Last time, I shared my perspective on intimidation and how it can help certain anglers gain a competitive edge during competition. In particular, I cited Kevin VanDam — referring to him as the Dale Earnhardt of bass fishing.
Perhaps some of you felt that comparison was a bit harsh. I don’t. And for the record, Kevin and I are friends. He knows I have the utmost respect for him and how he’s able to utilize intimidation as part of his game. It’s who he is, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
We’re all aware of Kevin’s ultra-competitive nature simply by watching him in action over the years. The Bassmasters TV series has done an excellent job of capturing his emotions, both on and off the water — especially last season, during BASSfest on Lake Chickamauga. There, we witnessed a brief altercation between Kevin and Mike Iaconelli.
When Kevin confronted him for encroachment, Ike responded by saying the spot was a “community hole.” Kevin’s priceless comeback was, “Yeah, but you ain’t part of the community!”
Although that exchange resonated throughout the sport, it didn’t really tell the whole story. You see, there was a lot at stake for KVD in that event. We were midway through the season and he was way behind in the points race, with little hope of catching up. Securing a victory there would have eliminated any concerns of qualifying for the Bassmaster Classic, and he had the fish to do it.
So you can see why he was so protective of his spot. Besides, he was already sharing it with two anglers before Ike ever showed up. There simply wasn’t room for a fourth.
That said, Ike’s statement was true. That particular location is well documented as a community hole, and I’m sure he practiced there. Most of us did. The problem was, Kevin had already established the water and was in position to win the tournament.
As it turned out, he finished second — and instead of competing in the Classic, Kevin will be at the Classic Outdoor Expo signing autographs.
Perhaps the most imposing figure in fishing is Denny Brauer. Although he no longer competes in the Elite Series, he left an indelible impression.
To encroach on Brauer was considered suicide — no other angler defended his water better. His stare, alone, could burn holes through flesh, and I felt that heat once.
It was during a Canadian Open on Lake Ontario, on the final day of competition. Just prior to weigh-in, the leaders were escorted to a holding area where our fish were checked — so that we wouldn’t be penalized should one die during the delay. When it was my turn, an official boarded my boat, checked the livewell and quickly determined I had a limit with one dead fish. The fish in question was floating upside down, so I accepted the ruling.
Later, at the scales, the weighmaster inspected and measured my fish, and declared all of them alive. Apparently, the “dead” fish had showed some signs of life. I crossed the stage without giving it a second thought.
When scoring was complete, I had the most weight — barely eclipsing Brauer by a mere 2 ounces. When Brauer saw that, he believed he had won by virtue of a 4-ounce, dead-fish penalty. He wasn’t aware that the weighmaster had overruled the first official and declared my fish alive, and that the decision was final.
After realizing the situation, Brauer grew angry. The friction became so thick, the mood of the entire event changed. And even though I was declared the champion, it felt like I hadn’t won anything.
It took some time, but we eventually talked about it. And though I didn’t understand his rage at the time, I now know that it was purely his competitive nature taking over. He wanted to win more than anything, and I get that now.
What might surprise you is the fact that Denny Brauer is the angler I respect most. Not because of our clash in Canada, but because of the way he’s handled himself throughout his career. Brauer never worried about what the competition was doing. He did things his own way — right or wrong. And though that approach may have cost him a lot of checks over the years, I believe, in the long run, it’s what propelled him to victory so many times.
Like a big league slugger, Brauer either hit it out of the park or he was sent back to the dugout after trying. And you have to respect that. I certainly do.