2001 Bassmaster Classic: VanDam 1st

NEW ORLEANS — Some might call him bass-fishing's ultimate competitor. So if there's any knock against Kevin VanDam, it is that he hasn't won the BASS Masters Classic.

On Friday, the Kalamazoo, Mich., pro took a giant step toward filling that key gap in his otherwise immaculate resume by moving into his first place after a rough and tumble Day 2 at the 31st BASS Masters Classic here.

VanDam is in an enviable position, up by 10 ounces over second-place contender Scott Rook, as the field of 45 goes into the third round tomorrow as fishing's Super Bowl concludes on the Louisiana Delta.

"I'm not really worried about anyone around me. We fish against the fish, not the fishermen," VanDam said after Friday's weigh-in. He is sitting on a total bass weight of 21 pounds, 7 ounces.

VanDam said he can't be too concerned about the weather — which has been an issue all week in New Orleans — or what other anglers are doing.

"I like to control all of the variables I can," he explained. "Those variables I can't control, I don't worry about."

Much like Thursday's outcome, weigh-in totals continued to be on the light side, primarily for two reasons, most observers agree. The Delta still is recovering from June's floodwaters brought on by Tropical Storm Allison. It is largely thought that impact changed the bite pattern of the bass. However, as those waters have mostly receded, the water level is rising again as Tropical Storm Barry approaches.

The water was choppy in places, with wind, wakes and swells making boat travel difficult.

"I took an absolute pounding getting down there today," said Cannon, Ky., angler David Walker, who lead the Classic after the first round but has since dropped to third place with a total weight of 20 pounds, 6 ounces.

Walker has chosen to fish the Venice area, which is about a 120-mile boat run southeast of New Orleans at mouth of Mississippi River. Many insiders felt the Venice area could prove the difference in the tournament, but it has not produced as well as originally expected.

VanDam and Rook declined to comment on where they have been fishing, but said they are angling in the same general vicinity.

Rook, who is sporting a weight total of 20 pounds, 13 ounces, jumped from sixth place to second after Round 2.

"I'm happy. I don't know what to say," Rook, of Little Rock, Ark., told reporters at the dock. "I still have another day to fish, and when you're sitting behind somebody like Kevin VanDam, that's something to think about."

VanDam, Rook and Walker have put some distance between themselves and the rest of the field. Fourth-place angler Robert Lee of Angels Camp, Calif., is the next angler within striking range at 18 pounds, 1 ounce.

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