode, firing cast after cast at small grass patches, rock piles, and humps in Grand Lake’s bottom contour.
What followed was fishing at its highest level as KVD caught 20 keepers in the period en route to building a commanding lead (at one point, his lead was 30 pounds) and finishing the championship round with a one-day MLF record catch of 39 bass that weighed 82 pounds, 7 ounces.
The runner-up on that championship day – sitting nearly 30 pounds further back in the standings – was Louisiana’s Greg Hackney with 17 bass that weighed 43 pounds, 3 ounces.
“Without a doubt, a ton of people watched that show. It was pretty special to hear all of those comments.”– Kevin VanDam
By any measure, VanDam’s final day effort on Grand Lake was nothing short of epic.
So it’s no wonder that as KVD has traveled the country while fishing and making appearances, he has consistently heard from fans who want to talk about his superb performance in the final round of the Alpena MLF event.
“Without a doubt, a ton of people watched that show,” smiled VanDam. “It was pretty special to hear all of those comments.”
And KVD has an idea as to why those comments happened. The Kalamazoo, Mich., resident says that while he dreams of going to catch huge sacks of largemouths in places like Mexico or Texas, many other anglers – especially those who live down south – love to come up north to fish.
To fish for the Great Lakes region’s legendary bronze bombers, the smallmouth bass.
“I think everybody dreams of going smallmouth fishing,” said the 20-time winner on the B.A.S.S. tournament trails. “They like to think about how awesome it would be to catch them like that.”
What did KVD do that final day near Alpena to catch those smallmouths?
“The biggest thing is that I know the brown beast (smallmouths),” said VanDam, a seven-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year. “I know what their habits are and how they react under different conditions.
“That was a big advantage (for me) going in there,” added VanDam, also a one-time AOY winner on the FLW Tour. “But in the same way, a lot of those guys have the same advantage when you go to their house (down south).
“If you go to Florida, Shaw, Bobby Lane, guys like that, they’re going to be really good. If you go to river fishing, some of the river rats are going to be really good or a frog guy where that (technique) is really good.
“(Smallmouths up north), that’s what I know. I’ve grown up doing that and I understand their habits. I was fortunate that everything fell into place (that day).”
“I didn’t know those lakes, but once I saw the right kind of stuff and started making things happen, I knew what I needed to do.”– Kevin VanDam
The Michigan man that KVD is, he was quick to point out that fishing a MLF event in his home state also gave him a leg up on those that successfully fish for smallmouths in the Midwest and on the deeper impoundments down south.
“I didn’t know those lakes (in Alpena), but once I saw the right kind of stuff and started making things happen, I knew what I needed to do to catch those quality fish and to catch numbers of them,” said VanDam, a four-time Bassmaster Classic champ.
“When it starts clicking (out there), you feel good about it.”
VanDam should know because on a moderate-sized lake a few miles north of Alpena, KVD delivered an angling beat down for the ages, one of the greatest single-day performances in the history of professional bass fishing.
It was an epic performance to watch, whether in person or on a television screen.