Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Luke Gritter isn't about to compare himself to Kevin VanDam, but even he admits there are some similarities.
Both are from Kalamazoo, Mich. Gritter is 21, the same age as KVD in his rookie year, and he qualified for the Elite Series by finishing high in the Bassmaster Opens, known as Invitationals in VanDam's early days.
And like VanDam, Gritter's father owns a construction company.
But that's where the similarities end.
VanDam cashed checks in his first 23 Bassmaster events and is the sport's all-time money winner. Gritter is still looking for his first paycheck as an Elite Series angler.
He finished 59th in the recent Blue Grass Brawl on Smith Mountain Lake, his highest so far this season.
"There's a lot to learn as a rookie out here, especially when you're not familiar with the lakes we go to," says Gritter. "But I'm not discouraged. Once we start fishing grass lakes, I expect to do better."
He may be right. Gritter's two Top 10 finishes in Bassmaster Opens came in Florida on grass lakes.
"I grew up watching Kevin, and that's what gave me the drive to believe in myself and that I could do this," he said. "He was the same age when he started and that gave me the incentive to give it a try."
Gritter says he hasn't sought VanDam for advice nor do they talk often. He's just trying to make a name for himself.
VanDam, on the other hand, has kept a watchful eye on the rookie.
"I don't know him well, but I do know he's level-headed and keeps an even keel when things aren't going so well," said VanDam. "That's a great asset out here. The weather we've fished the first few tournaments has been extreme and that makes it tougher on a rookie. But I still expect him to do well."
Like VanDam, Gritter honed his grass fishing skills on the natural lakes around Kalamazoo where vegetation is the prominent cover. He knows he needs to learn more about other types of lakes and feels he's gaining a lot of experience this year.
"The biggest thing I have to overcome is how to learn these lakes quickly in two and a half days of practice," he noted. "During Opens, there were no off-limits, so I had plenty of time to figure out what was going on. I can go out and catch 10 pounds a day in the Elites, but that's not enough when fishing against these guys."
He says he has the skills to locate and catch fish, but hasn't developed a feel for the different techniques used on different bodies of water and in very specific situations.
"It's something I have to pick my way through and learn as we go to different lakes," he said.
The travel is equally difficult for a 21-year-old who is close to his family.
"Being gone a long time takes some getting used to, especially when you're living on your own and in motel rooms," he said. "But I'm adjusting. I talk to my family a lot."
He has partial sponsorships with Triton Boats and Mercury Motors and gets other support from Michigan businesses, such as Gritter Builders, VanDam and Krusing, Mulder Waterproofing and Sealants and Garneau Baits.
"If I can do well enough to re-qualify, I plan to come back again next year," he says. "If I can't be competitive, I will hang it up, but in the meantime, I'm still learning the ropes."