Father's Day celebration brings about many special memories for a number of BASS Elite Series pros; many attribute their own love of fishing — and career success — to their dad's introduction to the sport.
GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — As they have already done or will do 10 other times during the 2008 Elite Series season, an armada of12 BASS pros motored their way forth from the Kentucky Dam Marina this morning with a decided passion for fishing in their back pockets and a burning desire to rise to the top of their sport.
And like most other anglers across America on this Father's Day, a good number of these pros will gladly acknowledge the paramount role that their own dads have played in birthing their love of fishing and inspiring them to BASS tournament fishing success.
Take Kevin VanDam, the highly regarded pro who motored from the harbor earlier today with a sizable lead in the final round of the Bluegrass Brawl presented by DieHard Platinum Marine Batteries®.
As talented as the two time Bassmaster Classic champ and three time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year winner from Kalamazoo, Mich. is, VanDam is quick to admit that he owes his love of fishing and much of his rise to the top of the sport to the angling influence of his dad, Richard.
"I definitely was real lucky to have a dad that was into the outdoors, who took me fishing and hunting when I was a kid," said the 13 time BASS winner. "I was probably a handful to have out there."
VanDam, arguably the greatest pro bass angler of all time, didn't get his career started on a steamy summertime lake somewhere.
Instead, it was with his dad on the hard water of Michigan.
"My first fishing trip was ice fishing with him when I was three," VanDam reminisced.
"To have a three year old out on the ice… I was running around, kicking ice in the hole, stuff like that.
"Fortunately, he was real patient and kept bringing me along and (now) I just have a real passion for the outdoors."
Today, that passion pays the bills in the VanDam household.
"He gave me a lot of opportunities to go out and fish and hunt and now I'm making a career out of it," Kevin said.
One of the opportunities that Richard gave his son was access to Kevin's first fishing boat, admittedly a far cry from the high-dollar, metal-flaked Nitro bass rig that he dashes around America's top bass fisheries in today.
"(My dad) had an old aluminum boat with a 7 ½ horse Merc on it," VanDam said. "That was my first boat… it was his boat first."
When VanDam's passionate hobby began to turn into a tournament angling career, Richard VanDam was right there once again.
And he still is.
"My dad used to travel with me to a lot of tournaments… (And) he has practiced with me," Van Dam said, noting that his dad still comes to a few events, most notably the Bassmaster Classic each year.
"I've been in 18 Classics and he has been to every one of them."
Back home in Kalamazoo, Kevin says that his entire family — from his dad to his siblings to his wife Sherry — in addition to being a great family, are an indispensable team that help to keep things running smoothly when the BASS pro is on the road.
"You know, I'm gone a lot, so anything I need done, dad's always there to help out," VanDam said.
These days, as VanDam's own twin sons Jackson and Nicholas continue to grow up, it's Kevin's turn to pass the outdoors torch along.
"It's pretty special," VanDam said. "You know, my kids are at that point now where they are getting into fishing and hunting, too, and it means a lot to me."
And that isn't just Father's Day talk either — VanDam clearly means it.
"They are 11 years old and they were born real premature," Kevin said. "It was a real challenge the first few years, but you would never know it now.
"They are playing baseball and doing things — the toughest part of my job right now is being away from them."
Even though VanDam's active tournament schedule and sponsor commitments keep him on the road a lot, he works hard every day at being a good father.
"If you are gone a lot, it's still real important to keep that communication up," he said. "I talk to my kids every night before they go to bed and usually every morning before they get on the school bus too.
And keeping the lines of communication open and well used is his best advice to other dads who struggle with being gone from their families and on the road because of work.
"You just need to be open with them because kids have a lot of tough choices these days and you want them to feel comfortable to come to you about anything," VanDam said.
When asked whether or not he would like to spend a day on the water with his two boys or win another Classic championship, the competitive sparkle gleamed in VanDam's eye.
"Winning (the Classic)… with my boys there," he smiled. "They've been to every one of them, too — (they) haven't missed a Classic."
With that said, Kevin VanDam knows that spending quality time with his kids on the water is what matters most.
"It's fun and we do a lot (together)," he said. "My dad lives on a private lake at home and we do a lot of bluegill fishing and stuff out there.
"Sunday afternoons, we go out there for Sunday dinner and go fishing out there with them."
And such moments are something that VanDam is already treasuring.
"I know I'm going to remember it and I'm sure when they get a little older, they're going to remember it too," he said.
While VanDam appears to be poised to have a very memorable day thanks to his sizable lead going into the Bluegrass Brawl's "Elite 12" final round, another one of his fellow competitors is hoping to enjoy his own special Father's Day celebration.
And if Terry "Big Show" Scroggins can pull off the come from behind win, odds are that one of the first calls he'll make will be to his father Kent.
"That's where I learned how to fish," Scroggins said. "That's what it's about, taking youngsters out fishing.
"I try to do the same when I get home," Scroggins said of his own two children, Kristi and Jonathon. "Unfortunately, (we are) gone on Father's Day."
Big Show, who has five BASS wins to his credit and more than $1 million in career earnings, says that like his Michigan counterpart, this whole bass fishing endeavor began thanks to his dad.
"If it wasn't for him taking me fishing I wouldn't be where I am today," said the likable Florida pro.
While his own taxing road schedule makes it difficult to see his father much these days, Scroggins says that Kent is very supportive of his career.
Because of that, Big Show would like nothing more today than to earn an extra $100,000 in pocket change so that he can purchase an extra-special Father's Day gift.
"It would be pretty cool (to win today)," he said. "(Of course), it's pretty cool to win a tournament anytime!"
For West Virginia's Jeremy Starks, that anytime was last Sunday in Decatur, Ala. when the Elite Series pro grabbed his first BASS win at the Southern Challenge tourney by a mere eight-ounces over VanDam.
What made the win extra special for Starks was that his 68-year old retired father Alan made a "wee hours of the morning" drive down from West Virginia's coal country to the Deep South to see his son win the tournament.
"I get choked up thinking about it," Starks said. "He drove down (there) all night just to see (me win), it's just awesome."
So important has Stark's father been to his fishing career that Jeremy actually let his dad drive the Southern Challenge trophy back to Charleston, W.V. last weekend.
After all, that was the only appropriate thing to do when Starks lifelong fishing partner showed up.
"We went fishing every day, five days a week from April to October," Starks said. "We went fishing when he got off work. He kept his boat docked and we lived right on the river.
"We did that my entire childhood," said Starks.
That's why the 35-year old Elite Series pro is quick to point out that if and when he's a dad, taking his own kids fishing will be of utmost importance.
"You've got to take them fishing," Starks said. "(My dad) took me fishing when I was a kid and that kept me out of trouble.
"It's turned into a career and it's the greatest sport on earth.
Corey Waldrop, the Elite Series rookie from Fort Worth, Texas, also attributes his love of fishing and the outdoors to his father, Craig.
"My dad, he's the whole reason that I'm here," said Waldrop, who made his first career "Elite 12" cut at last weekend's Southern Challenge in Alabama.
"Without him, I wouldn't be where I'm at. He's always been the one that has had the confidence in me and everything else. He's the one who encouraged me to do this.
"I owe absolutely everything to my father."
Waldrop said that not only did his dad get him started and believe in his career choice, he also gave him the keys to the boat when the 20-year old Corey was a youngster.
"He's the one that took me out there when I was younger and let me fish tournaments by myself," Waldrop said. "I mean, he would sit on the bank and let me take his boat out in faith that I wouldn't come back with it in five pieces."
And like many — or maybe even most of the BASS Elite Series pros on the circuit today — Waldrop says that he doesn't have to look very far to find his fishing mentor and life's hero.
"(My dad is) just an awesome individual and he's probably my role model," he said.
"And I'm his biggest fan."
Just like millions of others are today on Father's Day when they think about the impact of their own dads, men who oftentimes are honest, hard-working, noble men of integrity who have served as both a catalyst and an ambassador to get their sons and daughters hooked on the greatest sport of all, the sport of bass fishing.