VanDam inches closer to Angler of the Year award
DETROIT, Mich. – Chris Walker of Indianapolis landed five smallmouth bass weighing 18 pounds, 8 ounces Wednesday on Lake St. Clair to grab the opening day lead in the $1 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Forrest Wood Open. At the same time, local favorite and Chevy Pro Staff angler Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., took another step toward winning the coveted Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title with a 22nd place showing.
VanDam’s catch of five smallmouth bass weighing 14 pounds, 4 ounces gives him a comfortable lead over his closest competitor, Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., going into the final three days of the Angler of the Year points race. Clunn, who leads the Wal-Mart FLW Tour in career earnings with $716,600, landed five bass weighing 11 pounds, 4 ounces to finish day one of the four-day tournament in 73rd place. Clunn would have to finish 75 places ahead of VanDam to win Angler of the Year.
“I really don’t put pressure on myself to win,” said VanDam, who finished second in his first Forrest Wood Open on Lake St. Clair in 1999. “I try to concentrate on making the top 10, and if I do my job, Angler of the Year will come with it.”
Should VanDam win Angler of the Year, he would be the third professional bass angler to appear on Kellogg’s cereal boxes. He would also receive $25,000 and a Mercury- or Yamaha-powered Ranger 518 VX bass boat. Team Timex angler and 1999 Angler of the Year David Walker of Cannon, Ky., along with Team Kellogg’s angler and 2000 Angler of the Year Clark Wendlandt of Cedar Park, Texas, also have appeared on collectors Kellogg’s boxes.
In addition to the Land O’Lakes Angler of the Year title, which is annually presented to the best, most consistent bass angler in the world, VanDam has his sights set on winning the Forrest Wood Open’s $200,000 first place prize. To win one of the richest payouts in professional bass fishing, however, he will have to out-fish Walker during the remainder of the tournament.
“I’m on some good fish,” said Walker, who is fishing his first Wal-Mart FLW Tour event as a pro. “If the bite holds up, I’m in good shape. This is excellent. I got tears in my eyes coming in. I just have to go out and do it again.”
Terry Baksay of Monroe, Conn. (five bass, 16-11); Scott Dobson of Waterford, Mich. (five bass, 16-8); and Pat Fisher of Stone Mountain, Ga. (five bass, 16-7) rounded out the top four anglers in the Pro Division. Rob Kilby of Hot Springs, Ark. (five bass, 16-5) and Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn. (five bass, 16-5) tied for fifth place.
Rick Parnell of Casselberry, Fla., took the opening-day lead in the Co-Angler Division with five bass weighing 20 pounds, 4 ounces followed by Tommy Gaffney of Little Switzerland, N.C. (five bass, 14-15) and Jim Blake of Lincoln, Neb. (five bass, 14-2).
The winning co-angler at the Forrest Wood Open will receive $40,000, and the Eagle Co-Angler of the Year will receive a Ranger R91 boat powered by Mercury or Yamaha along with priority entry into the Pro Division of the 2002 Wal-Mart FLW Tour.
Wesley Burnett of Hot Springs, Ark., is leading the Co-Angler of the Year points race with 892 points followed by Chris Rand of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with 871 points.
Big bass and $1,250 in the Pro Division went to Wendlandt for a 5-pound, 1-ounce smallmouth. Parnell claimed big bass in the Co-Angler Division with a 5-pound, 7-ounce smallmouth worth $750.
Anglers in both divisions must place in the top 10 Thursday to advance to the semifinal round of competition Friday. Weights from opening day count toward making the first cut, but weights are cleared for the semifinal round as anglers fish for the heaviest one-day weight. Only the top five pros will advance to the final round Saturday. Co-angler competition ends Friday.
The Forrest Wood Open presented by Kellogg’s is the sixth of seven stops on the $4.45 million 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour. Competition continues at 6:30 a.m. Thursday at Metro Beach Metropark in Mt. Clemens, Mich., followed by a 3 p.m. weigh-in at the same location. Friday’s takeoff starts at 7:30 a.m. at the park followed by a 5 p.m. weigh-in at the Wal-Mart SuperCenter on Van Dyke Ave. in Warren, Mich. Saturday’s final takeoff starts at 6 a.m. followed by a 3:30 p.m. weigh-in at Wal-Mart.