VanDam trying for Bassmaster three-peat


BOSSIER CITY, La. (AP) -- Halfway through Day 2 of the Bassmaster Classic, the spectator boats trailing two-time defending champion Kevin VanDam moved on to other areas of the Red River.

Although his unofficial fan club had departed, VanDam, with just one fish in the tank, wasn't alone.

"Well at least the buzzards are circling," the Kalamazoo, Mich., native said, looking to the sky. "I don't know what that means."

It looked for a while that the birds were there to pounce on VanDam's chances of making history in northwest Louisiana.

No one has won three straight or five total Classics, and around midday Saturday it appeared VanDam wouldn't even make the cut for fishing in Sunday's final round.

But there's a reason VanDam has earned more than $5 million in the sport and has been dubbed by many as "the Tiger Woods of fishing." He brought in nine fish in his final two hours, and Saturday's 13-pound, 15-ounce stringer pushed the 44-year-old into 18th place with a 24-15 total.

Although he trails leader Chris Lane by nearly 11 pounds, VanDam has a chance at the $500,000 first-place haul.

"A 20-pound sack is very real here -- lots of them were caught when the Classic was here in 2009," VanDam said. "You're never 100 percent out of it, because if you go out and catch a 10-pounder and there's a whole new ballgame."

But VanDam also said Sunday "will probably be special for somebody else." He blamed Saturday's slow start on his biggest fish of the day.

"I was just hardheaded," said VanDam, who caught his big bass at 9:20 a.m., less than an hour after his first cast and following a 95-minute jaunt from the boat launch. "It took me a while to get off the swim jig because I got that 4-pounder first thing."

Over the next 2½ hours, VanDam hooked just one fish.

His fortunes changed when he focused on the Hyacinth lining an oxbow adjacent to the main waterway. Using an intense, rapid-fire approach, he took aim at tiny gaps in the Hyacinth and dropped and bobbed his worm into the water.

"Maybe we're onto something," said VanDam, who often launched 12 casts per minute. "You just have to grind it out."

The 20-time BASS event winner was so confident he had hit a hot spot, he said: "I'm leaving my bag of worms out. This looks good right here."

Leaving plastic worms strewn across the bow may not be unusual for many competitors, but for someone as meticulous as VanDam, it was a surprise.

In the final two hours, VanDam was highly successful in 1½ feet of muddy water. As word of his charge made the rounds on the Red, the spectator boats returned.

"I just kind of ran out of time," he said.

Saturday's preparation began at the boatyard just after 5 a.m. Despite his riches, VanDam never employs help to load his boat and bait rods before sunrise or packing up after sundown.

"It's like loading your own parachute," VanDam said. "I touch everything."

VanDam is also one of few competitors who will not seek advice from local fisherman prior to his tournaments.

"The fun part is figuring out what the heck they're doing every day," he said. "When you figure it out and things do well, it's gratifying.

"So far, I've struggled to do that, so I can't wait to go back out there. I'm mad at them."

VanDam's patience was tested during his midmorning drought on Saturday. At one point, he had something stuck in his throat while casting off the bow. He decided to pass on a drink because he didn't want to take the time to get one.

The area VanDam fished over the first two days was a spot he set his sights on based on his appearance here in 2009 and practice early in the week.

Prior to late Saturday's closing run, VanDam began to show signs of frustration.

"When 15 turtles jump off a log, that's usually not a good sign," he said after one cast scattered the group of reptiles. "It tells the bass something bad is coming."

After running his Nitro vessel from nothing to 70 mph and back to nothing, to and fro, mixing in several groups of fruitless casts in between, VanDam was dismayed.

"I'm just not catching them, man," he said. "They were biting yesterday. Today I can't find them. Unreal. I can't believe they aren't doing it up in here. It's plenty warm."

But VanDam advanced to another Classic day thanks to his late rally.

"I'm going to fish the same general areas -- a pattern I know catches big fish," he said. "You just have to get fortunate. I caught a really big bag on the second day here in 2009. I'm just going to go out tomorrow and do the best I can and have fun doing it. No matter what happens, there is nothing like the day when the champion is crowned at the Bassmaster Classic."