“I changed every single treble hook on every single bait.”
Kevin VanDam was focused. I could hear it in his voice. “I’ve never been more organized. I know everything that’s in my boat.”
While he rebounded well last season, hammering out multiple wins in classic KVD fashion and placing high in the 2016 Angler of the Year points race, one could sense a lingering sting in the angler’s voice. Long heralded as the greatest competitive fisherman of all time, VanDam stumbled a bit during the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series season, missing the year-end championship.
It seemed clear that was still trying to put it all behind him, and his champion’s work ethic would be the key.
Within many circles, VanDam is regarded as a bass fishing phenom, operating at a level beyond other anglers – including the world’s best. His all-time record for national tournament wins is proof positive of an ability never before seen in the competitive bass realm. VanDam’s long-time secret is his capacity to quickly master nearly any technique to catch bass. He’s never been a specialist when it comes to fishing methods; in contrast, VanDam’s strength lies in his versatility.
Given massive advancements in modern bass fishing, it’s necessary for the versatile VanDam to own and utilize tremendous amounts of tackle, whether on the road or at home in his Michigan test facility. Cataloging his significant gear and keeping it organized is one way VanDam focuses on the job at hand, and he never tires of the process.
VanDam’s attention to tackle detail and organization translates to positive time management on the water, and is critical to his success. Confidence in his ability to operate at maximum efficiency means never having to second-guessing his decisions. VanDam’s aforementioned obsession with treble hooks is a case in point.
After changing 1,500 or more hooks in his shop, VanDam neatly organized each newly adorned lure into Plano waterproof Stowaways, certain they would protect his investment. “I spent that much time changing all those hooks,” VanDam mentioned, “so I made sure they got placed into a box that never pops open, never lets in water and can handle rough boat rides.” The meticulous system lends confidence to the angler’s efficiency, which seems to ease his mind.
Soft plastic baits are a source of tackle confusion within the boats of many bass fishermen. VanDam ensures he’s not overwhelmed: “I carry plastics by category in Plano Speedbags,” he said, explaining that flipping baits are separated from those used for Carolina rigging or dropshotting. “I only carry a few colors of each, and enough to last one day on the water.” From there, VanDam simply restocks each evening from the mobile system aboard his Toyota tow vehicle.
During the off-season, VanDam tests and masters techniques that need sharpening. “This year, it was nail-weight rigs,” he explained. VanDam meticulously reviews all aspects of such a system including hooks, lines, weights and lures, and then tests fall rates and actions of each combination in a swimming pool at home. From there, he moves to a custom-built pond on his property - complete with various forms of structure and cover – as well as bass – and reviews real-world results.
Throughout his detailed testing procedures, VanDam constantly refines his lure selection for each body of water he will encounter on the Bassmaster Elite Series over the coming year. Part of his planning and mental focus involves packing a series of tackle boxes for each fishery. From there, VanDam’s gear is cataloged and stowed inside his vehicle in Plano Marine Trunks, allowing him to stack gear and maximize cargo space while remaining incredibly organized. As the year progresses, he simply adds or removes trunks based on the fisheries he will be visiting. Like everything VanDam, it’s a sequence of constant change, refinement and motion.
Test. Refine. Tinker. Repeat.
Lures at VanDam’s home shop are kept on hanging pegboards, much like a retail store for maximum visibility and ease of inventory. Large tubs and boxes are kept on Plano shelving units. “My truck is an extension of my boat, and my garage is an extension of my truck,” VanDam summarized.
Kevin VanDam’s life is a search for perfection in every detail of bass fishing’s overwhelming methodology. Like a chemist with a laboratory full of potions, the sheer number of choices at VanDam’s fingertips staggers the ordinary angler’s imagination. To succeed at this level, he must remain confident, which requires fastidious organization.
It was this confidence that I could hear in VanDam’s voice. As the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series kicks off this month, his competitors will be hearing it too.