Back where it all started, Kevin VanDam found a lot of special Sunday on the St. Lawrence.
In 1987, he fished his first B.A.S.S. tournament there. Thirty years later, in his ninth event on the New York fishery, KVD won there for the third time to increase his all-time record to 24.
But that history on the river would have been hard to imagine after his inaugural tournament 30 years ago.
“That first event, I got my butt handed to me. I finished down there,” he said Sunday. “I draw a big-name pro and let him talk me out of what I was doing. It was the best lesson that I ever had. It really spring boarded me to a great career.”
VanDam finished a disappointing 110th, then fished only one Bassmaster event the next two years. At the 1990 New York Invitational on the same river, he took third place, earning his first big check of $17,000. He’s since earned another $6.23 million, a $100,000 pop coming in the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence presented by Go RVing. (That's an average of $20,781 per event)
“Wow, I’m speechless,” he said. “It’s just incredible. My first event ever was here on the St. Lawrence River – this is my 300th event, this is my 24th win. What an incredible week! It’s unbelievable!”
Not totally unbelievable. VanDam has had a remarkable record on the St. Lawrence. He might have been 41st in the most recent Elite in 2015, but he was 14th there in 2013. Before that, he won events in 1999 and 1995, which sandwiched an 11th in 1997. In 1992, he took 13th just two years after his third-place finish. That’s seven top 15 finishes in nine events – an average of 21st – and that after starting with a bomb.
He said it was interesting to look back at how this one specific fishery has changed over the years.
“Back then there was no zebra mussels, no gobies, 15 pounds was a good bag back in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said. “The Great Lakes are changing. Invasive species may be bad for some, but for smallmouth, it’s like steroids for them. They are growing, just compared to two years ago.
“This is my 27th season. It just seems like yesterday that I was out here on Thousand Islands for the first time. I love this place. I’m thrilled that we’re coming back next year. I owe a lot to this area, to the people here.”
After a five-year drought, VanDam appears back in form with three victories last season and a win, place and show this year. Besides his 24 wins, which is five more than Roland Martin, KVD has finished in the money 244 times for a cashing percentage of 81.3. He’s been runner-up 16 times and taken third 18 times. Four of his wins have been in the Bassmaster Classic, tying the record of Rick Clunn.
VanDam also has won seven Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles, and he’s taking aim at Martin’s record nine titles. This week’s victory helped VanDam climb in the AOY point standings from seventh place, 33 points out of the lead, to third, only 17 points behind Brandon Palaniuk.
Of his 24 victories, nine have come in regular season Elite events.
There are two more regular season events before the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs. The Elites are practicing for this week’s Bassmaster Elite at Champlain presented by Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels. Then there’s almost a month before the Advance Auto Parts Bassmaster Elite at St. Clair.
With a decent record on each of the remaining fisheries, VanDam is knocking on the door to No. 8, and he’s well-known as a closer. It’s a given he wants more. Heck, he mentioned two close misses this year still weigh on his mind.
“Believe me, it’s hard to get one of these blue trophies,” he said. “I gave a couple away this year. I had the chance to win and I just let it slip away. It’s really bothers you, because believe me, I never take this for granted at all. You never know, especially as long as I’ve fished, when it’s going to be your last one, or when you’re next one might even possibly come. I cherish this one more than any that I’ve ever had.”
INGREDIENTS PILE INTO VANDAM SANDWICH
Second to Kevin and ahead of Jonathon, Casey Ashley said he was in a VanDam sandwich after Day 2. KVD’s nephew fixed that by passing the 2015 Classic winner on Day 3, but JVD couldn’t continue his climb to the top, falling to finish fourth.
“I was really pulling for Johnnie to have a great day,” Kevin said. “It’s hard to not stumble one day here.”
Jonathon is much like his uncle in that the smallmouth fishing on the St. Lawrence suits him fine.
“I absolutely love this place. I had a tough day today,” he said, knowing the clouds and changing winds would hamper his bite. “The weather changed and really kind of messed some of my stuff up.
“I spent most of the week fishing shallow. If you guys could have seen fish I saw, you would have been amazed. I saw some of the biggest smallmouths I’ve ever seen, and I grew up fishing the Great Lakes.”
There was talk that 100 pounds might be in the realm of possibilities next year when the Elites visit in late August. ]
Dave Mercer has some fun interviewing Brock Mosley, who recorded his top Bassmaster finish.
MOSLEY IMPRESSIVE IN HIGHEST FINISH
Brock Mosley, the only other angler besides KVD to weigh more than 20 pounds each day, enjoyed his best finish and biggest payday ($25,000) in two years as an Elite.
The bass fishing world got to know him a bit better with his candidness on Bassmaster LIVE and during the weigh-in. After taking the hot seat and watching some big hitters miss supplanting him, emcee Dave Mercer walked over whistling an ominous tune.
“You’re still here,” Mercer said.
“I don’t know how,” Mosley responded to laughs.
“You caught more weight than anyone else, that’s how,” Mercer said.
“Junk fishing 101,” the Collinsville, Miss., pro countered.
Mercer then asked Mosley if he knew who this next guy, Kevin, was.
“It can’t be good,” Mosley said, “because I seen him check in 15 minutes early … Yeah, I was like, we’re fishing for second … did he run a no wake zone we can get him for?”
Mercer asked the 28-year-old his age and how long he has been watching KVD.
“He’s been doing it longer than I’ve been born, so a pretty long time,” said Mosley, who played things about the best he could knowing what was about to happen.
Mercer finally asked him, “Bring him through?”
“Let’s get it over with,” Mosley said.