Back where it all started, Kevin VanDam found a lot of special Sunday on the St. Lawrence.
In 1987, he fished his first B.A.S.S. tournament there. Thirty years later, in his ninth event on the New York fishery, KVD won there for the third time to increase his all-time record to 24.
But that history on the river would have been hard to imagine after his inaugural tournament 30 years ago.
“That first event, I got my butt handed to me. I finished down there,” he said Sunday. “I draw a big-name pro and let him talk me out of what I was doing. It was the best lesson that I ever had. It really spring boarded me to a great career.”
VanDam finished a disappointing 110th, then fished only one Bassmaster event the next two years. At the 1990 New York Invitational on the same river, he took third place, earning his first big check of $17,000. He’s since earned another $6.23 million, a $100,000 pop coming in the Huk Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence presented by Go RVing. (That's an average of $20,781 per event)
“Wow, I’m speechless,” he said. “It’s just incredible. My first event ever was here on the St. Lawrence River – this is my 300th event, this is my 24th win. What an incredible week! It’s unbelievable!”
Not totally unbelievable. VanDam has had a remarkable record on the St. Lawrence. He might have been 41st in the most recent Elite in 2015, but he was 14th there in 2013. Before that, he won events in 1999 and 1995, which sandwiched an 11th in 1997. In 1992, he took 13th just two years after his third-place finish. That’s seven top 15 finishes in nine events – an average of 21st – and that after starting with a bomb.
He said it was interesting to look back at how this one specific fishery has changed over the years.
“Back then there was no zebra mussels, no gobies, 15 pounds was a good bag back in the ‘80s and ‘90s,” he said. “The Great Lakes are changing. Invasive species may be bad for some, but for smallmouth, it’s like steroids for them. They are growing, just compared to two years ago.
“This is my 27th season. It just seems like yesterday that I was out here on Thousand Islands for the first time. I love this place. I’m thrilled that we’re coming back next year. I owe a lot to this area, to the people here.”
After a five-year drought, VanDam appears back in form with three victories last season and a win, place and show this year. Besides his 24 wins, which is five more than Roland Martin, KVD has finished in the money 244 times for a cashing percentage of 81.3. He’s been runner-up 16 times and taken third 18 times. Four of his wins have been in the Bassmaster Classic, tying the record of Rick Clunn.
VanDam also has won seven Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles, and he’s taking aim at Martin’s record nine titles. This week’s victory helped VanDam climb in the AOY point standings from seventh place, 33 points out of the lead, to third, only 17 points behind Brandon Palaniuk.