PARIS, Tenn. — Kevin VanDam has set the bar so high that when the Kalamazoo, Mich., veteran goes a few tournaments without a victory, bass fishing fans are left to ponder if he has lost the magic.
But VanDam is undoubtedly on top of his game and Saturday, he laid waste to rumors of a struggle, extending his Kentucky Lake domination at the Tennessee Triumph with a four-day total of 92 pounds, 5 ounces.
Most importantly, VanDam accumulated a stout number of Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points and bumped to eighth in the standings, which puts him safely in the cutline for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason with one qualifying event remaining.
While his weight steadily decreased each day of competition, VanDam, who earned $100,000 for the victory, brought in four consecutive limits that weighed more than 20 pounds. His Kentucky Lake ledger includes two firsts, a second and a third-place finish in the previous four times the Elite Series has visited the fishery.
"I kept hearing people say, 'Is there something wrong with VanDam,' and it kind of made me laugh," said VanDam, a five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. "I mean, I had a pretty good start to the year winning the Classic. There have been a few scenarios this year where key bites just didn't go my way and that happens. Sometimes you are on a roll and sometimes you aren't.
"This lake is so special to me and I knew I had a good shot here. It really suits my style. It just feels great."
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.
It was a typical VanDam setup that propelled him to victory. He primarily worked two Strike King crankbaits, a Series 6 XD and a silent stalker in chartreuse sexy shad, which boated the majority of his weighed bass. He mixed in other lures, but as in years past, the crankbaits were the main weapon of choice.
While he stuck with an old friend in his presentation method, it was a new toy that VanDam labeled as "key." VanDam's side-imaging unit — he recently inked a deal with Humminbird — gave him the ability to expand on his areas and locate the sweet spots where the bass were holding. In fact, his three best spots were found using the equipment.
Once he found the schools of bass, it was a matter of long, precise casts that were able to hit bottom. If his cast was right, VanDam said, that the bass were so wadded up in the defined areas, that he couldn't work his lure without bumping a bass.
"The technology that is available to us nowadays, it's almost like magic," said VanDam, a three-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "You can see the schools of bass and I'm not sure why they were relating to the areas they were in, but they were certainly there."
While VanDam hasn't struggled by any stretch of the imagination — he will have won more than $600,000 this year with plenty to remain — he has been disappointed. In particular, the previous Elite event on Clarks Hill Lake was the first time VanDam felt he left something on the table. Apparently, he does his best when he's angry.
"I was really disappointed after the last event," said VanDam, 42. "So I wanted to come in here and do everything I could to have a shot at the Angler of the Year. That has been my goal when I started the season and it will still be my goal when it ends."
In a distant second was Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla. Evers totaled 85-12, nearly 7 pounds off of VanDam's torrid pace. While Evers lamented some of the bites he failed to put in the boat, the five-time Bassmaster winner took solace in his second-place position in the Angler of the Year standings.
"It's an eight-event season and you have to perform throughout," said Evers. "I like where I'm at and I can't wait to get back to fishing next week."
Right behind Evers was his brother-in-law Terry Butcher, also of Talala. Butcher amassed 80-4 and moved up to sixth in the Angler of the Year standings with the stellar performance. Sticking to fourth was Jason Quinn of York, S.C., with 78-15 while Derek Remitz of Grant, Ala., snagged fifth with 78-9. Remitz moved up to third in the AOY standings.
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. There, much will be at stake as qualifying positions in the postseason (top 12), the Bassmaster Classic (top 37) and next year's Elite Series will be determined.
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.