Following his impressive victory in the Bluegrass Brawl, 3-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Kevin VanDam, has surged into first place in the 2008 contest.
"It's a privilege to be in the hunt for something like this. You know, most of us think this is the most impressive title we can win. It's something earned across an entire season, not just one strong performance," he says with characteristic candor.
"Sure I'd love to win it — this year and every year — but right now I'm looking towards the Tennessee Triumph on Old Hickory Lake in Tennessee. Let's work on first things first and let the other things take care of themselves. I don't want to think about it."
That's all well and good, but does this Kalamazoo, Mich., native see a fourth title in his future this year? After all, he won the title in 1992, 1996 and 1999. It's not like he doesn't know what it means. And, as a relatively young man — he's 40 — VanDam still has an outside shot at Roland Martin's record of nine AOY titles.
To appreciate where Kevin VanDam stands as a professional bass angler, consider that only four men in BASS history have won three or more Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles — Roland Martin, Bill Dance, Mark Davis and Kevin VanDam. No one, save Martin, has ever captured more than three.
Doing so would put VanDam in second place on the All-Time AOY List in front of Dance and Davis. That's serious credibility in professional bass fishing circles. He can't possibly be oblivious to what that means.
"Oh, let's not go there. Please. Like I said, it'd be great, but there are still three tournaments to go. We're a long ways from the end of this thing. I mean, look at who's in it. Those guys can fish. And, with the depth of talent in the Elite Series, a win or even a high finish is hard to come by. It's a real struggle out there. I'm telling you; nothing comes easy in the Elite Series.
"Todd Faircloth and Mike McClelland are right behind me; Todd's only 65 points back and Mike's only 94 points out of the lead. They've been trading the top spot for a good part of the year now. If either one of them is slowing down, I don't see it. They look strong to me.
"And, don't forget about Skeet Reese and Edwin Evers. They're right there, too. Both of them are experienced, seasoned professionals. They know how to compete when the going gets tough, and both have had solid and consistent seasons. They're a threat anytime they pick up a rod and reel. They could win it. Don't count them out, not for a minute.
"None of them have hurt themselves up to this point. When you finish 90 is when you hurt yourself. That hasn't happened to any of them this year and isn't very likely to happen."
It hasn't happened to VanDam, either.