Back in about 1995, during a weekend tournament on Alabama’s Lay Lake, I left the takeoff site and went straight to a little grassy bank where I was sure I could catch a couple of decent largemouth on a topwater lure.
I figured the only thing I needed was to have the place to myself, and I might get my kicker fish before the sun was all the way up.
With a low boat number, I got to the spot first. But before I could make three casts, two more boats showed up and waited patiently for me to run the bank.
There were just two of them, and they didn’t bother me. But when I didn’t catch anything, I left ticked and convinced they were the reason.
Kevin VanDam must hear stories like that all the time and snicker under his breath.
After what I saw him dealing with last week at BASSfest on Kentucky Lake, I don’t know how any bass fisherman can ever complain about “boat traffic” with a straight face again.
You haven’t seen boat traffic until you’ve followed VanDam during a major event when he’s in contention.
After struggling at times to find the leaders at nook-and-cranny venues like the Sabine River and the California Delta, KVD was a breeze to find on Kentucky Lake. He was fishing offshore, right out in the middle of the lake – and since he usually had 30 or more boats with him, you could find him easily by just following the froth.
I don’t know how he maintains the confidence to fish at all in such an environment. But he finished second with 94 pounds, 4 ounces and might have won the thing if it hadn’t been for one sub-par day on Saturday.
Now understand, I’m not writing this as a “Poor, little, burdened KVD” column.
Do I feel sorry for him? No.
I’m sure having dozens of boats running outboards, trolling motors and sonars all around you when you’re trying to win a tournament is no fun. But I imagine the millions of dollars he’s made en route to becoming so popular help ease his frustrations just a little bit.
Do I think people are wrong for following him? Absolutely not.
The folks at B.A.S.S. have been working hard for decades to make professional bass fishing into a spectator’s sport, and KVD’s crowds are just proof their plan has worked. I was even part of a few KVD galleries myself back before I joined this business.
I don’t necessarily agree with the folks who wait for VanDam to leave a spot and then rush in to fish it themselves. But it’s a public lake – and who’s to say they haven’t had those same waypoints marked on their graphs for years?
What some see as “vulturing” or “picking up scraps” might just be anglers waiting patiently for VanDam to do his thing before they go about their regular business.
Seeing VanDam fish with gigantic crowds of onlookers nearby just adds a few more lines to the definition of the term “professional angler.”
He interacts frequently with the spectators, saying things like “Call TVA and tell them to turn the water on” and “I’m trying hard, guys, I promise.”
If he does need to ask someone to back up or take a different route to avoid running over the water he plans to fish, he does it like he’s talking to a good buddy. I actually heard some people talking last week who seemed thrilled because Kevin VanDam spoke to them on the water during a tournament.
For many fishermen across the country – myself included – having a lot of company on tournament day can be like bass-fishing kryptonite.
But a Superman like KVD has been dealing with it – and embracing it – for decades.
For him, it’s just another day on the lake.