2015 Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair
Detroit Michigan hosts a Bassmaster Elite Series event for the second time in the past three years.
VanDam stole the stage to express his heart for Make-A-Wish
If somehow you found yourself brushing your teeth next to Kevin VanDam, you can be certain he’d try to finish faster, and have his shining brighter than yours.
VanDam is a tenacious competitor. Which is what makes his heartfelt stealing of B.A.S.S. emcee Dave Mercer’s microphone to talk about his experiences with Make-A-Wish, moments after finishing a disheartening 63rd on his home lake, even more impressive.
In the wake of defeat and disappointment, VanDam brought the equivalent of a 25-pound bag of class and compassion to the stage following Day 2 of competition at the Plano Bassmaster Elite on Lake St. Clair.
He also brought 15-year-old Make-A-Wish recipient Max Venchus to the weigh-in platform and introduced to him fans in attendance at St. Clair’s Metropark.
“You know the funny thing is, Make-A-Wish is supposed to be about the kids, and making them feel good, but every time I’ve participated in one, it always seems like it's me that gets as much out of it as the kids,” VanDam told fans over the microphone.
Max Venchus is still taking treatments for leukemia, but wears a grin wider than the rear beam of VanDam’s Nitro boat, and he fishes nearly every day in ponds around his Chicago area home. No surprise, like KVD, he says shallow crankbaits are among his favorite lures of all time.
Backstage, VanDam, who is always tugged at for time and attention from media and sponsors, no matter how high or low his place on the leaderboard, continued to make Max top priority and reminisce about the day they spent on the water a while back.
“The waves are what I remember most,” grinned Max.
“Yea, I’m not gonna lie, I took you to Traverse City because I really wanted you to have the chance to catch some big smallmouth – but the wind blew so hard that day it got kinda hairy,” remembers VanDam.
Max’s brother and dad were also on the trip, and have since befriended VanDam with “Good Luck” texts prior to tournaments, and custom “KVD” signs and plaques from the family’s wood and cabinet shop.
“The signs Max’s dad made for me decorate each side of my tackle room – they’re really detailed and perfectly done – you ought to see them, they’re awesome,” said an obviously appreciative VanDam.
The Venchus family wasn’t the only Make-A-Wish family VanDam had as backstage guests at St. Clair. The Schmitt family was also on hand. And although their son Mitchell, a Make-A-Wish recipient who is now a healthy college student at Iowa State, was too busy with academics to be at St. Clair, well, they showed up for the Bassmaster Elite without him, based purely on the friendship the whole family has formed with VanDam.
“My Make-A-Wish experiences have reminded me that while all of us are guilty of getting caught up thinking our own worlds are such a big deal – that there are families out there just trying to get through tomorrow amid these battles they’re facing,” says VanDam.
“And you know what … it always seems like these setbacks happen to some of the greatest families I’ve ever met – maybe it’s because they’re strong enough to deal with it,” reflected VanDam at dinner later that night, surrounded by his bride, and two healthy twin sons eating the Twisted Rooster’s mac & cheese, now 18, but born extremely premature in 1997.
“I remember Make-A-Wish actually offering to buy Mitchell Schmitt a bass boat at the time, but he said he’d rather fish with Kevin,” remembers VanDam’s wife, Sherry.
How could you blame him? Bass boats are just fiberglass. But VanDam is the greatest bass angler who's ever lived – and he comes loaded with two livewells full of class, compassion and lasting friendship.
Sometimes the small mouth win
Just when you think you have these darn smallmouth figured out, they throw you a big, sweeping curve ball.
That’s what happened to me Thursday in the Plano Bassmaster Elite tournament on Lake St. Clair. I had one of the toughest days I’ve ever had on the lake.
That’s the same Lake St. Clair that I’ve really love and have fished numerous times.
But this time…and at least the first day…the smallmouth won.
My practice was challenging because the wind blew out of the south 25 mph the first day, 10-15 the second day, and 5-10 the third day. Now, 5-10 may not sound like much, but on St. Clair it can create three-foot waves. That makes it hard to move around.
Despite all that, the fish I caught in practice were good ones. I was able to locate three big schools way off shore and the fish were much healthier looking than the last time we were here. I was really excited to get out there Thursday with better weather conditions.
But the wind shifted out of the north, and every time that happens on St. Clair, it changes the currents and the fish move. I was dumbfounded when I went to places that had exactly what I thought the fish were using only to find little guys. I caught more 1 pounders Thursday than I’ve seen here in a long time.
And the bite was funny. In practice, they would knock the rod out of my hands when I fished jerkbaits and crankbaits. Today, I had 10 good bites and they all came off in five cranks of the handle.
So, I switched to a drop-shot and caught fish, but still lost quite of few big ones. They were just moody biters.
The big active schools had moved. It’s easier to find schools of largemouth when they move, but smallmouth can move 100 yards or three miles. The place I’m fishing is so far offshore and so vast that it makes it difficult to rediscover the schools of big fish.
Smallmouth will follow the current and forage. My hunch is that the change in wind changed the water color of my area and that messed up my best spots. What was clear in practice was dirty Thursday. Smallmouth like that clearer water.
That’s one of the neat things about St. Clair. While I struggled in my areas and with my patterns, other anglers did quite well and my hat’s off to them. The system is so big and offers so many options that if you choose the right one, you do well. If you make the wrong decision like I did, you struggle.
One cool aspect of St. Clair is the dirty water flushes out pretty quick with the heavy current coming in from Lake Huron down the St. Clair River. This lake can clear up in a just a day or so.
So, Friday (today) I will check the weather and try to make better decisions. One thing about smallmouth -they will tell you real quick if they’re feeding in an area. There is no sense spending a lot of time on one spot trying to make them bite.
Friday’s plan is to keep moving around until I find clearer water and keep hammering them with moving baits. St. Clair is such a good lake that a fickle bite doesn’t last very long!
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!
-- Kevin VanDam
KVD checks in after day 1 on Lake St. Claire
Brandon Palaniuk - 44-5
James Elam - 43-12
Alton Jones - 41-8
Casey Scanlon - 41-4
Chad Pipkens - 40-13
Todd Faircloth - 40-10
Jonathon VanDam - 39-9
Fletcher Shryock - 39-6
J Todd Tucker - 39-2
Greg Vinson - 38-12
David Smith - 38-7
Edwin Evers - 38-7
Kevin VanDam - 30-6
1. 14-5, 2. 16-1
History & Notes;
Day 2: Brandon Palaniuk - 5-11