Kevin VanDam has done a lot of thinking about the fact that he won't be competing in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. However, the four-time winner of the event says none of those thoughts have centered around qualification streaks.
He says he didn't know the actual record for consecutive Classics made (28, held by Rick Clunn). He would've said it was 32, which is the total number of Classics in which Clunn has competed (also a record).
"I'm not a big numbers guy; that's not why I do this," said the man whose run of 24 straight Classic appearances will end in 2015 due to his 53rd-place finish in this year's Elite Series Angler of the Year race. "I'm just disappointed that I won't be there. And I never take (making the Classic) for granted, I'll tell you that.
"The biggest thing is you can't win it if you're not there. And I've told a lot of people over the years, a lot of first-timers, that they need to really enjoy it because it's really a special thing to qualify. Winning one is very special, for sure, but just getting there isn't easy and it's an honor to be there."
Start, Finish Stand Out
When asked which aspects of the Classic he'll miss the most as a non-competitor next year, VanDam singled out launch time on day 1.
"Definitely the anticipation and finalizing your game plan in those last few minutes before the first-day blast-off is the big one," he said. "Another part of that is being there with family – my wife and (twin teenage sons) have always been there on the dock as I was getting ready for the first day.
"I don't think any of it's going to be easy for me, but I can't say how hard it's going to be because I've never done it before. I can tell you that I'm not looking forward to it because the competitor in me wants to be there. That's especially true with it being at Hartwell because I felt like I had a real good opportunity there last time (he finished 3rd in the 2008 event) and I like the lake and how it sets up."
He said he'll be in full-on fan mode by the time the weigh-ins get under way. He said there will be particular guys he's rooting for, but stopped short of naming any.
"The Classic is the biggest event in our sport and the years when I haven't been in contention on the final day I've always walked out to the end of the tunnel to be there for the finale. I've never missed one since I started fishing and I remember them all, starting with Ken Cook at the Chesapeake Bay (in 1991). Those winning moments are all ingrained in my mind and I plan to see that next year.
"As far as who I'd like to see win, there are some guys I'm closer to than others, for sure, and I'm always kind of pulling for somebody. If you can't win, you'd like to see somebody win their first one. The difference is that once you've won it, you understand what it means for someone for their career and their family. It's a neat thing to be able to experience."
Time to Move On
VanDam said he's already fulfilled many of his annual offseason sponsor obligations and has begun looking forward to the 2015 Elite Series campaign. He'll be under even more scrutiny than usual as everyone connected to the sport is eager to see how he bounces back from the first true "down year" of his career.
"We've got a very diverse schedule with a lot of travel – there's the West Coast swing, and even Orange, Texas (Sabine River) is a long way from (his home in) Kalamazoo, Mich.," he said. "With the Elite Series, the Toyota Texas Bass Classic and Major League Fishing, that's a lot of weeks on the road and we like to try to plan everything we're going to do around the schedule for the whole year.
"I'm going to be gone for Mother's Day, Father's Day, Easter, Memorial Day and Labor Day, and that's a part that I'm definitely not looking forward to. I'm going to be missing a lot of family time, but we don't get to set the schedules."
For those who think age (he's a month past his 47th birthday), family concerns or off-the-water business commitments have dulled his competitive edge, he has a simple response.
"I think I've still got several good casts left in me," he said.