Kevin VanDam finishes strong to win St. Lawrence River Bassmaster Elite Series tournament
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published July 24, 2017
By noon Sunday, Kevin VanDam was already working his way back to toward Whittaker Park, where the weigh-in would be held about three hours later.
He knew it was over - and so did most everyone else.
After leading the first three days, VanDam caught five bass today that weighed 23 pounds, 12 ounces to punctuate a dominant victory in the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River presented by Go RVing. His four-day total of 90-3 is one of the highest ever recorded by an Elite Series angler weighing in only smallmouth bass.
The closest angler to KVD was Mississippi pro Brock Mosley, who finished 8 pounds back with 82-3.
"I fished my very first B.A.S.S. tournament here on the St. Lawrence River in 1987," said VanDam, who earned his B.A.S.S.-record 24th victory. "Someone told me today that this is my 300th tournament with B.A.S.S., and I had no idea. So, all of that makes this really special."
VanDam earned $100,000 for first place and $1,500 more for landing the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week - a monster 6-5 smallmouth that bit early Sunday morning. He also won the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 for leading Friday's second day of competition and the Power-Pole Captain's Cash Award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered and eligible with a client-approved product on his boat.
The cash prizes pushed his career earnings with B.A.S.S. to more than $6.2 million.
"I've had a couple of chances to win already this year, and I kind of let those slip away," VanDam said. "It is hard to win one of these blue trophies - and it's something I never, ever take for granted. This one means as much as any tournament I've ever won."
Regarded as one of the top smallmouth anglers in the history of the sport, VanDam put on an incredible show all four days of the event, rotating among a variety of lures.
During the early stages of the tournament, his primary technique was drop shotting with a chartreuse Strike King Dream Shot in strong current.
"I was fishing it just as fast as I could," VanDam said. "I'd bomb it out there, let it hit the bottom, shake it once and one would just load up on it. That's how I caught that 24 pounds the first day.
"But I had to mix it up every day."
As the week progressed, VanDam also used several different jerkbaits and swimbaits and a wacky-rigged Strike King Ocho. He said a new wacky-rig hook that was unveiled by Mustad during the ICAST trade show in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month played a big role in his success.
On Sunday, he used an unspecified "spybait" when the winds were blowing and it was hard to fish a bait on the bottom.
"Smallmouth are very aggressive by nature, but you have to give them what they want for what mood they're in," said VanDam, who also recorded victories in B.A.S.S. events on the St. Lawrence River in 1995 and 1999. "Sometimes they'll chase something 20 yards and eat it, and other times they're just really timid.
"That spybait allowed me to show them something a little different, and I was able to make that pay off today."
With the victory, VanDam moved into third place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Idaho pro Brandon Palaniuk took the lead with 621 points and received a $1,000 contingency award from Toyota as the current leader. He is followed in the AOY standings by South Carolina pro Casey Ashley with 613 and VanDam with 604.
Palaniuk was awarded the Toyota Bonus Bucks award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program. The second-highest-placing eligible entrant, Jonathon VanDam, received $2,000.