GROVE, Okla. — Kevin VanDam thinks Grand Lake is simply grand. Not only did he bring another 21-pound, five-bass limit to the weigh-in stand on the second day of the Bassmaster Elite Series Sooner Run, unofficially, he zoomed past Skeet Reese in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year standings.
The three-time BASS Angler of the Year from Kalamazoo, Mich., has a two-day total of 43 pounds, 3 ounces. Rookie Marty Robinson of Landrum, S.C., remained in second place with another 20-pound bag Friday, giving him 40-5 for the tournament. Edwin Evers of Mannsville, Okla., made a big move, from 10th to third with 19-9 Friday to give him 37-13 overall.
Evers was just one of a handful of anglers making similar jumps up the leaderboard Friday. Although VanDam is the all-time BASS money leader with over $2 million in career earnings and known for being tough to overtake in a tournament, Grand Lake has proved productive enough to keep this race wide open.
"This place is phenomenal," said Davy Hite, who moved from 15th to sixth place Friday with a 19-1 bag to give him 36-8. "There's enough big fish in this lake for this to continue. Somebody is going to have to have a 20-pound average (per day) to win this thing, absolutely. I hope it's me."
Scott Rook also jumped in the standings Friday, going from 47th place to ninth with 20-12. And Kelly Jordan made the tournament's biggest leap, from nowhere (11-11) to 14th with the biggest bag of the tournament so far, 22-5.
Plus, all these anglers remember Mike McClelland's 25-pound stringer on Friday of this event last year, which vaulted him into a big lead. McClelland, by the way, jumped from 11th to fifth Friday with 18-11 to give him 36-10.
It's KVD at the top of the leaderboard that puts a damper on every other contender's hopes for the next two days. The field was cut to 50 Friday. Only the top 12 advance to fish Sunday.
"This lake is set up for the way I like to fish," VanDam said. "But it's such a timing thing. You've got to be at the right place at the right time."
Video from ESPN cameras caught VanDam in just such a place Friday. As a school of bass herded baitfish to the surface, Vandam reeled in bass after bass. As a larger than usual Friday weigh-in crowd at North Beach Development viewed the video, VanDam described it this way: "What we're doing right now, we call putting a smack-down on them."
However, it's not just being in the right place at the right time that will ultimately determine the winner of the $100,000 first-place check Sunday. Spectator boat traffic is the uncontrollable condition. VanDam had the Ozark armada following his every move Friday.
"I really have never seen this many spectator boats, especially this early in the week, except at a Bassmaster Classic," VanDam said. "There are a lot more than there were last year here."
VanDam's video featuring surfacing fish was the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, VanDam and every other contender is concentrating on rocky points at depths of four to 15 feet where gizzard shad are bunched, seemingly pushed there by the wind.
"Timing is so important," said McClelland, emphasizing VanDam's point. "The fish are on these points. They are holding outside the visible cover that's still in the water. That's a key.
"The fish aren't leaving. It's when the big gizzard shad show up that they start feeding."
And he does mean big gizzard shad. McClelland figures he lost $1,000 in his livewell Thursday. He weighed in a 5-13 bass that fell one ounce short of the daily Purolator Big Bass Award and it's $1,000 prize. His 5-13 largemouth spit up a gizzard shad "13 or 14 inches long" while in McClelland's livewell. The bass definitely would have been over six pounds, had the shad stayed down.
Crankbaits were the lure of the day. However, McClelland and several others caught good fish Carolina-rigging, and jigs are producing, too. But crankbaits easily dominated.
And Rook had the best/worst crankbait story of the day. The Little Rock, Ark., angler thought he'd hooked a monster on a Strike King Series 5, but as he got it near the boat, Rook realized he had two fish hooked — a 6-pounder on the rear treble hook and a 3.5-pounder on the front treble hook. And he thought he was going to land them both.
"They were laying on their sides, right there by the boat," Rook said. "My partner's got his hands down there like, which one do I grab? The six-pounder just barely twitched his head to the left; he came off. (My partner) reached his hand for the three-and-half-pounder and before he could grab it, it twitched its head to the right, and it came off."
Remember, Rook weighed in 20-12 Friday without either of those bass in his bag. That's why there's hope for almost everyone left in the 50-man field.
Well, maybe just a ray of hope.
"You know how Kevin (VanDam) is," Rook said. "Once he gets the lead like that, he's hard to beat. And he's got it going on. He said he culled a 17-pound limit (Thursday.)"
And no matter what happens, VanDam has at least put a serious dent in what was a 113-point lead that Reese held in Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year standings before this tournament. Reese missed the cut, finishing in a tie for 67th place.
If VanDam were to fall all the way to 13th place, he and Reese would be tied in total points. Anything better than that, and VanDam is the new AOY leader, heading into two of KVD's favorite waters — the New York smallmouth bass strongholds of Lake Erie and Lake Champlain.