PARIS, Tenn. — Just when it seemed Kevin VanDam had a virtual stranglehold on the Tennessee Triumph, the five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year uncharacteristically loosened his grip heading into the final day of competition.
Despite weighing 21 pounds, 11 ounces, Friday, the Kalamazoo, Mich., veteran lost nearly half of his 6-pound advantage as Kelly Jordon smashed 24 pounds, 0 ounces, to close the gap.
It's nothing new for VanDam, a prohibitive favorite for fans to follow on the water, but Kentucky Lake always poses a unique scenario due to the local anglers and the abundance of tournaments that occur on the weekends.
"I tried to do anything I could do to get away from the pressure," said VanDam, a 16-time Bassmaster winner. "But I knew it was going to be a frustrating day and affect the way I was fishing, so you just have to deal with it and try to piece together the best day you can."
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Tennessee Triumph on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, July 4, at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2. The daily weigh-ins for all regular-season Elite events and the two postseason events will air live on ESPN3.com.
As the conditions change, VanDam said the fish are moving but he has a number of spots that hold quality fish. It is a matter of timing and changing up the presentations in order to entice the right bites. He is primarily working a crankbait over shell beds but is mixing in a number of other different lures.
"I'm throwing everything at them that I can," said VanDam, a three-time Bassmaster Classic winner. "Today, I threw more variety than I have in the past two days. It's definitely not easy out there."
VanDam predicted that on Saturday he would need to grind out at least 8-10 good-sized bites to secure a win. The unpredictability of boating a bass — with the boat pressure and changing conditions — is increasing, VanDam said.
Regardless of the result Saturday, VanDam will have picked up valuable points in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. By leading three days, he accumulates 15 points and if he is able to maintain the pace, VanDam will move into the top 8 in the Angler of the Standings, which will put him in qualifying position for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason.
In contrast to VanDam, Jordon had a subpar first day but found the grove Thursday and carried the momentum into Friday. His 10-1 on Thursday remains the biggest bass of the tournament and Friday, he was able to land a 6- and 7-pounder. Jordon is a big-bass specialist and the Mineola, Texas, pro made the decision early in the week to live or die with the big bite.
Similar to VanDam, Jordon has had serious success of Kentucky Lake, posting eighth, 15th and 11th-place finishes in the past three BASS competitions. Despite his stellar record, Jordon eschewed his customary Kentucky Lake spots, heading south instead.
After Jordon's first day, he almost abandoned the Southern end of the lake.
"I though long and hard about punting," said Jordon. "Heck, I almost did today (Friday). But I know the big ones live there."
Despite the location change, Jordon is attacking Kentucky in typical fashion with a 10-inch Lake Fork Tackle Worm — which has produced most of the bigger bites — while mixing in a variety of crankbaits.
Behind Jordon in third was Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., with 65-6. Heading into this event, Evers was a distant second in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year to Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif. But Evers keeps putting on the pressure and Reese has stumbled lately, which has allowed Evers to close the AOY gap to less than 70 points.
"It's just really sad to know where I could have been if I would have caught the big ones," said Evers, 35. "I could have had at least 26 pounds each day. But my focus is on the Angler of the Year now and I just have to keep plugging away."
Slipping from third to fourth was Jason Quinn of York, S.C., with 62-14. In fifth was Elite rookie Matt Greenblatt of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with 57-10. Greenblatt made his first final-day cut as did fellow rookie Keith Poche of Troy, Ala., who was 11th.
Only the top 12 qualified for Saturday. Duel on the Delta winner John Crews was sixth while Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark., was the final angler to advance with 54-2. He bested Todd Faircloth by 1 ounce for the final spot.
Kentucky Lake has hosted a dozen BASS events, including the 2009 Tennessee Triumph, at which Lane of Lakeland, Fla., won his first BASS tournament with a total of 97 pounds, 9 ounces, after leading through all four days.
Kentucky Lake is 185 miles in length, with 160,000 surface acres and 2,380 miles of shoreline. Lake Barkley adds another 80,000 surface acres.
The top prize of the Tennessee Triumph is $100,000.
The public is invited to attend the daily launch (6 a.m. CT) Saturday and weigh-in (3:30 p.m.) at Paris Landing State Park, 16055 Hwy. 79 N., Buchanan, Tenn. Other activities Saturday at the Tennessee Triumph will begin at noon CT at Paris Landing State Park. All events are free and open to the public.
Up next for the Elite Series is the regular-season finale, the June 17-20 AutoZone Sooner Run on the Arkansas River out of Muskogee, Okla.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason, Toyota Trucks Championship Week, is set for July 24-31 and will be played out once again on two productive Alabama fisheries. The first leg, the July 24-25 Trophy Chase, returns to Lake Jordan out of Wetumpka. The finale, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, is slated for July 30-31 on the Alabama River from Montgomery.