In 1991, 24-year-old Kevin VanDam was the youngest of 40 Classic competitors when Ken Cook won on the Chesapeake Bay.
Here on the Tennessee River, KVD is the oldest in the field at 51.
“It’s a dubious thing,” he laughed. “No, it’s pretty cool. I remember when I went in ‘91, nobody paid me any attention, not even any of the B.A.S.S. staff. I was like a lost puppy walking around the Classic.
“This is my 28th Classic -- I remember that first one so well. There’s nothing like you’re first one. I learned a lot from it, and I’ve learned a lot over the years from all of them. This one is going to be the same way. This one is going to be one I’m going to sit back and really enjoy.”
Not that he isn’t trying to win and break his tie for the record number of victories with Rick Clunn at four. He’s just going to appreciate every little aspect, because it will be his last. He left B.A.S.S. last year after qualifying to fish another circuit.
“I don’t have any plans of fishing the Opens going forward -- I’ve been doing this professionally now for 30 years, I’ve got a lot of great memories,” he said. “When it will really hit me is next year at Classic time. This year, I’m here and focused on the tournament. Next year, that’s when it will probably really get to me.”
Knowing how special the Classic is and how he felt at that first one, KVD said he tries to help the first-time anglers in their approach the pinnacle event in the sport.
“I‘ve told so many rookies and Federation Nation qualifiers, make sure you don’t get too wound up and too nervous and focused on the event, to where you don’t enjoy the moment, because it’s really special to be here,” he said. “To kind of sit back and take it all in, that’s kind of where I am this year.”