Being a Marshal at West Point Lake was not my first time as being a marshal. In fact, I was a marshal in 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Bassmaster American before marshals were the norm. Pros used to have a co-angler fishing from the back of their boat. At the American, we were observers while the pros fished. We are there of behalf on B.A.S.S to ensure rules compliance, while learning from the best in the business. The pros and B.A.S.S. ultimately agreed on the Marshal format. Having had such a good time with pros Jimmy Mize and Paul Elias, I again signed up to be a marshal at Clark Hill lake in Ga. This time I drew the previous year’s winner, Kenyon Hill, and Russ Lane on day 2. Having drawn such great guys in the past, imagine my mindset going into the marshal’s meeting in LaGrange Ga. this year. I had talked my brother into signing up with me last fall. He lives on Lake West Point, which is about 140 miles from me. He too is a firefighter and we don’t get to spend that much time together. In the meeting, officials go over a lot of material, then call out the pro and their marshals name. There are 99 pros, and it seems as most all had been called, and I had not been called as a marshal (actually 86 had been called). Then I heard: Kevin VanDam, Kyle Hendrix. I was shaking. I stood up, as was the practice, and KVD was giving an interview. I walked over and we greeted. We walked outside. I wondered if he noticed that I was shaking when we shook hands. We decided to meet at the ramp in the morning. He‘s telling me that his truck and boat are painted up with his name on it. I didn’t bother to tell him that I knew what they looked like. I didn’t sleep much that night, but I did make a few phone calls to my fishing buddies;)
The next morning KVD pulls in at the ramp. It is dark, and he says “Is that you Kyle?” I say that it is. He asks if I will help him launch. I opt to back the truck. I didn’t want to have an issue with his boat or the other 100 in the lake. A media person took a picture of us with my camera for me. KVD calls home prior to launch and talks to his boys. I too have twins and I know KVD is a caring man who misses his family when he has back to back tournaments like this.
I ask Kevin where we are heading. He says south and off we go. He pulls up on a point and throws top water. He never makes more than 15 casts and we are off again. I never took my life jacket off the whole day. KVD certainly was not going to be waiting on me to be able to move the boat. People ask me if KVD talked to me during the day. He did, but mainly in a business kind of way. He talked to the lake, the fish, himself, and that opened up discussions for me to have with him. It took me a couple of hours to realize that I was still star struck, and wasn’t paying attention to detail. But after that I did. I started looking at exactly what he had tied on, how he was casting, when he changed. I started asking some of the right questions.
If you want to know if a pro actually uses products that he is sponsored by, I can honestly say: absolutely. There may be an exception, but I didn’t see any. KVD used all Strike King products: Buzz bait, spit-n-king, spinnerbait, Shadalicious, and Caffeine Shad, as well as the crankbait. He used his Quantum Reels and Rods and XPS lines. (He had 11 of them out at one time)
Do I have any regrets? Absolutely. I don’t think I ever told him how much of a fan I am, and how much I follow him (before drawing him). I own his book, bought it at the classic on Lake Hartwell. We were moving from one spot to another, and he had got the “magic cookies” from the cooler and was eating one. Did I ask him to try one? NO! Did I even tell him I knew what the magic cookies were? NO! How stupid was that. Additionally, I also have a couple of hundred questions that I wished that I would have asked him, but didn’t. We did have some personal conversation however. He told me that one of his good friends is a firefighter in Michigan. We also talked a lot about attitude, and how attitude is half of “IT” when fishing. I saw this in him. He was focused, methodical, and precise. He never wavered, never got down.
Fishing had been tough on day1. With 15 minutes to go before check in, KVD had about 7+ lbs. He pulled up to some shallow brush where he told me earlier in practice he had seen a good one (if no one had caught her; we saw Skeet go down this bank earlier in the day). I am standing in the back of the boat, and he says “Don’t move…See her” He flips, then sets, but the fish comes unbuttoned. He and I are both devastated. He says “I know not to waste my time fooling with that one”, but immediately does a 360 on the trolling motor, tosses a shakey head over a limb and jiggles the worm up and down in front of that fish. He reels in then goes back with a Caffeine shad and catches it. We move 15 yards down the bank and he says “Don’t move” again, and on the first cast catches another good one. We move around the point. With literally 4 minutes to go, he sees a good fish. He catches this fish. It is a 5 pounder. He and I are stoked. We haul it to the check in.
KVD had 13+ that day. He fished very much the same pattern on Day 2 and added 23+. He finished 7th for the tournament. I think those 15 minutes on Day 1 will matter in the end, when KVD wins AOY #7. I doubt he will remember me, but I will remember him. Kyle Hendrix
P.S. I am still hoping that KVD will friend me on Facebook. And to show you that my lucky streak held for at least another day, I drew Jeff Kriet on Day 2, who was a blast and a great guy and is right up there with the best fishermen too.