Sharp pundits would never say that Kevin VanDam isn’t a favorite to win the Aug. 8-11 Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at St. Lawrence River out of Waddington, N.Y.
Working in VanDam’s favor is the St. Lawrence event promises to be a smallmouth fest. VanDam cut his fishing teeth on the smallmouth bass of his native Michigan and on the Great Lakes. A 20-time Bassmaster winner, he’s a proven expert at catching smallies, as well as largemouth, which also live in the St. Lawrence.
Then there’s his history. Unlike many in the 2013 Elite Series field, he has experience on the big river that forms the New York-Canada border. Impressive experience: He won two out of six appearances at Bassmaster tournaments on the St. Lawrence.
But those two wins — in 1995 and 1999 — don’t necessarily give him an advantage in the Showdown, said the four-time Bassmaster Classic champ and seven-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Reason No. 1, he said: “I haven’t been back to the river since.”
Reason No. 2: The Showdown is out of Waddington, which is farther east than those six Bassmaster Invitationals VanDam competed in.
“I fished some in the river back then, but when I won there before, I mostly was 80 miles away (from Waddington) in Lake Ontario,” he said. “I don’t think it will be an option to go to those same areas. If we get nice weather, the lake could be a factor. If it’s windy enough to eliminate long runs, the event will probably be won in the river.”
And reason No. 3: He’s not likely to tap into his St. Lawrence history. The August timing of the Showdown puts bass in summer patterns, not the fall patterns prevalent in September when the Invitationals he was in took place.
Actually, the August timing will be a plus for everyone, VanDam said.
“August is a more stable time of year,” he pointed out. “That should improve the catches. In September, you get a lot of weather fronts, and the fish can move day to day. Now it should be easier to be consistent.”
VanDam is delighted that the St. Lawrence of the 1990s isn’t what he and the other 98 Elite pros will discover during their three days of practice, beginning Monday.
“Like the Great Lakes, the river’s fishery has boomed with the influx of the zebra mussels and the gobies,” he said. “The smallmouth population has gotten bigger and better. It was always a great fishery, but looking at tournament results now, it’s gotten even better.”
He predicted that big daily weights will be needed to take the Showdown’s first prize of $100,000 and an instant 2014 Bassmaster Classic qualification.
“This is probably going to be the overall biggest weight event of the year as far as average size of fish brought in,” VanDam said.
He is after points as well as pounds. As the seventh event of eight in the season, the Showdown will be pivotal in the 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race, which also will determine qualifications for the 2014 Classic and the postseason in September.
VanDam is not concerned about a Classic berth — sitting in third place in points, he’s a shoo-in to end his season in the Top 28 in points to earn a 2014 Classic entry. But he needs points, big-time, to catch AOY race leader Edwin Evers, who now has 50 points over VanDam. VanDam also has to overtake 2007 AOY Skeet Reese, who is six points ahead of VanDam.
As the points and pounds story unfolds over four days, the city of Waddington will be entertaining Elite Series fans. The city has also organized a concurrent event, Tastes and Talents of the North Country Festival.
The festival lineup is huge. For starters, more than two dozen food and wine vendors, plus scores of artists, crafters and local businesses will be on hand.
A big part of the festival will be music: 15 acts are scheduled over the four days. Headliners include Bucky Covington on Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Jason Michael Carroll on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. (followed by fireworks); and at 1 p.m. Sunday, Syracuse band Chris Taylor and the Custom Taylor (named “Best Country Band” in Central New York).
Other activities for attendees include the Hawg Trough, a 50-foot tank filled with local species; “Talons! A Birds of Prey Experience”; the Fishing Simulator; horse-drawn carriage rides; an antique car show; a beer tent; belt sander drag racing; and rides by Ghost Rider Helicopters. The tournament’s title sponsor, Evan Williams Bourbon, will offer tasting of its Bourbons.
Saturday will be Military Appreciation Day, including a fishing derby and giveaways. Wounded Warrior Outdoor Adventures and Heroes on the Water will take soldiers fishing Aug. 10at Fobers Pond.
The free Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will open at noon Saturday and Sunday. Elite Series sponsors will exhibit their products, and fans can sign up for free demo rides in Nitro, Skeeter and Triton bass rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines.
Fans can catch the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown online at Bassmaster.com, where access is free. Features include streaming video of the daily weigh-ins, real-time leaderboards, from-the-water BASSCam videos, blog reports and Toyota Hooked Up! shows with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona.
ESPN2 TV coverage of the Showdown will air Aug. 18 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET, and again on Sept. 7 from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. ET.
ESPN Classic will air the show Aug. 18 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. ET, and Sept. 8 from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. ET. In addition, The Outdoor Channel will present the show Sept. 16. For times, check local listings.
Produced on the crystal-clear water of the river, this TV show will be one not to miss, said VanDam.
“The underwater footage from the GoPro cameras is going to be unbelievable,” he said.