While the fish was huge, its size alone wasn’t the reason it’s the most important. Instead, it’s because of how he caught it. Until then, a few people would still believe you if you called him a one-trick pony. Sure, put him on a venue that favors power fishing and he was likely to be at the top of the scorecard. But a grind-em-out derby that required finesse? He might not be at the top of your picks box. It wasn’t entirely clear to some of us that he used spinning tackle on a regular basis, so when it came out that the 11-13 fell victim to a shakey head it made some of our brains hurt. It wasn’t the only lure he used that week, but the big fish should’ve put everyone on notice that finesse was every bit a part of his game plan. He might not have liked it as much as running down the bank, Motorguide on high, burning a ¾ ounce spinnerbait, but he knew when and how to use it.
No longer a one-trick pony, at that point he became a Swiss Army Knife in a tournament jersey, with the right tool for every set of conditions.
Spirit still not crushed? That had to be the last nail in the coffin.
That was the moment when all of the other jerseys muttered a single made-up word under their breath in unison: “VanDammit.”
Up until then, you could make a colorable case that he wasn’t a favorite in a particular event. After that, you were on notice that he was a favorite in every event. Look at the fishing picks even today: If the Elites are someplace that favors a squarebill, Lowen and Short are on everyone’s team, and so is KVD, “because power fishing is in his wheelhouse.” If they go to Lake Michigan, maybe Kota and the dropshotters find themselves on a lot of lists, but so is KVD “because he’s a Great Lakes smallie guru.” Put his Nitro at the edge of the Dead Sea and you still can’t rule him out “because he’s KVD.”
If you’re one of his competitors, that kind of thinking is Kryptonite. You wait all year to get a blurb in the press about why you should do well and he’s one spot ahead of you. You have your best practice ever and he breaks out some new Strike King prototype and kicks your butt up and down the lake. You finally make it to the Hot Seat on Sunday, and there’s one guy skinny guy from Michigan left to weigh in. Not saying you can’t beat him, just that the odds don’t look good and if you admit that, he already has you down. Even if the fish wasn’t the most important in his mind, it benefitted him tremendously because of the way it played with everyone else’s mind.