In the world of bass fishing, Kevin VanDam needs no introduction. He is generally considered the greatest professional bass angler of all-time and has the record to prove it. He has four Bassmaster Classic victories, 20 career tournament wins, over $5 million in prize money and seven Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year awards. Impressive numbers to be sure, but our 20 Questions must be addressed.
1. Where are you from, originally?
I was born and raised right here around Kalamazoo, Mich. I think it's really nice up here.
2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
My dad started me fishing, but it was at my grandparents' lake that I started bass fishing. That's where I caught my first bass.
3. Who were some of your earliest fishing heroes?
The first fishing show I ever watched was Virgil Ward's. That was before The Bassmasters was on TV. That is what really got me excited about bass fishing. He had Bass Buster Lures with the Beetle Spin and the Tarantula. That was good stuff. In later years, there were the guys I looked up to that everyone else probably did — Hank Parker, Bill Dance, Rick Clunn, Denny Brauer and those guys.
4. When did you realize you had made it in the bass fishing industry?
I don't think you can ever make it in bass fishing. You constantly have to improve your game. In the Elite Series, this is the best there is, and you can't slack off just because you think you've "made it." If you believe that, it's a good time to retire.
5. What's the biggest bass you've ever caught?
Twelve pounds. I caught one at Lake Murray in South Carolina, and I got one on Sam Rayburn in Texas. Both of those were in practice before events. The biggest one I've caught in competition was an 11-13 I got during an Elite 50 event on Lake Lewisville (Texas).
6. What do you love most about bass fishing?
The thrill of figuring out what it will take to catch them on any given day and figuring out a pattern. It's not so much about the catch anymore, but figuring out what it takes to catch them.
7. What is your greatest strength as a bass angler?
My greatest strength can also be a weakness at times; it's just my style of fishing. I fish fast and cover a lot of water. It does help me locate fish really fast, but sometimes I can go too fast and be too aggressive and not realize how good a spot might have been.
8. What is your greatest weakness as a bass angler?
Probably finesse techniques and when I have to fish slowly. If you told me I had to fish a mile-long grassline with a Texas rigged worm, that'd be painful.
9. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
Well, I really like catching smallmouth, and Michigan is a great place to do it. Lake St. Clair is good, and the northern Michigan area is really pretty country. There are lots of good fish, and the lakes are all deep and clear and beautiful.
10. What question do you get asked most by fans and how do you answer it?
That's not really an easy question to answer. The No. 1 question I get is, "How do you find fish on a big body of water quickly?" There is no quick answer to that. You need to take into account things like the season, type of body of water and the current conditions, among other things. Then you can start to put together a plan. It's not something easily answered. I have a whole chapter in a book about that very thing. Actually, another thing I get through Bass Pro Shops e-mails and other routes is, "How do you properly set up a baitcaster?" That's a little easier to answer, but I still don't know if there's enough room here. In short, I set the spool tensioner first to the weight of the bait, then I set the centrifugal brake to make as stealthy a cast as possible; all that does is slow the bait down toward the end of the cast.
11. What's the biggest mistake you see from casual anglers?
I wouldn't say the biggest thing I see with casual anglers is a mistake; it's just something they could be doing better with a little practice. The one big thing that I think would help a lot of people catch more fish is learning the importance of making a quiet cast with a soft presentation. Fish don't have to be hungry to be caught, and being discreet with your casting is a way to get more of these fish.
12. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
It's not that I have any superstitions, because I don't, but we do have a lot of fun with the [chocolate chip] cookies (baked from a family recipe by his wife, Sherry). I'm good friends with Scott Rook and Davy Hite, and we stay together on the road sometimes. I'll share some cookies with them. Davy's got his lucky drawers, though.
13. How big a part does luck play in fishing?
Not much at all, if any. You make your own luck. When you catch a 4-pounder on a spinnerbait, that isn't luck. What is luck, though, is when you go to swing him into the boat what happens after he gets off. If he bounces into the boat, that's good luck. If he flops out of the boat, that's bad luck.
14. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
I don't really know. I love the competition so much I don't really measure my success by awards, trophies or winnings. I strive to earn the respect of the guys I compete against. Having that means a lot to me because I want to be at my best and compete against the best, and the Elite Series exemplifies that. Having the respect of your competitors is a big accomplishment at this level.
15. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
I have the same goals every year. I want to go out and compete as best I can and be competitive. At the beginning of the year, the goal is to qualify for the Classic. As the year goes on, it's to be in the hunt for Angler of the Year. Then, as the Classic rolls around, I want to win it. It's the competitive nature in me.
16. What keeps you motivated to reach those goals?
I don't have to work at that, I'm motivated enough as it is. Once again, that's my natural competitive instincts. My wife says it's something that's in my whole family.
17. What has been the greatest regret of your fishing career?
Where do you get these questions, dude? I don't have any real regrets. I love what I do and I feel fortunate to get to do what I love for living.
18. When you're not bass fishing, how do you like to spend your time?
I enjoy doing different things with my family. If I can't be out hunting or fishing, I'm at baseball games or other family activities. My passion is in the outdoors — hunting and fishing — and I'm trying to pass that on to my boys. I think it's working so far.
19. What profession (other than your own) would you like to have tried?
That's an easy one, no question here. That would be NASCAR racing. If I got into that at a young age, that's probably what I would've done. I have a few friends who are NASCAR drivers. Ryan Newman I'm closest with; I know Tony Stewart and have been fishing with Martin Truex Jr. — the guy who drives the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops car. He's actually a pretty good stick.
20. When it's all over, how do you want people to remember you?
Again, back to the respect thing. Whether they liked me or not, I want them to appreciate the way I competed. That's all I need.