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2008 Elite Series - Southern Challenge


The seventh stop of the 2008 Elite Series regular season at Wheeler Lake has been dubbed the Southern Challenge, and promises to be just that. With the halfway point of the season in their collective rearview mirror, much is on the line for 107 of the nation’s best bassers beyond the coveted $100,000 top prize. Much-needed Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year points and a slot in February’s ballyhooed Bassmaster Classic are also at stake, and becoming a severe issue for those on the bubble.

Tour Review

KVD Q&A from Wheeler Lakes

Read the Strike King Q&A with Kevin after fishing the Southern Challenge. Article found here.

8 ounces decide it, KVD finishes 2nd

VanDam, known for his skill with a crankbait, said he lost six fish Sunday, any of which would have made up that 8-ounce deficit. “I saw most of them, they just jumped and threw it.”

“I knew that both Jeremy and myself were fired up to go out today and just let it loose,”

“All in all, I really had to work for everything I had today, and with the level of competition that’s out here, you really have to bring your “A” game to win.”

VanDam went to his primary bait – a StrikeKing Series 5 in either Sexy Shad or Chartreuse – to trigger reaction strikes through a slough of spots. But his primary spot on the river edge outside of the flats was special. “You had to make a lot of cast to get them fired up – it was just typical structure fishing,” he said, pointing out that while he would rapid-fire baits to trigger a strike, slowing down once he caught one was critical.

“You know that I’ve got a pretty good spot if I’ll drag like that. In all of my career, this one will rank top five in terms of finding that magical spot like I did here. It’s just amazing to be able to do that.”

“If I did anything wrong it was in maybe playing it too safe yesterday, but that’s a chance you take when you’re trying to manage fish. I didn’t lose…I just got beat straight up.”

Kevin takes the lead with a flurry of fish

KVD smoked an astonishing 22-12 today at the Wheeler Bassmaster Elite Series in Alabama. The 18-year veteran is throwing a ton of different baits and catching lots of fish.

About his current duel with 2nd place Jeremy Starks: “it’s very motivating.”

“Jeremy has got a spot where he can just pull in there and catch them,” said VanDam, three-time BASS Angler of the Year and two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. “But I’ve really got to work hard for mine.”

“You’ve got to throw a lot of different baits at them to get these fish to bite. You’ve got to make them react to different things, or you’ve got to finesse them. I’m throwing six or seven different baits. You’ve got to show them everything to get them to bite something.”

VanDam is already kicking himself for laying off on the first day of the tournament. Everybody predicted it would take an average of 15 pounds a day to win on Wheeler Lake, which has been in a down cycle since it’s heyday in the mid-1990s.

“I pulled in this spot and caught five 3 1/2-pounders and left,” he said. “But I should have stayed and caught more the first day, because (Friday) was a real struggle. They didn’t bite near as well. I caught everything I could catch.

“But that first day, I could have caught a bigger bag. They were really biting good, a lot better than even today.”

early day 3 report

KVD estimated over 18 pounds in his live well before noon today. Sitting in 4th Place Kevin is looking to rocket up the standings today! Pictures and updates coming in this evening.

Day 2 quotes - 4th place -16-14
“The grass has not yet developed here this year, and I’m not sure why,” VanDam said. “But, what grass is out there is getting pounded on, so *I am fishing areas without any grass, and I’ve got areas that I think produce better without any current on them, so that is what I am focusing on.*”

VanDam said that he ran to between 15 and 20 different locations on day two and that he is using seven different lures to trigger his strikes. “I’m having to keep throwing at an area with different lures to try and trigger a bigger bite,” he revealed. “The bigger fish are mixed in with the small ones, so I’m having to change up a lot to try and get a bigger bite.”

He said the difference between him and the rest of the leaders is that he has yet to get a big bite. “I’ve yet to catch a five-pounder here,” he said. “I’m not complaining, but I haven’t gotten the timing right here, and that is very critical at a place like this; I’ll just keep staying in what I call good water and keep fishing.”

“I just like fishing lakes that have current like this. Tomorrow they probably won’t pull any water, and that will change things a lot. This lake’s a good lake – it has a little of everything, just about anything you could want to fish. I really like the whole Tennessee River. It just suits my style – you can run around and hit a lot of spots. That’s what I had to do today. Hopefully we can do the same tomorrow.”

KVD on finding holes away from the crowds on the lake

“I think (the pressure from the fans on the lake) is going to hurt a lot,” said the three-time BASS Angler of the Year. “It always has on this lake. There’s a lot of guys fishing the Flats, and it’s hard to catch them two days in a row out there.

“I really was trying to look for some more obscure types of places. But these guys are so good, there was a lot of people on spots I didn’t think anybody would find. That’s what happens when you have the best in the world out there.”

Southern Challenge 08 day 1 report

“I saw Shaw (Shaw Grigsby, 6th overall), we fished right by each other a little,” VanDam said. “I know what he’s throwing, and I’m throwing some of the same thing too. There’s a lot of sexy stuff happening out there – I can tell you that.”

Sexy Shad is VanDam’s custom color for Strike King, and he won with a sexy shad crankbait at adjacent Guntersville last year. The prototype could be the new slate of lake- and region-specific colors VanDam and the company plans to roll out.

About whether he was surprised by his 18-08, or the other weights today, VanDam said: “No, this is a good lake, and these guys are the best there is. I knew some guys were going to catch some big stringers.

I just wasn’t sure who’d find the places that I’d found too. I felt like if I could fish a couple of spots and nobody else found them, I could catch a real good sack. I didn’t have a lot going on. I hit one place today and caught them pretty good. Hopefully nobody else is fishing it tomorrow.

Also notable was he practiced for about half the day, and culled twice doing it. Plus, he left a lot of his practice stuff alone.

I really pretty much looked for new water today. I found a couple of new places. Sometimes you have a good day, and I knew it was going to be a good day because the Wings won the Stanley Cup last night. That’s pretty huge. That’s a big deal to hockey fans where I’m from (Kalamazoo, Mich.) And I have a friend (Pat Verbeek) that works and played for the organization.

2008 Elite Series - Southern Challenge
Wheeler Lake, Decatur, Alabama
Jun 5 - Jun 8, 2008


Jeremy Starks - 78-10
1. 17-0, 2. 19-11, 3. 20-0, 4. 21-15
Kevin VanDam - 78-2
1. 18-8, 2. 16-14, 3. 22-12, 4. 20-0
Terry Scroggins - 67-1
1. 22-3, 2. 18-7, 3. 13-1, 4. 13-6
John Murray - 66-0
1. 16-11, 2. 18-3, 3. 15-15, 4. 15-3
Matthew Sphar - 65-2
1. 7-13, 2. 16-0, 3. 20-0, 4. 21-5
Todd Faircloth - 65-1
1. 20-9, 2. 11-9, 3. 19-11, 4. 13-4
Morizo Shimizu - 61-3
1. 17-3, 2. 17-8, 3. 13-6, 4. 13-2
Matt Reed - 61-2
1. 16-12, 2. 17-10, 3. 14-15, 4. 11-13
Corey Waldrop - 58-7
1. 14-1, 2. 9-13, 3. 21-14, 4. 12-11
Shawn Grigsby - 54-5
1. 18-7, 2. 17-1, 3. 7-8, 4. 11-5
Kotaro Kiriyama - 53-14
1. 19-0, 2. 10-2, 3. 16-5, 4. 8-7
Mark Menendez - 51-11
1. 18-1, 2. 11-10, 3. 12-3, 4. 9-13

History & Notes;

Big Bass
day 1: Dave Wolak – 7-10
day 3: Todd Faircloth – 7-13
day 4: Matthew Sphar – 6-1

Wheeler first came to national prominence in 1974 as the site of the fourth Bassmaster Classic. Since then, BASS has visited the lake for five other professional tournaments, including the 2003 Alabama Southern Open, won by legendary BASS pro Denny Brauer who posted a three day total of 32-10. Wheeler offers a wide variety of terrific bass habitat, from the riverine waters of its upper end to the stump flats and weed beds of its middle section to the step banks and long points near the dam. In June, it should offer something for just about every bass fishing taste and technique.