Inside Elite Boats Inside Elite Boats: KVD’s Nitro Z21 Go inside the brand new Nitro Z21 of KVD, Kevin VanDam. Posted on April 2, 2015 Photo: photos by Seigo Saito / captions by David Hunter Jones - As bass fishermen, our boat is dang-near hallowed ground. We wax them, park them in the garage at the expense of the truck, load them down with thousands of dollars of tackle and baby them. Except when tournament day rolls around. Then it's time to let her eat: wide-open throttle runs across shallow flats, up winding rivers and across big water. We trust that all the babying will get our butt back to the ramp in time for weigh-in. As weekenders, we need a rig that's reliable and comfortable because we've got the chance at making a few bucks. Photo: Seigo Saito - Bassmaster Elite Series pros need reliable rig to make their mortgage and truck payments and feed their families. The stakes are considerably higher. The stakes are arguably highest for the best in the business, Kevin VanDam. If he doesn't make check-in, people wonder what happened. If he doesn't catch a limit, people wonder if he's slipping. Rest assured, he's not. There's no more competitive angler on tour, possibly on the planet. As a guy who spends untold hours in his boat each year, KVD knows what works and what doesn't. That's why the engineers at Nitro asked for his help - along with Edwin Evers, Brian Snowden, Rick Clunn, Timmy Horton and the rest of the Nitro team - for input on making the most angler-friendly, tournament ready rig ever. Photo: Seigo Saito - The result is what you see here, the Nitro Z21, a 21-foot warhorse that's powered by the hottest motor on tour, Mercury's 250-horse Optimax ProXS. VanDam puts more hours on his big Merc than most anglers do in three years, and much of it is with the hammer down. The new Nitro hops up on pad faster than any previous version and handles smoother than a ceramic bearing on polished glass. Let's take a look inside the most feared rig in the known universe. Photo: Seigo Saito - Sometimes it's the small things that make a big difference. KVD is excited about the boarding step that's built into the Z21's trailer. The grippy step assures a slip-free step, even when you've been sauntering around a wet boat ramp. Photo: Seigo Saito - On his 109-pound thrust MotorGuide Tour is a noise dampener in KVD's anodized red. If you'll notice on the side of the bracket, there's a red piston that's a lift assist to make deploying the motor easier and stowing it a less jarring experience. That bulbous number on the shaft is the transducer for Humminbird's 360 sonar. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here's a better look at the Propeller Dynamics Equalizer. Photo: Seigo Saito - The entirety of KVD's truck and boat wraps are made up of Facebook fans. See if you can find yourself whenever you see him! Photo: Seigo Saito - KVD relies on T-H Marine's G-Force handle, a rubber-wrapped cable deal that simply will not break. How obnoxious is it when you look and see that rope fraying do nothing about it, then it snaps? Never have that happen again. Photo: Seigo Saito - Mustad has released a line of pliers and tools on which the man himself has bestowed his stamp of approval. Photo: Seigo Saito - Part of the Z21's upgrades lie in the control panel up front. From here, with the touch of a finger or rod butt, you can turn on the navigational lights (which are redesigned and really cool), trim up or down, bilge water out or turn on the ventilation fans in the boats' boxes to prevent rust on your baits. Photo: Seigo Saito - VanDam runs a pair of Humminbird Onix 10s up front. One is generally splitscreened with SideScan and 2-D sonar while the other runs Humminbird's 360 Imaging. Photo: Seigo Saito - His HydroWave H2 pumps out baitfish sounds when he feels the fish need a little something extra. Photo: Seigo Saito - The Z21 has the running lights built in to the gunnels so you won't have a pesky post in the way when you're boarding your boat, fighting a fish or making skip casts. Photo: Seigo Saito - The rod lockers on the Z21 are cavernous... Photo: Seigo Saito - ...so much so that VanDam himself could almost fit inside. Photo: Seigo Saito - As a rule of thumb, he keeps 20-plus rods in here, with a few more on the other side. That's a lot of Quantum KVD Tour outfits. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here it is, loaded to the gill and then some. Photo: Seigo Saito - This is one of his favorite combos, a crankin' stick with a Strike King KVD 1.5 square bill. Photo: Seigo Saito - The starboard locker has a few combos as well as his rain gear and extra PFDs. Photo: Seigo Saito - He'll use the Z21's optional stereo system when he's out with his family and friends on vacation fun fishing. On tour, the system remains largely silent. He's all business. Photo: Seigo Saito - The combos he doesn't expect to use stay over here. The ones he needs at the ready are in the port locker. Photo: Seigo Saito - In the forward-most tackle locker are all his double-wide Plano boxes. They fit better up here. Let's see what all is in these. Photo: Seigo Saito - But first, take a look under the lid. He keeps a few baits handy on magnetic Gear Grabbars. These are the new Strike King KVD 8.0 grande square bills. Photo: Seigo Saito - Speaking of 8.0s, here's a box full of them. Yes, that's a full-size Plano box. VanDam says not to be intimidated by the size of the 8.0; "A 2-pounder will eat it just as readily as an 8," he says. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here are more traditional-sized square bills, the KVD 1.5. Photo: Seigo Saito - A jerkbait master, VanDam knows what makes a good rip bait. The Strike Kign KVD Jerkbait has everything that he wanted in a jerkbait. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here's the rest of 'em. Photo: Seigo Saito - Strike King Shadalicious swimbaits get their own box. These ought to see action at the Bassmaster Elite Series even on Lake Guntersville. Photo: Seigo Saito - It's better to have and not need than to need and not have, right? KVD thinks so. That's why he's got every available color of of Strike King Series 5 and 6 crankbaits. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here's one of his terminal tackle boxes. This one holds mostly tube jig and drop shot weights. Photo: Seigo Saito - This is his catch-all box. It's got the things that if he didn't have, he'd surely need. You know what we're talking about... Photo: Seigo Saito - ...things like tools, aspirin, nail weights, a flashlight and Quantum Hot Sauce reel lube. Photo: Seigo Saito - Also in this forward box is KVD's GoPro extras. Things like spare housings, batteries and cables go here. Photo: Seigo Saito - Shhhh! You're not supposed to see this until he's done tweaking it! It's a prototype of what's going to be the new deep-diving KVD Jerkbait from Strike King. It's got a weight transfer system for major casting distance and a longer bill for added depth. This is the third iteration of the bait; VanDam wants it to be just right before he releases it to the public. Look for it this summer on Bassmaster.com's coverage of the 2015 ICAST show. Photo: Seigo Saito - prepare to be shocked at the number of skirts this guy keeps in his boat. Photo: Seigo Saito - Bags and bags of nothing but skirts! He keeps different colors, cuts and materials so he can whip up any combo on the water as he dials in what the bass are eating. Photo: Seigo Saito - He likes these old-school rubber skirts for colder water. Photo: Seigo Saito - Oh, and he's also got piles of Strike King spinnerbaits. Photo: Seigo Saito - Many of the blades on his spinnerbaits bear his insignia. Photo: Seigo Saito - More spinnerbaits! These are the heavier ones. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here are a bunch of blades in different sizes and colors. VanDam stresses that matching your lakes' forage is paramount, and he can match any forage anywhere with his spare skirts and blades. Photo: Seigo Saito - VanDam keeps all of his tungsten in a small watertight Plano box. He likes it because the triple-latch system is stronger and can handle the extra weight better than a regular box. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here's more lead. Photo: Seigo Saito - Let's take a look in the main bait box. Note the Rigid Industries LED lighting. The Z21 comes with in-box lighting, but VanDam opted to put Rigids in his boat. Photo: Seigo Saito - His hook box is basically the Mustad catalog in a terminal tackle tray. KVD Grip Pin hooks, Short-Shank trebles and Fastach Football heads abound. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here's another box of square bills. These are the slightly larger Strike King KVD 2.5 square bills. Photo: Seigo Saito - Think he likes to chuck a square bill? They'real organized by color. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here are his jig boxes. Although they may look like a mess, he knows exactly where everything is. They're organized by head style, weight and color. Photo: Seigo Saito - Strike King Red Eye Shads get their own box. Again, they're organized by color. Photo: Seigo Saito - If there's a jerkbait bite, VanDam is on it with Strike King KVD Jerkbaits. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here's a box of 1.0 square bills, a super shallow runner that can double as a wakebait. Photo: Seigo Saito - He keeps his Strike King KVD Sexy Dawgs with his Spit-N-Kings in a topwater box. Photo: Seigo Saito - Similar to locking your truck, KVD uses the Key Captain, a system that locks all of his boxes with the touch of the fob. Photo: Seigo Saito - In the step up to the front deck is the massive cooler and a trash can. Photo: Seigo Saito - VanDam has taken a leading role in Keep America Fishing's "Pledge to Pitch It" campaign. It's an initiative that all anglers should get behind, and doing so couldn't be easier. Simply log on to pledgetopitchit.org and take the pledge, stating that you will no longer throw used soft plastics or any trash into our waterways. This became so problematic that the state of Maine tried to outlaw sot plastics, citing major environmental problems, with discarding baits in the lake. Seriously though, quit throwing junk in the lake. You're hurting yourself, the fish and their ecosystem and all anglers everywhere. Photo: Seigo Saito - Have you got a GoPro on your boat yet? If you don't you're missing out on some great action and memories. VanDam has several mounts around his boat to capture every cast and catch. Photo: Seigo Saito - In the cup holder is a Sharpie for marking his braid, line conditioner and Super Glue. Next to them are some more Mustad tools. Photo: Seigo Saito - Take a look at that! Side cutters for braid and all-anodized aluminum construction keep these babies prime for years. Photo: Seigo Saito - Sherry VanDam's famous lucky cookies aren't the only good luck charms in this Nitro. In the little locker at the passenger's feet are some more charms that his family has made for him. Photo: Seigo Saito - "They go everywhere with me," he says. Photo: Seigo Saito - Mission makes athlete-specific sun protection products like technical shirts and sunscreen. The sunscreen is lightweight and has a cooling affect when you spray it. Photo: Seigo Saito - Also inside the foot locker are numerous pairs of Oakley sunglasses, Dude Wipes (You need these in your boat), a headlamp, Screen Kleen and some leader line. Photo: Seigo Saito - KVD's SuperStick push pole helps him navigate water too shallow for the trolling motor, or when he needs to be stealthier, such as when approaching bedding bass. Photo: Seigo Saito - Another cool upgrade to the Z21 are adjustable seats. Both seats move forward and aft, and have new heavy-duty shock absorbers. "These are great because a shorter guy can get his feet on the foot rests on the passenger side, and since I'm tall, I can slide it all the way back." Photo: Seigo Saito - You co-anglers rods will be safe and sound thanks to redesigned rod holders. Photo: Seigo Saito - Need to know if that fish will keep? The ruler is right between the livewells for easy access. Plus, have you ever stepped on one of these things in bare feet? You make sure to always stow it properly after doing that. Photo: Seigo Saito - The Z21's control center is a simplified touch pad. Note the glowing red button below; it controls the Rigid lights throughout the boat. Photo: Seigo Saito - Two more Onix 10s reside at the dash. One is for mapping, and the other is for various sonar functions. Photo: Seigo Saito - A really cool feature of the Z21 is the built-in cell phone holder. "It keeps your phone out of the rain and sun and you can hear it ring even when you're running," VanDam says. Note the stereo controls, too. Photo: Seigo Saito - Smile! Photo: Seigo Saito - Most of his wrap is Facebook fans, but the real estate on his console is reserved for his family. Photo: Seigo Saito - VanDam keeps his soft plastics in the compartment behind the driver's seat. Prepare to be amazed at how many soft plastics he keeps in these Plano Speed Bags. Photo: Seigo Saito - Seriously, these are all full of Strike King soft plastics. Just about every style from the catalog is represented. When asked whether he considers himself a light or heavy packer, he didn't hesitate with, "Um, I carry a lot. You never know when you're going to need something." As you can tell, that compartment the driver's seat is absolutely massive. Photo: Seigo Saito - On the other side, in a slightly small compartment, are some hooks and documents... Photo: Seigo Saito - ...and a pair of Oakley ski goggles for cold runs. VanDam avoids motorcycle helmets for cold and rainy runs. Why? Safety. If you're ejected from the boat at high speeds wearing a helmet, chances are good that the helmet will "catch" the water and snap your neck like a dried out twig. Didn't think about that, did ya? Besides, if these Oakley goggles are good enough for KVD, they're good enough for you. Photo: Seigo Saito - In this box are also some snacks, flares and a culling system. Photo: Seigo Saito - If you don't have these in your boat, you ought to. Photo: Seigo Saito - T-H Marine's G-Force Culling System is one of the smartest ways to cull fish. "I don't weigh anything because I don't really trust any scale. Putting the fish on the beam is the clearest way to tell if one is heavier than the other," he says. Photo: Seigo Saito - Why is this box shallower than the starboard one? Nitro's engineers made a clever stash underneath the removable box. Photo: Seigo Saito - It's a spot for a spare prop. It'll even lock it down via a wingnut an washer. Photo: Seigo Saito - Two storage trays reside in the battery box. VanDam keeps marker buoys, a tow rope, and extra kill switch and garlic scent in here. Again, it's all stuff that you'd hate to be without. Photo: Seigo Saito - VanDam uses Lithium Pros lightweight lithium batteries to save some weight. Photo: Seigo Saito - Here's a potential day-saver, gifted to you by the folks at Nitro: It's a battery jumper built right in. If your cranking batteries die, simply turn the red dial and you can crank from the trolling batteries. This negates the need for jumper cables, which can be downright dangerous. I mean, do you really want sparks and arcing going on in an extremely confined area that's usually loaded with gas fumes? Photo: Seigo Saito - More goodies like a prop wrench, trolling motor pros reside in the other bin. Photo: Seigo Saito - VanDam is also excited about the new boarding ladder on the Z21. It's a spring-loaded number that pops out with a good smack. It would be much easier to deploy if you're wearing winter gear and happen to go in the drink. Again, safety is paramount. Photo: Seigo Saito - VanDam's Merc sits on a 12-inch setback T-H Marine Atlas hydraulic jackplate. This lets him get in supers skinny water as well as pick the motor up when running wide open for a few more MPH. Photo: Seigo Saito - Once you have a boat with a set of Power-Poles, you won't go without them again. VanDam has a pair of 8-foot Blades on his Z21. Photo: Seigo Saito - Thanks for the tour of the new rig, Kevin! Wait, there's one more slide! Have you always wanted to know how Kevin VanDam does what he does? Click the arrow to find out. Photo: Seigo Saito - You really should have seen this coming; it's his famous lucky cookies that his wife Sherry makes for him. They really are delicious. No bull. How could something that's 60% sugar and 40% chocolate not be?