NEW ORLEANS — Saturday was a new day, but Kevin VanDam was still singing the same old song. At this point, the rest of the field is hoping that he'll forget the words on Sunday.
VanDam weighed in a tournament-best 22 pounds, 8 ounces of Louisiana Delta largemouth bass today to overtake Day One leader Aaron Martens and build a 3-10 lead over Brent Chapman in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
If he wins the tournament, it'll be KVD's fourth Classic crown, tying Rick Clunn for the all-time BASS record. This year's world championship is shaping up not just as a battle of angler vs. angler, or VanDam vs. the rest of the field, or VanDam against history for that matter, but also as one between two primary areas.
As other anglers braved two-hour runs through thick Louisiana Delta fog on the second day of competition to get to Venice, VanDam went back to a community hole in Cataouatche and calmly showed why he's still the mayor of the community.
He had company there, including first day leader Aaron Martens (3rd, 33-02), Scott Rook (5th, 31-11), Derek Remitz (6th, 30-03) and Keith Combs (23rd, 21-10). Those four were within conversation range of VanDam most of the day, but they weren't the only contenders in sight.
Federation Nation qualifier Brandon Palaniuk is near those others, but fishing a section on the perimeter of their key zone. He said he feels that yesterday his area was a disadvantage, producing only smaller fish, but today it might have been an advantage to have it all to himself as the average size of his bass increased substantially.
Having established himself in the area and among his soon-to-be Elite Series peers, Palaniuk will return tomorrow to "fish the exact same GPS points." That makes sense. His 17-14 limit vaulted him into elite company in fourth place, although he's still over 9 pounds behind VanDam. Surprisingly, the 23-year-old rookie isn't bothered when he sees the other anglers land bass. "We're all checking each other out," he said. "When I see them catch one, I just cheer for them." He said the Classic experience is "like living in a dream and to fish within 50 yards of those guys is unbelievable."
Remitz also doesn't seem disturbed by the presence of other world class and battle-tested anglers, even though he's fishing closer to them than Palaniuk may be. Still, Remitz couldn't help but invoke the name of the 800-pound gorilla when he said that it's "only hard when you watch VanDam catch a 4-pounder every five minutes."
Venice traveler Gary Klein (seventh, 29-7) said, "I was counting on the weather staying cool and that dumb fish pond not producing." Unfortunately for almost everyone who ran to Venice, the "dumb fish pond" seems to be replenishing. Indeed, the only member of the top six who is not fishing in the Tank Pond section of Cataouatche is Brent Chapman, who jumped to second place with a 20-1 limit that gave him a two-day total of 38-1.
Chapman may be the only angler with a legitimate chance to top KVD. He had a whopping 70 minutes with a rod in his hand today, but he made them all count. Indeed, he caught more bass than many of the anglers who had several hours more on the trolling motor. His first pass produced a 12-pound limit, but he subsequently culled out three with a five-pounder and a pair of fours as time ran out. Assuming that the anglers are allowed to take off by 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, he'll go to Venice.
Chapman has enlisted the help of the Lowrance engineers to install a radar system on his boat tonight. During practice he'd looked at the area where VanDam and friends are fishing but ultimately felt it wouldn't hold up for three days. Today he stated that he's "going to hope and pray that it doesn't." He'd also love for VanDam, et al, to get in each others' way. "I hope they all fish on top of each other," he said. "I hope everyone on the Delta comes down and watches them tomorrow."
Chapman said that he's only fished about half of his area, whereas the tightly packed crew closer to the launch would appear to have scraped the grass and slime off every one of the thousands of tree stumps on the flat with their lures.
Martens' decreasing catch (from 20-7 to 12-11) might give Chapman and the rest of the Venice crew some hope that the Catouatche honey hole is starting to dry up, but to a man the group fishing in the Tank Pond is confident that the fish are coming to the area rather than diminishing in numbers.
Still, if VanDam and company end up solomonically splitting the baby, it might give Chapman an opportunity to retard (but almost certainly not end) VanDam's quest for the fourth title. "Maybe one of these days Kevin can stub his toe and open the door for somebody else," Chapman concluded. While VanDam's not going to give up his throne voluntarily, if that was to happen it would be music to at least one triumphant angler's ears.