BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Kevin VanDam eagerly awaits a return trip to Alabama's Lay Lake, where he will be the defending champion in the CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic July 25-27.
After all, the highly accomplished Michigan pro feels like he has a score to settle with the 12,000-acre impoundment of the Coosa River. The last time the Classic came to Birmingham and Lay Lake, he jumped out to the first-round lead with five bass weighing 14 pounds, 1 ounce, and seemed poised to capture his first Classic championship.
The newly crowned 1996 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year then watched his deep-water pattern gradually unravel — largely due to pressure from spectator boats. Then in the final round, he suffered a hopes-ending incident. After hooking two 4-pound spotted bass on the same crankbait, VanDam played them carefully and was about to boat them when his line brushed against the trolling motor and came apart.
Arkansas pro George Cochran went on to win his second Classic championship, while VanDam would have to wait another five years to shake the unofficial title of "the best pro never to win a major."
So the 34-year-old, three-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year looks forward to returning to Lay Lake armed with plenty of self-motivation.
"I feel good about it," said VanDam, who finished second in this year's B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year race for the second consecutive year. "It's a lake that fits my style of fishing pretty well.
"The last time, I had some kind of tough things happen. The fish were real suspended then, and the spectator boats kind of took me out of it after the first day. But that's just a strange set of conditions we had then. I'm looking forward to the fishing being a lot better this time around. I feel like I've got a good chance going in there. It's a lake that I really like."
VanDam won the 2001 Classic under some challenging conditions on the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans. It was his 11th Classic try, a track record that made his triumph particularly satisfying.
Since then, VanDam has been nominated by a nationwide panel of sports writers and organizers as an ESPY Award Finalist. The awards show airs July 10, at 9 p.m. ET, one day before he competes in the ESPN Great Outdoor Games. He has also enjoyed a busy, enjoyable year that comes with being the reigning world champion. His travels have also included exotic trips to Mexico and the Amazon "It's been a great year," he said. "It's been pretty awesome. It really exceeded my expectations. I knew it would be pretty awesome and I knew it would be a big deal, but I didn't think it would be that much greater than Angler of the Year wins. But it is.
"It's viewed by the fans as a much bigger deal, and I think with all of the outdoor media along with ESPN, it's really made this past Classic bigger than ever before."
With seven tournament wins, VanDam ranks seventh among all B.A.S.S. pros. In addition to qualifying for the Classic in each of his 12 seasons, he is a member of the B.A.S.S. millionaire's club with about $1.1 million in career earnings.
Lay Lake went off limits to any potential Classic qualifier January 1, 2002, and will not re-open until the official pre-practice days June 24-29. Lay Lake will then be off limits until the official practice day for the Classic.
The launch venue for the event will be Paradise Point Marina. The exciting CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic weigh-in show and the Classic Outdoor Show will take place in the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. With the exception of the launch site, all of the venues for the event are located in close proximity.
The Classic is much more than just the crowning event of the CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail. Classic Week is the annual celebration of the sport of bass fishing that attracts more than 80,000 B.A.S.S. members and other fishing fans from across the country, who come to meet their fishing heroes, attend the weigh-ins and participate in youth and other fan-friendly events.
By sanctioning over 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its B.A.S.S. Federation, B.A.S.S. is the world's largest fishing organization. The CITGO BASSMASTER Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass fishing tournament circuit. It continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism, and sportsmanship after more than three decades. B.A.S.S. is a wholly owned subsidiary of ESPN.
Sponsors of the 2002 CITGO BASSMASTERS Classic include: CITGO Petroleum Corporation, Chevrolet Trucks, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Kumho Tires, Long John Silver's, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Bass Pro Shops, Armstrong Industrial Hand Tools, GMAC/ B.A.S.S. Vehicle & Boat Insurance, B.A.S.S. Platinum Visa/First USA.
Associate Sponsors include: Bass Cat Boats and G3 Boats
For more information contact: B.A.S.S. Communications at (334) 272-9530.