A Classic to remember and lessons learned

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James Overstreet
Kevin VanDam, 29th, 9-5

What an incredible GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK'S Sporting Goods!

It was a Classic that had everything a fan could want – a huge Expo, exciting weigh-ins, detailed play-by-play on Bassmaster LIVE and a fan attendance that was off the charts. This has to rank as one of the best ever.

The Lake Hartwell fan support at all of the events was remarkable. It was evident we were on pace to break attendance records by the number of people who showed up for the Friday morning launch.

The tournament didn’t disappoint them, either. It was as interesting as a Classic can get thanks to changing conditions that kept anglers guessing and made for an exciting finish.

The final day surprised everyone, including eventual winner Jordan Lee. Kudos to Jordan for making the right changes each day to come from behind and win again.

Of course, I really feel for Jason Christie after having two dominant days and coming up short the last day. The same thing happened to him at the 2016 Classic held on Grand Lake in Oklahoma.

But Jason is a tremendous angler and will recover to remain a force in years to come.

In this tournament and at Grand, it was a matter of being on a strong pattern only to have Mother Nature change things so drastically. It shows how hard it is to get away from a solid pattern when conditions change the last day.

I know because my week was similar. During practice prior to competition, the weather was cooler with a wide range of conditions. Classic contestants found prespawn fish in both shallow and deep water.

I got locked into a deeper prespawn pattern where I was catching them really well on a swimbait and deep diving crankbait. I honestly believed that when it warmed up during competition I could adjust to where the fish might move and would have a strong Classic.

It didn’t happen. I was stunned that the fish quit biting for me even though I could still see them on my Humminbird Electronics.

Stubbornness hurt me the second day when the weather was cloudy but there was no wind. I couldn’t pull myself away from the areas and patterns where I caught good fish in practice.

Honestly, that’s one of the things I’ve always struggled with after having a strong, pretournament practice. When I have a bad practice, I’m much quicker to change tactics, have a more open mind and follow the current conditions better.

Knowing when to stay and when to go is one of the biggest challenges a tournament angler faces, especially when you’re confident that what you’re doing will work.

Confidence is a good thing; overconfidence can bite you.

It takes a while for s pattern to develop, so we have to allow things to unfold. Sometimes they don’t, and we waste too much time before making that change.

But then, the Classic is a different animal. You’re not fishing for points and have to fish to win so you need to take those risks. I made the decisions I thought would give me the best chance to win.

As disappointed as I am with my finish, I learned a tremendous amount, not the least of which is to not get so locked in and to always remember that the water and weather conditions trump everything.

I’ve said it before – as much as we all think we know and have learned from experience, we can learn something new every day we’re on the water.

I plan to take those lessons to heart as we head to the Sabine River and resume the rest of the Bassmaster Elite season.

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on Bassmaster.com. You can also find him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.