LAKE CHARLES, La. – Kevin VanDam had just spent 17 hours driving through the heartland of America from Michigan to south Louisiana.
The fatigue was evident.
“My butt hurts,” he said. “Right now, I feel like I don’t want to ever sit down again.”
The always upbeat and energetic angler was as close to wiped out as one will ever see him. But a bed wasn't calling his name as much as the opportunity to sit with some of his Elite counterparts and visit about the next day’s fishing.
The conversation had nothing to do with competition, but everything to do with how they would spend the next two days before the competition clock started with the first day of practice for the Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River Presented by STARK Cultural Venues.
Before the start of that season, though, VanDam was part of a four-angler group who gathered at what’s quickly becoming a bass fishing destination, Grosse Savanne, for a day or two of fishing unlike anything they will experience on the Sabine River.
“There’s a part of this that’s all about relaxing and getting in the groove before the season,’’ said Dennis Tietje, the host and subsequently a guide at Grosse Savanne. “It’s nice to just chill out with those who understand what you are getting ready to do in a couple of days and there’s not any pressure.”
Tietje, VanDam, Paul Elias and Edwin Evers gathered for this no-pressure wind down before gearing up event, each of them with a little something different in mind.
Elias would spend a day tuning tackle while Evers and Tietje would be hosting two wounded warriors as part of a program Evers will be doing all season long. VanDam would be using his time to fulfill an obligation for a photo shoot with Plano. A crew of cameramen would accompany him, shooting fishing photos for their upcoming catalog.
Every one of them would spend a few days relaxed in the front of a boat, a stark contrast to their mental attitude when the first boat takes off on Day 1 on Thursday.
It’s a part of the fishing game many of us never get to see, although we may realize that an Elite angler’s schedule is built to be busy.
“Days like these are so important in a lot of ways,’’ Elias said. “Some of those ways you can’t really anticipate.”
For Elias, who starts the new season this week with new equipment, he was able in just a few hours to set up his rods and reels and get them adjusted for the way he will need to fish all week.
“If I hadn't been able to do that I would've spent part of my practice time getting that done,’’ he said. “And judging by the conditions we will be in, that’s time I need to be focusing on other things.
“Then when you are able to catch them like you can here, you find out if you are having any other issues; maybe a problem with the wrong hook or the wrong knot.
“That can be a big thing for this event. Everything has to be right because you won't get that many bites. When you do you want everything right.”
Elias included that much of his time was spent throwing a lure that he’s not very familiar with, but he knows it will be a factor this season. The lure will remain anonymous, but Elias was happy with some things he figured out.
Edwin Evers and Dennis Tietje
While Evers and Tietje spent their day hosting two Wounded Warriors, each indicated there were small clues you just pick up, pointing to trends in water temps that should be similar to those they will start practice with.
The anglers were guarded about what they felt like a day of relaxing fishing provided in terms of how it could help them once they venture out to tougher waters.
“You don’t really want to discuss those things,” Evers said. “But whenever I can, I always try to go somewhere near the tournament waters in hopes of getting a little more dialed in. When we go to Guntersville, I’ll try and spend a day on Wheeler.
“Those days can be invaluable.”
For VanDam, it was the first day on the water in 2015.
“Today is like my birthday and Christmas all rolled up together, because it was my first day on the water,’’ VanDam said. “You have to remember in Michigan the water is still hard, covered in ice.
“This was the first time I was able to check out my electronics, get everything working and know where things are.
“The biggest thing, though, is it was a new boat and it was different. During one of my roll casts, I busted my windshield. I mean smoked it. It was right off the bat. So I have to make adjustments and learn from that.
“And outside of that, I feel like I learned a lot.”
Interestingly, VanDam, even after 17 hours of driving and seven hours of sleep, spent 12 hours on the water and was the last to come off the water.
The whole time he was Classic VanDam, standing and quickly moving around the almost 600-acre reservoir in constant motion: All of that giving credence to his statement of not ever sitting down again.