When you look through Kevin VanDam’s tremendous list of fishing accomplishments, it’s tough to find any particular achievement that stands out over the others. There are a fair number of anglers who’ve won the Bassmaster Classic or the Angler of the Year (AOY) award, but few who’ve won both. Of those who’ve won both, fewer still have won multiples of either. Of course, KVD has several of each, with four Classic trophies and seven AOY titles to his credit.
He’s one of two anglers who has won consecutive Classics, and he holds the record for most consecutive AOY titles, with four. He has the two longest streaks of finishing in the money in Bassmaster history, the most victories, and he’s one of two who has won three consecutive Bassmaster events. He even holds the record for consecutive limits, with 57. As a result of those accomplishments, he’s also the all-time money winner, with nearly twice as much in B.A.S.S. earnings as the next closest competitor.
Any of those accomplishments alone would be huge, but combined they’re almost insurmountable. Think of a pro like Paul Elias, who has fashioned a Hall of Fame career on the back of six wins; a Classic victory; the all-time four-day, five fish weight record; the popularization of the kneel-and-reel technique; and the introduction of the Alabama Rig to the fishing world at large. That’s monumental, yet it pales in comparison to what KVD has done.
The record that seems to get lost in all of these many accomplishments is that KVD also holds the record for the heaviest winning Classic weight of the five-fish limit era. In 2011, at the Louisiana Delta, he caught 69-11 over three days. The weight itself might not strike you as much at first, because these days we’re used to four-day Elite totals, but that’s an average of over 23 pounds a day, over 4.6 pounds per fish. In a four-day event, that would translate to nearly 93 pounds.
Granted, KVD’s weight in 2011 is not the heaviest weight in Classic history. Rick Clunn set that mark on the Arkansas River in 1984, with 75-09, but that was in the seven-fish limit era. His average fish weighed about a pound less. Granted, it’s apples and oranges in terms of waterways and times of year – KVD won in February and Clunn won in August – and Clunn’s winning margin of 25 pounds is truly remarkable, but that shouldn’t detract from what KVD accomplished, either. Fishing in a crowd, bumping boats with his competitors, not only did he break the record, but he smoked them all, beating runner up Aaron Martens by 10 pounds.
You might say that it was the waterway, or the time of year, that put him over the top, but again that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. No one else caught them that well on the Delta that year, nor have they even approached that in the other tournaments B.A.S.S. has held there. And yes, prior to 2006, the Classic was held in the heat of the summer, when weights are likely to be smaller, but since that time they’ve gone to Toho and Guntersville and Grand, no-fooling big fish factories, and it hasn’t been beaten. Randy Howell came close at Guntersville, falling short by a little over 2 pounds. Howell was one of nine anglers who eclipsed the 60-pound mark in that event. When KVD won in 2011, he was the only one over 60. That doesn’t give him bonus points, but it does underline just how incredible his catch was. Other than those two tournaments (and Clunn’s weight in 1984) no one has ever passed the 60 pound mark in Classic competition.
Pundits and fans are already saying that if things line up right this year at Grand, the record could be broken. Clearly the lake has the potential – both KVD and Mike McClelland have averaged just a hair under 4 pounds per fish in winning past summertime Elite Series events on Grand – but the leap from 4 to 4.6 is substantial, and when Cliff Pace won there in 2013 he was one of only two anglers to surpass the 50 pound mark. That’s a long mountain to climb to 69-plus.
I’m not saying that it won’t happen. In fact, regardless of who were to accomplish the feat, I’d love to be there to see it happen because it would make for a great spectacle, but I’m not going to hold my breath. If it was an easy task to accomplish, someone would have done it already.
Furthermore, if the record were to be broken, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if KVD were the one to accomplish it. Despite the premature rumors of his demise, this is just another event that sets up to be right in his wheelhouse.
And what if instead of a slugfest it turns out to be a comparatively low weight affair?
Well, if that’s the case, don’t count him out then, either. In addition to having the highest winning Classic weight of the five-fish limit era, VanDam also has the lowest winning weight in the event’s history, the 12-15 he put on the scales in 2005 in Pittsburgh.
We’re likely to run out of ink to describe his achievements before he stops setting records.