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Please Visit Source Website, Click here!08/11/2005Print this Page  

VanDam Hooks Sponsors
after 2nd Classic Title

August 11, 2005BY ERIC SHARP

KALAMAZOO -- KALAMAZOO -- Nearly $2 million in tournament winnings. Cashing a check in a record 79 percent of events entered. Taking the Angler of the Year title four times in America's most prestigious pro fishing tour. And winning his second Bassmaster Classic, fishing's equivalent of the Masters golf tournament.

Not bad for a guy who dropped out of college and nearly got fired by his brother because all he wanted to do was fish.

Life has become even more hectic than usual for Kevin VanDam since winning his second Bassmaster Classic title at Pittsburgh last month.

"I'm doing a lot of new commercials and public appearances for my sponsors, because they want to capitalize on the Classic," the 37-year-old professional fisherman said as he spent a few precious days at home with his wife, Sherry, and their 8-year-old twins, Nicholas and Jackson. "I'm also involved with the two televisions shows (one for Cabela's and the other for BASS), and we'll be busy doing segments for them."

The Classic capped an amazing year in which VanDam won the last three BASS tournaments. Many top pros win only one or two events in a career, but in his first 14 years on the tour VanDam has 10 firsts, 29 top-five finishes and 69 in the top 10. He is also only about $30,000 behind Denny Brauer's record tournament earnings of $2 million, a figure VanDam could well surpass before the year ends.

VanDam's Classic victory on the waters where the Monongahela River meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio was razor-thin and tested everything he has learned since he began catching bluegills as a toddler at his grandparents' cottage near Kalamazoo.

By general Michigan standards, bass fishing in the Pittsburgh area is poor. By the lofty standards of Lakes St. Clair and Erie, where VanDam honed his fishing skills as a teenager, it's abysmal.

VanDam's total weight for 11 bass over three days in Pittsburgh wouldn't have put him in the top 10 for a one-day, five-bass event on St. Clair or Erie. His 11 fish weighed a meager 12 pounds, 15 ounces, the lowest winning weight in Bassmaster Classic history.

According to, Virginia pro John Crews caught a condom, a sanitary napkin and a pair of men's trousers on three consecutive casts during practice a month before the event, several competitors complained about fishing amid the smell of sewage, and Jay Yelas, the 2002 Classic winner, called Pittsburgh "the worst fishery in America" after getting skunked in the 2005 event.

To further emphasize how bad things were at Pittsburgh, bass legends and multiple Classic winners Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark., and Rick Clunn of Ava, Mo., each caught only two fish in three days, totaling less than three pounds.

With the title under his belt, VanDam was inclined to be more forgiving, saying, "It's a tough fishery to begin with, and when we were there, it was even tougher. But as far as I'm concerned, harder is better. I always think that the worse the fishing is, the better chance I have of doing well," he said.

VanDam's Classic weight was only six ounces better than the 12-9 posted by second-place finisher Aaron Martens of Castaic, Calif., and 18 ounces ahead of third-place angler Gerald Swindle of Hayden, Ala.

VanDam spent so much time fishing when he was in college that he eventually dropped out and went to work at D&R Sports, his brother Randy's outdoor store in Kalamazoo. Randy VanDam once said that Kevin was so unreliable during the fishing season that he decided he'd rather stake his younger brother to a year on the BASS pro tour than fire him.

D&R is still among Kevin VanDam's sponsors and can count on him for public appearances, as can Strike King Lures, Nitro boats, Mercury outboards, Quantum rods and reels and MotorGuide trolling motors. And that litany of sponsors is also the reason that VanDam and most of the other top pros don't fish the rival FLW circuit promoted by Wal-Mart, even though the FLW events pay up to $500,000 for a victory, more than double the average BASS payout.

"The FLW controls all the sponsorships during the tournaments as well as TV sponsorship," VanDam said. "If I enter one of their events, I can't wear my sponsors' logos on my shirt. So I stay with the BASS tour, because it's the more prestigious by far."

"Besides, with BASS expanding from 11 tournaments to 14 next season, I'd never see my family if I tried to do the FLW too. I'm gone 200-250 days a year as it is. But I've got only one more event this fall, the Busch Shootout."

That event will repeat one from BASS's roots, when founder Ray Scott loaded the anglers onto an airplane for the first Classic in 1971 and flew them off to a mystery venue that turned out to be Lake Meade, Nev.

"We won't know where we're fishing or the format until a few hours before we start. I think it's going to be a lot of fun," VanDam said.

And with his record, it probably will be.

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