Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, the leader of the Mossy Oak Fishing Team, earned $100,000 as the winner of four days of bass fishing in the 2018 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite Series at Grand Lake in Grove, Oklahoma. Bringing in 83 pounds, 4 ounces of bass while battling bad weather, VanDam captured his 25th tournament win – a record many people think never will be broken – wearing Mossy Oak’s Elements Agua fishing pattern.
VanDam, a power fisherman, covers water quickly, locates schools of bass and then returns to catch those fish. He’s also a thinking man’s angler. Realizing that the male bass were creating beds in shallow water at Grand Lake for the female bass, VanDam knew the large females would be holding offshore in the 8-10 foot depths, waiting to come in and lay their eggs.
“I really didn’t think I could win this tournament after the rough practice I’d had,” VanDam said. “I knew I had to cover a lot of water to find active fish. The female bass moving in to spawn weren’t yet on the beds, but they still would hit reaction baits like a crankbait or a spinner bait.”
Fishing at least 50 spots per day early in this tournament, VanDam identified two locations he thought would be productive on the last two days of the tournament, allowing him to travel less and fish more. One of VanDam’s strengths is he not only reads the light, weather and water conditions daily and hourly, he also makes decisions about where and how to fish on a minute-by-minute basis as conditions on the water change. A lure designer, VanDam selects the lure colors he’ll need for each tournament and is willing to modify or switch the lures he’s fishing to solve specific bass-fishing problems.
“My most productive bait at Grand Lake was a Strike King KVD 1.5 squarebill crankbait in a brown craw color,” VanDam explained. “I pulled that on a 7’ Quantum Tour KVD medium action crankbait rod paired with a Quantum Smoke 200 reel in the 5.3:1 gear ratio. I tied the crankbait on to 12-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon.
“I heard multiple anglers commenting on how the bass were swatting at their lures and not staying hooked up, so I swapped the factory hooks on my lures with the No. 2 Mustad KVD treble hooks, increasing my hook-up rate tremendously. My hook change was critical to getting all the bass into the boat that attacked my baits.”
At 50 years old and after 29 years of professionally fishing for bass, VanDam often is asked if he plans to retire in the near future. VanDam always laughs and answers, “No, I’m having too much fun. I still get very emotional when I win a tournament, just like I did when I won my first Bassmaster tournament in 1991.”
VanDam has grossed $6.3 million in his bass-fishing career, winning four Bassmaster Classics. The Mossy Oak Fishing Team also includes Jordan Lee of Grant, Alabama, the Bassmaster Classic Champion for 2018 and 2017, who finished in 10th place at Grand Lake with 68 pounds, 10 ounces.
Mossy Oak’s Fishing Team, which includes VanDam, Jordan Lee, Brandon Palaniuk, Ott DeFoe, Gerald Swindle and Matt Lee, is headed to Kentucky Lake for the next leg of the Bassmaster Elite Circuit on May 4.