Several years ago, someone I know compared professional bass angler Kevin VanDam to golfing great Tiger Woods, who was then at the highest pinnacle of the game.
“Kevin VanDam is the Tiger Woods of bass fishing,” my friend said, calling attention to the legendary career numbers that have been amassed by both men, including Woods 14 major championship victories.
But the accuracy of that statement was quickly challenged by another friend standing there: “No sir, I’d say that Tiger Woods is the Kevin VanDam of golf.”
Whichever statement is most accurate, there can be little doubt that VanDam — known to millions the world over by his initials KVD — is the greatest bass fisherman of all-time, the so-called GOAT of the sport.
If that wasn’t already apparent by VanDam’s legendary resume — which includes seven B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles and four Bassmaster Classic titles, including back-to-back triumphs in 2010 and 2011 — then maybe it is by KVD’s latest angling heroics last weekend in northeastern Oklahoma.
Those occurred on the Sooner State’s Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees when the power-fishing KVD targeted big pre-spawn females that were transitioning towards the bank, particularly in areas where the bottom composition changed from one type to another.
“The male bass were all in shallow along the bank and pretty easy to catch,” VanDam said to Bassmaster.com reporter Thomas Allen after the event. “I knew that to win, I needed to catch the larger females that were staging farther offshore — around 8-10 feet of water.”
Calling his pre-tournament practice unproductive on Grand Lake, VanDam — who is also a one-time FLW Tour Angler of the Year and a two-time Major League Fishing Summit Cup champion — just went fishing during the first round, experimenting and adapting as that Thursday round went along.
“I really didn’t think I could win this thing after the tough practice I had,” said KVD to Bassmaster.com. “But I knew I had to cover water to find active fish. The female bass that were moving in to spawn were not yet on beds, but they would still hit a reaction bait like a crankbait or a spinnerbait.”
The results of that strategy aren’t surprising given KVD’s resume. On Day One, he weighed in five Grand Lake bass that tipped the scales at 21 pounds, 15 ounces. The following day, he weighed in 20-10. Then on Day Three, it was 22-04. And finally, on last Sunday’s Championship Day, it was 18-07.
Add those numbers up and it was 83-04 for KVD’s four-day, 20-bass total, more than five-pounds heavier than runner-up Tommy Biffle, and enough for another resounding win for VanDam, the 25th of his long and storied career.
To put that number of 25 into perspective, consider that retired and legendary B.A.S.S. pro Roland Martin took home 19 B.A.S.S. trophies followed by Denny Brauer’s 17. And that Bill Dance won seven times, George Cochran won seven times, the late Ken Cook won six times, Hank Parker won five times, and Jimmy Houston won two times.
Follow that up with current day pros that include Rick Clunn’s 15 wins; Edwin Evers’ 11 wins; the nine wins of Shaw Grigsby and Aaron Martens; the eight wins of Gary Klein, Mike McClelland, and Skeet Reese; and the seven wins of Tommy Biffle, Mike Iaconelli, and Chris Lane; and you’re looking at the resumes of some of the sport’s all-time greatest pros.
But in a profession where a good career can be measured by three or four wins, clearly, VanDam is in a class by himself, sporting a level of excellence in bass fishing that no one else may ever come close to.
In claiming last weekend’s $100,000 dollar top angler payday — which pushed his total B.A.S.S. career earnings to $6.37 million dollars — VanDam reportedly fine-tuned some 50 spots early in the event into a final day milk-run of high quality spots where he had found the biggest bass.
To catch his winning bag, VanDam used a 1/2-ounce green pumpkin Strike King Structure Jig trailed by a green pumpkin Rage Menace Grub with the tail dipped in chartreuse. Add to that his patented Strike King KVD 1.5 squarebill crankbait in brown craw (good luck finding that color this week) and the set-up was complete.
Almost, that is, since KVD is a stickler about controlling all of the variables and the little things that he can.
“I swapped the factory hooks with No. 2 Mustad KVD treble hooks, and that increased my hook-up rate tremendously,” said VanDam to Allen. “I heard multiple anglers comment on how the bass were swatting at their lures and not staying hooked up. My hook change was critical to getting all my fish into the boat.”
And to the scales, where the legend of Kevin VanDam continues to grow thanks to his second win on Grand Lake, an Oklahoma triumph that goes along with his 2007 Elite Series victory there.
Having turned 50 years old not too long ago, VanDam laughed off retirement questions from folks like B.A.S.S. emcee Dave Mercer.
“Short answer: No. I’m having too much fun,” said KVD to Bassmaster.com. “These tournaments are very difficult to win, and I’ve been very blessed over my career, but I’ll never take any of it for granted. I still get very emotional, just like winning my first B.A.S.S. tournament in 1991.”
As the rest of the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series continues — including this week on Kentucky Lake where KVD has two previous triumphs — that can’t be a pleasant thing to hear for the 100+ other Elite Series anglers lined up behind the legendary bassing pro from Kalamazoo, Mich.
Because VanDam, the best of the best in professional bass fishing, both then and now, is still hungry.
And KVD apparently has no plans to rev up his Nitro bass boat and go riding off into the sunset anytime soon.