GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — After he weighed in as the Day One leader, Kevin VanDam was asked why Kentucky Lake was drawing such rave reviews this week from the Bassmaster Elites Series pros competing in the Bluegrass Brawl presented by Diehard Platinum Marine Batteries.
Obviously, the praise from the anglers was due to the excellent bass fishing. But why has Kentucky Lake's 160,000 acres on the Tennessee River jumped up a notch in terms of bass production — both in size and numbers?
"They've had really good spring spawns, higher water," VanDam said. "When the water gets in the bushes, you get a great survival rate for the fry. The Tennessee River is so fertile. There's so much shad in there, plus bream, crappie, crawfish.
"And it's about habitat. If you want to have a lot of bass, you need to have a lake that's got a lot of water that's 10 feet (deep) or less. You look at all those main river ledges out there, and there are so many of them that are 10-, 12-, 15-feet deep. Then there's all the bays, creeks and pockets. It's primo habitat."
The three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year has long proclaimed his enjoyment of Tennessee Valley Authority-operated lakes. Alabama's Lake Guntersville is one of his favorites, having won an Elites Series event there last season. And VanDam missed another title on a Tennessee River impoundment by only 8 ounces last Sunday at Alabama's Wheeler Lake.
So far this week, Kentucky Lake is moving up on KVD's list of favorites.
"Guntersville and Kentucky right now are two of the better lakes in the country," VanDam said.
Swindle moving to Kentucky?
Gerald Swindle wasn't very happy about all the company he had following him around Kentucky Lake on Day One, especially as he perceived most of it was from anglers who will be competing in other tournaments this weekend.
But, as usual, Swindle put a spin on that thought in a way only the Warrior, Ala., pro can.
"I want to move up here," Swindle said. "Nobody works here, and everybody owns a $40,000 boat, a $40,000 truck, and they fish five days a week. They're buying $4 gas like it costs a nickel and they're running all over the lake.
"Yep. I need to move to Kentucky."
Former jockey's take on Big Brown
As a former jockey who rode Mythical Ruler to a 17th-place finish in the 1981 Kentucky Derby, Elite Series angler Kevin Wirth has horseracing in his blood — even more so than your average resident of the Bluegrass State.
Wirth, who lives in Crestwood, Ky., admitted he rushed back from Wheeler Lake's Elite Series event last Saturday to get to his hotel room and watch the race. He arrived after the Southern Challenge weigh-in just in time to see the horses being loaded into the starting gates.
"Kent (Desormeaux) was eager to get his horse out early," Wirth said, "but it was apparent that the horse wasn't there."
Why did Big Brown, considered a "guaranteed winner" Saturday prior to the race, perform so poorly in finishing last?
"A quarter crack is a bad deal — I don't care what you say," Wirth said about Big Brown's hoof injury. "You don't know how each horse is going to take (a quarter crack), but I'll say it had something to do with it."
Even though denied again, Wirth thinks America will see another Triple Crown winner one day.
"We've had some pretty good gaps before," he said. "There have only been 11 (Triple Crown winners) since 1875, so that's 11 in 132 years. It's a hard feat for a 3-year-old, to ask the horse to extend its capacity (as Triple Crown races demand)."
While the 45-year-old Wirth continues to love his former career, he is firmly entrenched in the sport of bass fishing now. When asked whether he would rather ride a horse to a Triple Crown race victory or stand on the confetti-enshrouded stage as the Bassmaster Classic champion, it didn't take Wirth long to answer.
"I'd like to win the Classic," he said with a smile.
The Velvick touch
After an absolutely horrible 2007 season on the Elite Series tour, Byron Velvick has rebounded — his Day One third-place finish on Kentucky Lake being just one more example.
The former contestant on ABC "The Bachelor" entered this week in 26th place for the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings race. He's finished in the top 50 at four tournaments this season, including third place at Texas' Falcon Lake and a 15th-place at Florida's Kissimmee Chain.
Last season Velvick, who will turn 44 next week, essentially finished dead last in the TTBAOY standings: He was 107th with 1,141 points; Elton Luce Jr. finished 108th with 99 points after having to leave the tour.
"I'm healthy this year," Velvick said in explaining his resurgence. "It was like a black cloud followed me last year."
The black cloud formed in the second Elite Series event of the season last year, when Velvick was injured prior to the tournament on Lake Amistad, which Velvick has called home since buying Amistad Lake Resort in Del Rio, Texas.
Velvick had to go to the emergency room on Wednesday night before the tournament started, after his leg got caught between his truck and his boat trailer, which came loose from the hitch.
(It's a long story, but wasn't Velvick's fault.)
"Amistad was like a blur, because I was on so much pain medication," Velvick said. "I could hobble to the front of the boat. Then I just sat in the seat ... I couldn't even stand up.
"It took four or five months for my leg to really get better. It was blown up. It was a major contusion."
The black cloud followed Velvick to California, where he almost sliced his thumb off with a knife, trying to cut a banana during the tournament at Clear Lake.
"This year I've been careful," Velvick said with a smile. "I'm fishing slow. And I've had Mary (Delgado) with me, who's my good luck charm. Every time she's with me, I find fish (in practice)."
Delgado, for the few who don't know, is Velvick's fiancée, whom he met during the sixth season of "The Bachelor."
"The last thing Iowans need to be concerned with is a BASS tournament. Our thoughts and prayers are with them — they've got much more important things to be dealing with (than fishing)."
— BASS tournament director Trip Weldon, on the decision to relocate the River Rumble Elite Series event from the swollen Mississippi River at Fort Madison, Iowa, to Tennessee's Hickory Lake
"KVD, it was a privilege to fish with one of the top guys in bass fishing, and I learned a lot in a short period of time. I caught most of mine today on a jig and pig, but going behind him (from the back of the boat) is tough. He's really tough to fish behind, because he's a vacuum cleaner."
— Co-angler Thomas Warren, on both the privilege and the problem of fishing with Kevin VanDam as a co-angler
"Today was a great day. I was blessed to be in the back of the boat with one of the best in the world."
— Co-angler Brian Hickey, on fishing with defending Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Skeet Reese
"It's a fabulous lake. My home lake is Grand Lake and it's very good, but I'll be back here very soon."
— Oklahoma co-angler Ben Jackson, on his first impression of Kentucky Lake
"I've been kind of struggling all year so I had to bring my fan club (family members) all the way from Oklahoma."
— Elite Series pro Jeff Reynolds, on his good luck charm en route to catching 18-13 on Day One
"Howell, if I get chicken pox, you're going down."
— BASS emcee Keith Alan after Elite Series pro Randy Howell (whose children have chicken pox) patted him on the back
"He drove it like he stole it."
— BASS emcee Keith Alan on how fast Elite Series pro Mike Wurm drove his boat to the weigh-in after giving an assist to two anglers in an ailing boat