If not for a hasty decision during the first round of Classic XXXVII, Kevin VanDam might be making room on his mantle for a third world-championship trophy.
It was on that morning that he made a very un-KVD-like decision to abandon the lipless crankbait that he initially thought was his best bet for catching spotted bass relating to shallow vegetation.
"Basically that day it was really sunny and calm," the Michigan pro recalls. "In practice, I had caught a lot of fish on the Red Eye Shad on the edges of the grass. However, I didn't think the fish would bite it that well under the conditions we faced on Day 1."
After the Michigan pro had tried virtually everything else the first morning with only a small limit to show for it, he decided to return to the grass.
"I tried flipping it first. Then I tried throwing a Zero (soft stickbait) along the edges. I tried everything I could do to finesse a fish off that grass because I knew they don't leave it. So for the last hour or so, I went back to the Red Eye Shad and I got four or five bites real quick and culled up to the 13 pounds I weighed in. And the next day when the weather changed, I knew I had the right bait and I did it all day."
VanDam followed up his opening catch of 13-1 with a second-round salvo of 19-14 to create the scariest scenario a Classic contender can face — KVD with the lead entering the final stage. But then the bottom dropped out, and he waded through a sea of small spots to bring in 12-5 (for a total of 45-4).
"I went out there the final day and they were biting good early, but they were a lot smaller," he says. "The first thing I noticed was that the water had dropped 8 to 10 inches. Apparently with the area rainstorms, they decided to drop the water level."
He was most successful paralleling the outside edges of grass (in 1 to 3 feet of water) located in the pockets of select creeks. When the water level dropped, VanDam points out, "there were no drops or ledges you could target."
NO. 3 KEVIN VANDAM
LURES: 1/2-ounce Strike King Red Eye Shad lipless crankbait and Flat Shad crankbait (both crawfish-and-gold).
TACKLE: 17-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon, 7-foot medium action Quantum Tour Edition cranking rod, Quantum Tour Edition PT reel.
TECHNIQUE: Concentrated on edges of vegetation in about 3 feet of water; most strikes came parallel to the grass, especially when ripping the bait out of the weeds.