PARIS, Tenn. — Kevin VanDam's Kentucky Lake domination is beginning to get a bit ridiculous. Despite a rough start — VanDam failed to connect on consecutive 5-pounders on his first two bites — the five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year opened up a 6-pound lead at the Tennessee Triumph Thursday.
After scoring a first-, second- and third-place finish in the previous three Elite events here, VanDam is closing in on adding another victory to his Kentucky Lake ledger. He ended up toting 24 pounds, 2 ounces, to the scales Thursday, which upgraded his two-day total to 49 pounds, 2 ounces. His consistency was rare as he was only angler to remain in the top five from Wednesday.
Still, VanDam was worried about boat pressure — from locals and competitors — with the impending weekend. Last year, perhaps the most lasting image from Bobby Lane's victory here was the armada of 100-plus spectator boats that crowded his area.
Still, if anyone is used to boat pressure, it's VanDam. And he's certainly in a comfort zone on Kentucky, so all things considered, he likes where he is at.
"You have to catch them all four days here to have a chance," said VanDam, who is looking for his 18th BASS win. "Each day, guys are figuring out how to catch them and I just have to keep at it. With the boat traffic, I have had to be very selective about what areas I can fish. And that is hurting me a little bit. But it is what it is."
VanDam played it close to the vest on details of his pattern but given his responses ("I like the way I'm fishing") and his past choices here, it's probable VanDam is working a crankbait around the numerous ledges that are so vital to Kentucky Lake tournament fishing.
VanDam said the evolution of side-imaging equipment — VanDam uses a Humminbird — has been key to his success. It has allowed VanDam to explore expanded areas and though it has evened the playing field in terms of finding the subtle areas on ledges where the bass are schooling, VanDam said anglers still have to find a way to put the fish in the boat.
With the lead, and perhaps of most importance to VanDam, he collects another five-point bonus in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. VanDam has moved into Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason position — only the top 12 in the AOY standings qualify — and is closing the tremendous gap that Skeet Reese had opened up heading into this week.
After a white-hot start to the season, Reese is experiencing how the other half lives, as he missed his second consecutive cut with a 48th-place showing.
"My focus is on trying to get in that Postseason," said VanDam, who scored the AOY last year in come-from-behind fashion. "Anything can happen there."
Moving up from 32nd into second was Kelly Jordon of Mineola, Texas. Jordon brought 26-14 to the scales Thursday, which stands as the biggest limit thus far of the tournament. His banner day was anchored by a 10-1 behemoth, the biggest of the tournament. His two-day total was 43-2.
A perennial Bassmaster Classic contender, Jordon came into this week out of the Classic qualifying cutline, but a strong performance here would put him right back in the mix. The 10-1 fell for a Lake Fork Tackle 10-inch worm in red.
"It was a heck of a day," said Jordon, an eight-time Classic qualifier. "I was really disappointed after Wednesday. "I had a great practice and found some serious schools but I just couldn't get the right bites. Today (Thursday), that all changed."
Moving up from eighth to third was Jason Quinn of York, S.C., with 41-14. In fourth was Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., with 41-10. Evers was Reese's closest competitor in the AOY standings heading into this week and has steadily closed the gap on Skeet Reese's once 250-point lead in the standings.
If he can keep the pace, Reese will have to perform well on the season finale on the Arkansas River to maintain a comfortable margin heading into the Postseason.
Rounding out the top five was Elite rookie Keith Poche of Troy, Ala., with 41-8.
Only the top 47 qualified to fish Friday. Along with Reese, defending Kentucky Lake champion Bobby Lane missed the cut. Notables in the cutline include 2006 Kentucky Lake winner Morizo Shimizu of Japan (ninth), 2007 Bassmaster Classic champion Boyd Duckett (15th) and 19-year-old Bradley Roy (43rd). Full standings can be found below.
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Tennessee Triumph on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, July 4, at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2. The daily weigh-ins for all regular-season Elite events and the two postseason events will air live on ESPN3.com.