2015 Toyota Angler of the Year Championship
The top 50 anglers at the end of the year battle it out in the final standings, where the Angler of the Year will be crowned!
Humbling moments at the AOY Championship
We just finished up a very intriguing season in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year Championship at Sturgeon Bay, Wis.
The fishing was really challenging for me. The wind blew from a different direction and at a different speed each day. The big smallmouth I targeted moved often because of it.
I went into the tournament totally committed to win. I had secured a Bassmaster Classic spot, so I could gamble and go for broke. I fished specifically for the schools of 4- to 6-pound smallmouth that Sturgeon Bay is famous for, but I had problems finding them. I caught a few in practice but they were never bunched up and were constantly moving.
The smaller bass were easier to find but there weren’t any big ones around them, so I didn’t fish those areas.
I’m still perplexed about what those Sturgeon Bay fish do this time of year. I’ve fished for Great Lakes smallmouth most of my life, but those Sturgeon Bay fish just weren’t doing what I thought they would. A lot of the other contestants were equally dumbfounded.
Of course, the purpose of this event was to crown the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year, but Aaron Martens wrapped that up before we even got to Sturgeon Bay.
What an incredible season he had! It not only looked good on paper, but for those of us who competed against him and saw how tough these events played out, his level of consistency was remarkable.
I left several tournaments trying to understand where I went wrong, but Aaron was right there in contention at nearly every event.
I’ve been in that situation where you get in a zone and everything seems to work and you wish you could keep yourself there forever. It’s really hard to do, especially when fishing such a diverse schedule and with the level of competition we have in the Elites today.
Aaron is a great person and a dear friend, but I’m not sure he fully realizes what a tremendous accomplishment this was for him. Even so, he’s a great angler who will be a top performer in years to come.
A huge highlight for me at the Championship was getting voted “Fan Favorite” in a sweepstakes contest sponsored by Toyota. It’s extremely humbling and flattering, and I take the fans’ opinion of me very seriously. It’s not something I will ever take for granted.
I wasn’t the only winner. The Fan Favorite voting was part of a Toyota Sweepstakes Contest in which Jason Rawlings of Riverside, Calif., won a Toyota Tundra truck. Congrats Jason! I’m sure you will enjoy your new Tundra as much as I do mine.
For being voted Fan Favorite, I won $5,000 that Toyota will donate to my favorite charity. My wife Sherry and I decided to add $5,000 of our personal money and give it to the St. Jude’s Cancer Research Hospital in Memphis.
Two years ago, we set up the Kevin VanDam Foundation to support kids’ fishing efforts, camps and scholarships with the intent of getting more youths involved in fishing and conservation. We didn’t feel it was right to put the Fan Favorite money in our own charity, so we chose St. Jude’s since September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
But there are other reasons. I’ve taken Make-A-Wish cancer-inflicted kids fishing and we have friends who have been inflicted with the disease. My good friend Mike Auten, former Bassmaster pro, has a son Ryan getting treatment at St. Jude’s. I’ve visited him there along with other children and seen the amazing things that the hospital does for families and the progress they’ve made in cancer research.
There have been major improvements, but until there is a cure, we all need to do our part.
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!
KVD accepts the fan-voted AOY Fan Favorite award for 2015
Final day - AOY Championship
It's all about the bain(fish)
Aside from the fact that there is a lot of water to cover here at Sturgeon Bay, another big challenge we face in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year Championship is figuring out the bass’ diet.
I say that because there are so many options for the smallmouth to feed on here and each species of bait has slightly different characteristics.
To complicate things, the fish can change their diets from one day to the next or be targeting one species of bait in one area and an entirely different type of forage in another.
Like most fisheries, bass will feed on what’s most available on a spot or in an area they are using.
For instance, here at Sturgeon Bay we have gobies and yellow perch which are primarily bottom dwelling bait. When the bass are dialed in on those, drop-shot rigs, jigs and tube jigs are the baits of choice that best resemble the forage.
But there also are alewives, smelt and other pelagic forage in different parts of the water column. When the bass are keyed on those morsels, they are focused on looking up, so it takes entirely different presentations, like jerkbaits and spinnerbaits.
But here’s the thing with Sturgeon Bay…I’ve seen the fish feeding on bottom and mid-depth baitfish in one area simultaneously, so you have to make an educated guess on what works best based on the current conditions.
We’ve had lots of wind which makes it difficult to fish slow moving baits, so spinnerbaits and jerkbaits can be viable options when you find bass keying on bait higher in the water column.
I’ve seen smallmouth busting alewives near the surface in an area where they also are focused on gobies, so it’s possible to have multiple patterns going at multiple depth zones.
It’s critical to utilize all the clues available to you. In this case, I constantly monitor my electronics watching for the presence of bass or bait and its location in the water column.
And remember this about pelagic baitfish – they move around a lot. It’s not unusual to find a big school of bait in one area only to see them vanish.
Another clue is to watch for the birds. We have a lot of gulls and cormorants up here that are fish eaters, so they can tip you off as to where the bait is present.
I share this with you as a reminder that, regardless of where you fish, pay close attention to the dominant local forage at various times of year. That’s what you build patterns around.
Some of the classic patterns include the way Texas bass key in on red crawfish in the spring, the bluegill patterns when the panfish are spawning, shad migrations in reservoirs during the fall, or shad kills in the winter.
The bass know instinctively when these things happen, so to be a good bass angler, you have to react accordingly.
When you fish the right depth zone with the bait that best emulates the forage the fish are targeting, you’re going to be successful.
Remember, it’s all about the attitude!
AOY Championship - day 1
Greg Hackney - 39-12
Chris Zaldain - 38-5
Chad Pipkens - 34-4
Todd Faircloth - 33-12
Jason Christie - 33-10
Bill Lowen - 30-14
Ish Monroe - 30-12
Brandon Palniuk - 30-10
David Walker - 30-1
Alton Jones - 29-12
Mark Menedez - 28-15
Keith Combs - 28-9
Kevin VanDam - 24-14
History & Notes;
Day 2: Brandon Coulter 5-4