Skip to main content

Mossy Oak Looks Back on VanDam’s Unprecedented and Unparalleled Career

Kevin van dam

Celebrating Kevin VanDam's Retirement

JD Blackburn

In the final event of the Bass Pro Tour regular season, Kevin VanDam led going into the final round, before ultimately finishing as the runner-up. It had to be a disappointment to the first ballot Hall of Famer, but it was emblematic of a career where from start to finish he was always in contention. It didn’t matter if the tournament was north or south, largemouths or smallmouths, a power fishing slugfest or a finesse game of chess, no one wanted to be chasing the GOAT, and no one wanted him breathing down their necks.

When they construct the Mount Rushmore of bass fishing, pundits and fans alike will argue over the placement and substance of the other three likenesses, but no one who’s followed bass fishing for even a second will dispute that KVD should be there, and likely front and center.

Over the course of 33 seasons, he earned a record-setting 33 wins. He tied the record for Classic victories with four, double those of all but one other angler. And along the way he amassed eight Angler of the Year awards and over $7 million in tour-level winnings, more than twice his nearest competitor.

Kevin vandal with fish

The hardware and the bank account are testaments to his efforts, but oddly enough it’s the less measurable achievements that make him stand out even more. First and foremost was his superlative level of professionalism. He never turned down a phone call, an interview, or an autograph request, and took on a relatable but professorial tone when explaining both simple and complex concepts. Through it all, even though he displayed a Jordan-like intensity, he never took himself too seriously – a well-timed playful wink showed that he knew it was a game, albeit one that he intended to win. For those reasons, sponsors stuck with him, weekend anglers idolized him, and even titans of other sports and industry became raging KVD fans.

On the water, he lived up to his self-declared motto: “It’s all about the attitude.” No record was too lofty to be out of reach, no type of fishing was out of his wheelhouse. He won slugfests on Guntersville and the stingiest Bassmaster Classic of all time on Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers. While early in his career some thought that he couldn’t slow down and fish finesse, when BASS visited Lake Lewisville in Texas between his second and third Classic wins, he set the lake record – with a shakey head. That achievement notwithstanding, power of personality and power fishing were his bread and butter. He made more casts, over longer distances, and covered more water than previously thought humanly possible. It was as if his body was made specifically to burn spinnerbaits, jerk on jerkbaits and grind deep diving crankbaits into ledges. He was formidable on the Great Lakes, but also any time the tours visited the TVA impoundments. It often felt like everyone else was fishing for second place.

Beyond the pure physicality of his style, VanDam’s mental acuity gave him a huge advantage any time he progressed to the final day of competition. As others were “just happy to be there,” he knew how to work with a cameraman, and a gallery. In fact, those things just seemed to make him stronger and more determined.

He was even recognized by the broader sports world, winning a coveted ESPY award. Famous athletes and musicians looked up to him, and wanted to bask in his greatness. A pundit at BASS once put it best: "Some people wear Superman pajamas, but Superman wears KVD pajamas."

Here are Mossy Oak, we also celebrate the fact that Kevin was the consummate outdoorsman, as serious about deer hunting or chasing turkeys or fishing for big game as he was about “little green and brown fish.” Our camouflage still fits him and his image like a glove. Like his close friend Johnny Morris, he understands that being a tournament angler is about more than what you put on the scales – it’s about being a good steward of our resources and always putting the sport’s best foot forward. That’s why we know that this is not a true “retirement,” but rather a move into a different phase of his career, one that will be similarly characterized by intensity and excellence.

We intend to partner with him for the rest of the ride, hitching our respective wagons to shared ideals and a love of the outdoors.

Latest Content