GROVE, Okla. — A seven-ounce lead over the Tiger Woods of bass fishing going into Sunday simply wasn't enough for Jeff Kriet. And once again Kevin VanDam proved why it's appropriate to associate his name with the dominant golfer on the PGA tour.
VanDam weighed a five-bass limit of 18 pounds, 12 ounces Sunday to jump past Kriet and win the $100,000 first-place prize in the Bassmaster Elite Series Sooner Run presented by Longhorn Moist Snuff.
Grand Lake wasn't nearly as productive for Kriet as it had been Saturday when he caught the biggest bag of the tournament, 24-11, and knocked VanDam off the top of the leaderboard for the first time in two days. But the Ardmore, Okla., angler managed only 14-8 Sunday to finish second, almost four pounds behind VanDam.
"Jeff's a good guy," said VanDam, the 39-year-old Kalamazoo, Mich., native who has three Angler of the Year titles and has compiled nearly $2.5 million in winnings to stand as BASS' all-time money leader. "Deep down I really kind of wanted him to win."I wanted to win bad. But if I couldn't win, I sure would have liked to see him do it."
Only two anglers in Sunday's final 12 caught a heavier bag than VanDam. And both of them started the day too far behind to have a chance to win. VanDam finished with a four-day total weight of 78-12, almost matching Mike McClelland's winning weight of 79-7 a year ago on Grand Lake.
Edwin Evers of Mannsville, Okla., caught 22-0 to move from eighth place Saturday to third place Sunday with 73-7. Kelly Jordon of Mineola, Texas, had 20-10 Sunday to jump from 10th place into a tie for fifth with Davy Hite at 70-11.
Kriet was disappointed that he didn't close out his first Elite Series victory, but had no regrets about his performance on Grand Lake Sunday."I fished good," said Kriet. "I didn't get out there and freak out or anything. I did everything like I was supposed to. I just didn't get the bites."Friday Kriet had about 13 or 14 pounds in his livewell when he hit a hot spot and caught an estimated 19 pounds in 30 minutes. Saturday he had a similar experience, catching 22 pounds in half an hour."I kept thinking that was going to happen today," Kriet said.VanDam is confident a victory will come soon for Kriet, one of only two Elite Series pros to finish in the top 50 of all seven tournaments this season.
"I've kind of watched him over the last few years," VanDam said. "Instead of fishing for checks, he's changed. He's starting to take chances. It won't be long before he wins. At this level, as competitive as these guys are, you've got to be on your A game."Fishing to win and fishing to do well are two different things."
VanDam is legendary for fishing to win and fishing fast. Both qualities were on display all week. VanDam determined in practice that he could catch bass on crankbaits at Grand Lake, and he never wavered from that pattern. Every fish he weighed-in came on a Strike King Series 5 or Series 6 crankbait in a new "Sexy Shad" color pattern that he developed.
"I was confident that crankbait would hold up," VanDam said. "I made a decision before the tournament ever started that I was going to crank from start to finish and not get caught up in slowing down and trying to finesse fish.
"There are two ways to catch them when they are inactive. You've got to fish real slow and throw finesse-type baits, or you've got to trigger them with a reaction bait. That's just my style anyway."VanDam said he hit as many as 30 main lake and secondary points Sunday. When he found a fish or two that he could entice to bite, he continued to pound that point."I'd really work it thoroughly," VanDam said. "A lot of times I'd make the same cast 30 or 40 times, then bam, I'd catch one. You had to make the fish react."
The week was especially sweet for VanDam. Not only did he collect another $100,000, he zoomed to the top of the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year point standings, more than making up a 113-point deficit on previous leader Skeet Reese, who finished in a tie for 67th place at Grand Lake.With the biggest name in bass fishing, VanDam was followed by a flotilla of spectator boats everywhere he fished all week. Sunday a float plane landed near him twice to closer observe the master at work."I've never been to a tournament where there were so many spectator boats other than a Bassmaster Classic," VanDam said.Those fans showed up in big numbers at the daily weigh-ins too. Sunday they remained through a driving rainstorm, which was violent enough to knock out satellite feeds for the ESPN live Internet weigh-in show and a special edition of "Hooked Up," a show that took place on the weigh-in stage prior to the anglers arrival."It goes to show you, they're hardcore fans here in Oklahoma," said VanDam. "It makes it special. Anytime you have enthusiastic fans, it's very flattering for the pros."I stood out there and signed autographs for an hour every day."
Oklahoma fishing fans are definitely hardcore. And once again, Kevin VanDam proved he's the most hardcore angler in the professional bass fishing world.
Harsh thunderstorms rolled through northeast Oklahoma on Sunday, knocking out a lot of the internet in the area, which shut down most of ESPNOutdoors.com's live video feed.
As a result, some of our viewers were not able to see the live pre-game show Hooked Up and its special guests — bass legend Bob Cobb and the University of Oklahoma bass fishing team.
We have the show on tape and we are loading it onto the site as quickly as possible so you can catch up on all the action.