LAKE WALES, Fla. — Things in Florida aren't always what they seem.
Going into the final day, the top 12 anglers were actually excited about how the day would play out. It was cloudy. It was warm. The brutal wind from a day before had been replaced with a downright pleasant breeze.
All in all, the recipe was perfect for busting a huge sack in a state known for its huge sacks. But as we said, all things aren't what they necessarily seem when it comes to Florida.
By any of the 12 anglers' measure, this was the toughest day of the week. Not a one of them idled toward the weigh-in thinking they might have a shot at sewing up this event, Kevin VanDam included.
There again, nothing is at it seems.
By the end of the day, though, VanDam taught us yet another lesson in how to approach a tournament.
All week the debate was about fishing for bedding fish or post-spawn fish. If Kelly Jordon and Byron Velvick hadn't busted the big bags on the first two days, the bed fish debate would have been dead from the get-go.
But after each of those days, a lot of anglers lost their chance at this event by thinking they had completely mis-read how it would play out — which is easy to do, because everything isn't as it seems in Florida. Or did we already say that?
Those who stuck to their guns, though, fished the final day.
VanDam was obviously one of those: There's a reason why the most successful angler in the world is the most successful angler in the world.
"I knew going in that this would be a post-spawn tournament,'' VanDam said. "I went up shallow and looked at a few (bed fish) in practice. But I knew I should fish to my strengths."
Lesson one: Fish to your strengths.
In VanDam's case, that's chunking and winding in a flurry that will make the average man's head spin. Add grass to the mix and you have the perfect scenario for VanDomination. He stayed on Lake Toho, where the grass suits his style.
Lesson two: Fish to your strengths.
And even after Day Three, when his stringer was anchored by a 6-pound class fish which accounted for half his weight — meaning the rest of that sack was post-spawn goobs — VanDam stuck with his game plan.
Lesson three: Stick to your game plan.
Those are really the basics of playing the game, and they are exemplified by a master. It would have been easy for him to panic, but that isn't in his vocabulary or nature.
Going into the day, every angler there knew they had a shot at winning this event. But they also knew it could hinge on one big fish. VanDam knew that as well.
In reality, it played out just like that. The big fish of the day wouldn't even have registered on any of the other days. Bobby Lane caught it, and it weighed in at 4 pounds, 12 ounces. Kenyon Hill had a nice one, too. But so did KVD, and it was the one 4-pound class fish that made all the difference.
By Florida standards, it wasn't all that big. But in this event, where nothing seemed to be as it would seem, it was the perfect punctuation for the one thing that defines every tournament — fish to your strengths and stick to a gameplan.