GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — As was highly anticipated, bass fishing legends Kevin VanDam and Rick Clunn remained atop the leaderboard going into Sunday's final of the Bluegrass Brawl presented by Diehard Platinum Marine Batteries.
However, VanDam made it highly unlikely that anyone was going to overtake him on Sunday two weeks in a row. VanDam finished second by eight ounces last Sunday at Alabama's Lake Wheeler. But the three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year takes a 6-pound, 13-ounce lead over Clunn into the finale this week.
"I think I'm fishing for second place," said the 61-year-old Clunn, who owns four Bassmaster Classic titles. "I could go out and catch 25 pounds tomorrow and probably not catch him."
The 2008 Bassmaster Elite season opened with Mike McClelland overcoming a 10-pound final day deficit to win on Florida's Harris Chain. But, while possible, it seems highly unlikely that will happen with VanDam fishing so comfortably on Kentucky Lake.
The 40-year-old Kalamazoo, Mich., native weighed-in 20-plus pounds for the third straight day. His Saturday five-bass limit of 21-14 gave him a total of 68-4. Clunn is second with 61-7.
And VanDam could have weighed more Saturday.
"I had a 3-pounder die (in the livewell) early," VanDam said. "I was throwing back 4-pounders I could have culled with."
As the consensus No. 1 angler in professional bass fishing today, VanDam is accustomed to having a crowd around him every day on the water. He, maybe more than anyone, was prepared for the fishing pressure on Kentucky Lake this week, when two other big tournaments joined the crowd of competitors Saturday.
"The places I've been fishing, there were boats all over them," he said. "But I knew that coming in."
In a sport like bass fishing, where stealth is an important factor, VanDam deals with crowds at every event, even when he's back in the pack. In essence, there's a crowd shaking the backboard on every free throw he shoots.
No one appreciates the difficulty of that more than Clunn. The Ava, Mo., resident has struggled in recent years. Sunday will mark his first top 12 cut in the two-plus seasons of the Elite Series. As an attempt to keep the crowds away from him, Clunn admitted Saturday that one of his tactics was "to try to set up a reputation as Scrooge."
That drew a round of laughter from the media surrounding Clunn backstage and prompted former pro angler Harold Allen to respond, with a smile, "You're doing a pretty good job of it, Rick."
Clunn had said earlier, in all seriousness, that the crowd of boats he attracted one year during a Bassmaster Classic made him consider quitting the sport.
"It takes all the fun out of it for me." Clunn said.
The thing that VanDam hates more than anything is finishing second. He's obviously a little extra motivated to make up for that second-place finish to Jeremy Starks at Wheeler Lake last Sunday.
"I wish Jeremy was in the (top 12) field," VanDam said.
He added that he might continue the "smack talk" that started last week between Starks and him with a few "Where's Jeremy?" comments in front of the ESPN cameraman on board with him Sunday.
It's hard to imagine there could be a more confident angler going into the final day than VanDam on Kentucky Lake.
"I've got a good many places I haven't even fished yet, so I feel pretty good about tomorrow," he said. "It's a great lake and the bite is really on."
But he did add one cautious comment, saying, "The thing about this lake is, it's not easy to do, but you could have a 27-, 28-pound day here."
Timmy Horton almost provided proof of that Saturday. Horton moved from eighth place to third with the Berkley Big Bag of the day weighing 23-5. And that was despite losing two 7-pound bass.
On the first one, Horton hooked it on a crankbait. The bass came to the surface and jumped. After a few seconds, it came to the surface again and it had company — a 2-pounder was hooked on his lure's second treble hook. When Horton finally was able to reel his lure to the boat, only the 2-pounder was left on it.
"It's hard to know if those 7-pounders are going to show up tomorrow," said Horton, who trails VanDam by 9-3 with his 59-1 three-day total.
"It's so easy to catch 13 to 15 pounds out here. Kevin would pretty much have to break down (mechanically). But I'm going to go into it with a positive attitude."
Paul Elias is also within the 10-pound range of VanDam with his total of 58-14. Elias went back to the spot where he had so much success on Day One. It didn't produce any big fish early, but he returned late in the day and culled four of the five fish he had in his livewell.
"I knew I needed the sun," Elias said. "I think that's the key for the place where I am. I'll know for sure tomorrow."
But the sun seems to be shining brighter on VanDam than anyone else on Kentucky Lake this week.