Daily Limit: Z’s LIVE stress test


Mike Suchan

Kevin VanDam and Mark Zona had an incredible outing for the second Zona LIVE show.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. – About one third of adults have problems falling or staying asleep each night. That increases considerably on the eve of a big event.

The firing synapses inside Mark Zona’s skull had him awake at 3:10 a.m. on Thursday. He was staring at the weather radar, watching a huge storm system approach and wondering if his second Zona LIVE webcast would be washed out. He had Kevin VanDam as his guest, but if the conditions weren’t right, not even the greatest angler of all time could coax them to bite.

“I believe in the fish gods – I don’t care if anybody laughs – I believe they give you windows and they close windows,” Zona said. “I remember sitting alone and saying, ‘Oh please, please give us a window to catch them.’”

Hangar doors opened up for KVD and Zona to put on a catching seminar for almost the entire four-hour webcast, including a ridiculously active first hour. Their five best fish approached 30 pounds.

“You can’t plan that. You can’t predict that ahead of time,” VanDam said. “You’ve got to have the right weather, circumstances... ”

“And cell service,” Zona chimed in.

“Very few people understand the magnitude of what just happened,” KVD continued. “If you fished here in this area of Michigan, every day, all year long, you might never experience that. There are thousands of people with their jaw still hanging – you’d have to pick them up off the floor.”

Zona read a text from one of his fishing buddies:

Me and a lot of southern Michigan boys are just shaking our heads in disbelief. I’ve never seen anything like that.

Zona and VanDam both said they’d experienced days like that in the region, and one was with each other. KVD caught about 100 fish with Skeet Reese before picking up Zona, who just flew back into town, at the ramp and catching a bunch more.

Zona explained what he believed happened Thursday. Checking his radar in the early morning, he saw a rather large storm cell approaching with patches of red and orange. It could hit hard, force the LIVE cameras to take cover and ruin the show.

Upon meeting around 6:15 for the 8 a.m. start of LIVE the system was closer with green dominating the radar, leaving VanDam to predict the fish would chew. Good fortune arrived as the storm that looked nasty over Lake Michigan dissipated somewhat, and only light rain, light winds and cooler temps hit the anglers on “Sneaky Lake.”

“If you really look at what happened in the morning, it was the perfect storm,” Zona said. “It was pre-front, front, post-front, and there was a two-hour window that everything big was eating.”


It was a rather busy, stressful week for Zona. He returned home from filming the Classic show in Little Rock and had four days to scout lakes before a serious run of shooting. He taped a Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show on Wednesday, had LIVE on Thursday then shot another show with twin sons, Hunter and Jakob, on Friday and Saturday.

Zona initially wanted to give VanDam his earliest outing on Lake St. Clair, but east winds nixed that plan early in the week. Zona said if they hadn’t bit near home, he would have lamented not gambling that trip east.

The entire week of figuring out when they would bite where, planning what to do, where to go, etc., kept Zona on his toes, and made him a touch anxious.

“Stressful, but good stressful,” he said. “It really reminds me of when I fished tournaments. It amps the stress up just because it’s on me when you tape a fishing show, but it’s exponentially on me when you do LIVE.

“You want to put on a good show, but you also have to put it in perspective – you’re with the best anglers, being (Mike) Iaconelli, or (Greg) Hackney or Kevin, you just got to make sure your game is somewhat tight.”

That appeared to take a nick after KVD caught two fish in the first few moments. Zona liked the quick start to the show, but his response was to reel in … “a stick. It’s a stick,” which elicited a guffaw from VanDam. “All the way to the boat, dude,” he rubbed in.

But Zona followed with two 5-pound fish and was scaring a 25-pound bag within the first hour. In the second hour, VanDam caught the largest fish, which was close to 7 pounds. Both caught fish throughout the four hours, even doubling near the end.

“What I’ve learned is a live fishing show, it’s so astronomically different, the polar opposite from shooting a regular Zona show,” Zona said. “A regular show, I have time to adjust, even switch lakes. We’re always against the clock on a regular Zona show, but with LIVE, you’re on in an hourglass. It is lights on, boom.”

Boom, boom. The first show with Hackney on Louisiana’s Grosse Savanne also was successful, and Zona’s now working on setting up potential dates with the likes of Classic champ Jordan Lee, Mike Iaconelli and Seth Feider.

But he knows his second live show with Kevin VanDam will be extremely difficult to top.

“This was a day I will look at Kevin 20 years from now sitting on a pontoon boat and smile,” Zona said. “Whether 1,000 people, 10,000 people or a million were watching, that doesn’t matter to me. Fishing is about trying to make incredible memories, and that was an incredible memory.”