2011 Elite Series - Sunshine Showdown
The Harris Chain is made up of nine lakes that total about 76,000 surface acres in Central Florida. They're full of big Florida largemouths, and some of those bass will still be spawning when the Elites get here in mid-March. Though most of the giants will be off the beds by the time of the tournament, don't be surprised to see a double-digit bass or two on the first day of competition.
The Elites were last here at about the same time two years ago. That's when Brian Snowden squandered a big lead on the final day and left the door open for Mike McClelland to win with 59-2. McClelland worked a Texas rigged plastic worm around lily pad patches for his catch. The big bass of the tournament was Bill Lowen's 10-6 caught on a swim jig.
Kevin VanDam, perhaps not surprisingly, stuck with a hardbait. He cranked while nearly everyone else flipped and pitched.
"I feel good about this finish just because I've kind of struggled at the Harris Chain before," he said. "And I think I learned a little bit from my experience in the past. I didn't compete to win against Shaw by any means, but for not sight-fishing, and with the conditions, I have to feel pretty good that I was able to put something together."
Knowing that he was all but out of contention to for the win, VanDam’s goal for the day was to make up as much ground as possible; however, the day didn’t start off as he’d planned. “It really started off a lot slower than I was hoping,” he said.
“In fact, yesterday was a little bit of a struggle – I never got any of those big bites. Today was no different, but I just made it happen.”
KVD pointed out that the only real option he had Sunday, and really all weekend, was to stick with his pattern. “I was winding my little KVD 1.5 all week,” he said. “I could’ve set up on beds, but that’s not how I fish.”
VanDam said earlier in the week that he was going to have to slow down, which in KVD terminology means that there won’t be a wake behind his boat apparently. “I tried to experiment a little by flipping this week, but every time I’d get back to my little crankbait I’d get bit,” he said.
“But really, what I mean by slowing down is that you have to make repeated casts and be really methodical with everything.”
VanDam revealed that he fished the same exact bait he won the Classic with – focusing on outside grass lines in Harris and Little Harris. “I switched up the second day to the crankbait,” he said. “I finally decided that was the thing that I needed to be doing, and I never put it down.”
In a tournament where winders were few, VanDam once again stands out by throwing the square bill with smashing success. “There’s a lot of situations where this bait could work,” he said. “A lot of these fish are spawning, so you can flip them up – which I did some of – or you can get them to react. That’s what I like doing.”
It’s been proven time and again that when KVD can fish to his strengths good things generally happen. “All I did was fish my strengths all week,” he said. “When you can do that and succeed, it’s a real treat.”
KVD makes a run - 12:30pm 3/13/11
Kevin VanDam is trying to rally as well. He just caught a 5-pounder. That gives him 14 1/2, which is 9 pounds back.
He has to have four more of those five-pounders to get even. We won't say that's impossible, because we know it could happen to anyone. And then again, we're talking about KVD. He's been able to capture the magic before. And it always starts with that one fish. Maybe this 5-pounder is it.
Deb Johnson reports that VanDam wasn't that thrilled with his Day Three weight of 12-14.
"I struggled to catch what I caught," he said. "There's so much grass there, it's like hunting for a needle in a haystack."
KVD said he has keyed on bass moving into grass to spawn. It hasn't produced the big ones that had the leaders more than 10 pounds ahead of him. He knows Sunday means taking some huge swings.
"I'm quite a bit behind those guys, so I've got to do something outstanding. But I have seen in practice, where a big group of big fish is in a small area, and that's what I have to find again, that's what I'm looking for. That's what we're all looking for."
Kevin on day 3 of fishing
"I just didn't get any good bites today. I caught a lot of fish, but a lot of small ones. Some of the guys have got them figured out and I'm going to have to go out tomorrow and do something different. The weather I think is a little too nice. I'd like the wind to blow a little bit and get those fish a little more active."
Kevin's color in demand
Kevin VanDam hopes Strike King catches up with production of his KVD 1.5 crankbait in his favorite color. He's running low and can't get any more.
After he won the Bassmaster Classic with it, "Sales were off the charts," he said. "You couldn't find one in chartreuse/black back in a Bass Pro Shops the Monday after the Classic."
That's the color he used in the Louisiana Delta, and it's helped him to fifth going into the final round here.
The Classic winning lure is historically a hot seller, and manufacturers always hope that theirs wins the lottery. VanDam has long been on Strike King's team. To his and their credit, he was honest in telling the world that he won the 2005 Classic on a competitor's bait -- a Smithwick Rattling Rogue jerkbait.
KVD and JVD
Rookie Jonathon VanDam. who made the final-day cut in his first Elite Series event, says he isn't rattled by the fact that his famous uncle is two places ahead of him on the leaderboard.
Ditto for the uncle. Kevin VanDam grinned when he was asked how he felt about his brother's kid nipping at his heels. VanDam, the reigning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, was in fifth place and his nephew was in seventh place going into the fourth and final day.
"That's pretty cool, it will be fun," KVD said. "He's trying to build a name for himself, so it's a great way to start. The money he'll earn will be good, too. It's tough out there for rookies to find sponsorships."
At Saturday's weigh-in, JVD tracked the leaderboard closely to see if he would make the cut, the 12 anglers with the highest weights after three days. He held at sixth place for a while, then dropped to rest in seventh after Stephen Browning popped into third.
"The first professional event I've ever fished, I finished third, and I've been fishing the (Bassmaster) Opens for some time, and made the cuts there, and I won an Open," Jonathon VanDam said. "But this is even more exciting."
Kevin on day 4
Sunshine Showdown Video updates
Check out Sunshine Showdown video updates with KVD as they come in right here.
Kevin looks forward to day 2: Sunshine Showdown
VanDam’s Gamble Paid Off
Even though Michigan’s Kevin VanDam readily admits that springtime tournaments in Florida aren’t his cup of tea, there was little doubt that despite his lack of affinity for waters in the Sunshine State, he would still be a factor.
VanDam didn’t disappoint on Thursday, bringing in a limit of Harris Chain bass weighing 17 pounds, 9 ounces which was good enough for a tie with Floridian Terry Scroggins for fourth place.
“Today was a good day,” VanDam said behind stage after weighing in. “I just took a chance on fishing the way that I like to fish and I got lucky and got a six-pound bite. Things are changing on a daily basis, so I’m thrilled with my day because I’ve had a hard time here in the past.”
Few, if any followers of the Bassmaster Elite Series believe that VanDam’s success is a result of luck, and when pressed, the recent Classic champion admitted that his success on Thursday was a result of past experience.
“With age and experience comes a little bit of wisdom, and I’ve made mistakes here in the past. I rolled the dice today and just stuck with it. When the font blows through tomorrow, I know how tough it can get,” he explained.
“I have a plan for tomorrow and I feel confident but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to bite. Today I fished perfectly and executed on every bite. That’s what you have to do here to be successful.”
Sunshine Showdown day 1 update
> Expected: Several strong sight-fishing bags came to the scales.
> Unexpected: Several strong non-sight-fishing bags came to the scales.
That's "unexpected" because the "just-fishing" weights were supposed to top out at about 15 pounds, but in many regards matched the sight-fishing weights. And when it all shakes out, those who didn't sight-fish today would logically have a firm advantage, despite any deficit, simply because the sight-fish were community fish and there'll probably just be table scraps left tomorrow. And as the event wears on, anybody who can hover around the 15-pound range will likely win.
Yet that 15-pound mark could easily creep downward because a cold front is now upon the fishery. Nighttime lows will be in the low-40s, tomorrow's daytime temps will be in the mid-60s, and the barometer will be pushing max. It all spells bad news for Florida-strain largemouths.
Pat Golden leads the field after day 1 with a 20-07 limit of sight-fish. According to Golden, he's working a rotation through three areas that are well-known to the field. He did spot some additional swimmers, so he retains hope the pattern can live another day.
About a pound behind Golden is Wirth, who didn't look at 'em. Wirth said he fished a popular area and circled around the outside of boats all day. He was fortunate, he said, to catch what he did – he only got six bites all day.
Stephen Browning's tied with Wirth, and there's also a tie for 4th between Terry Scroggins and Kevin VanDam. No intel on VanDam yet, but Scroggins confirmed that he's casting, not sight-fishing.
The field cuts to the Top 50 after tomorrow, then to the Top 12 for day 4. The Top-50 cut weight right now is about 11 pounds. Here's a look at the current Top 12.
1. Pat Golden: 5, 20-07
2. Kevin Wirth: 5, 19-13
2. Stephen Browning: 5, 19-13
4. Terry Scroggins: 5, 17-09
4. Kevin VanDam: 5, 17-09
6. J Todd Tucker: 5, 17-08
7. Clark Reehm: 5, 17-02
8. Jason Williamson: 5, 15-01
9. Jami Fralick: 5, 14-10
10. Jeff Kriet: 5, 14-09
11. Shaw Grigsby: 5, 14-07
12. Brandon Palaniuk: 5, 14-06
Shaw E Grigsby - 75-4
1. 14-7, 2. 29-8, 3. 18-12, 4. 12-9
Grant Goldbeck - 67-14
1. 1-1, 2. 27-1, 3. 22-15, 4. 16-13
Stephen Browning - 66-9
1. 19-13, 2. 14-8, 3. 16-1, 4. 16-3
Kevin VanDam - 65-13
1. 17-9, 2. 18-3, 3. 12-14, 4. 17-3
Jonathon VanDam - 56-13
1. 13-14, 2. 12-7, 3. 19-0, 4. 11-8
Pat Golden - 55-5
1. 20-7, 2. 11-3, 3. 17-8, 4. 6-3
Chris Lane - 53-5
1. 14-5, 2. 17-1, 3. 14-13, 4. 7-2
Alton Jones - 52-5
1. 11-9, 2. 16-10, 3. 13-13, 4. 10-5
James Niggemeyer - 51-14
1. 11-6, 2. 19-12, 3. 11-5, 4. 9-7
Terry Scroggins - 51-10
1. 17-9, 2. 12-4, 3. 12-2, 4. 9-11
Rick Clunn - 51-2
1. 11-7, 2. 14-3, 3. 15-6, 4. 10-2
Cliff Crochet - 39-11
1. 13-5, 2. 16-5, 3. 10-1, 4. 0-0
History & Notes;
Day 1: Pat Golden 8-15
Day 2: Matt Greenblatt 10-4
Day 3: Grant Goldbeck 7-4
Day 4: Grant Goldbeck 6-4