Kevin VanDam: winning with confidence

Last week, after the Bassmaster Classic was over, someone in the hotel asked me how it was that I had gone out and caught an almost a 29-pound bag on the last day of the tournament. "Man, that was some bag of fish," he said. But in reality, maybe the guy who asked the question was just being nice. He might have really been asking: "Why didn't you catch more weight the first two days, so you've could've finished first instead of sixth?"

There's an easy answer to the question of how I caught the big bag. On Sunday, conditions were right and the fish were biting better — and I was in the right place. That's why I caught the big bag.

There's also a more philosophical answer to that same question. The reason I caught those huge fish is that I had confidence it was going to happen. Even after a subpar day on Saturday in the same area, I was completely confident that I would catch them on Sunday. I just knew it was going to happen.

But there's also an even deeper, more important question that every one of us competing in the Classic has thought about. The question is this: Why did Kevin VanDam win the Classic again? More to the point, his Sunday bag was almost as big as mine. How was it that he got on the fish better than the rest of us on Friday and Saturday?

It's the same answer, I believe. The reason Kevin caught them is because he was totally confident he was going to do just that. Kevin knows he's going to catch fish the same way Michael Jordan knew he was going to make every basket in the clutch and the way Tiger Woods used to know he was going make every putt when the pressure is on.

I've thought about this a lot as I've tried to improve as an angler. I've watched Kevin. I've watched Skeet Reese. I've watched Gary Klein. I've studied the truly great anglers on our tour. Let's face it: Everybody on the Elite Series tour is good. Everybody can catch fish. The question is: What separates the best from the rest?

I believe it's confidence. In fact, here's how I would break down the critical elements of tournament success:

  • 10 percent ability
  • 30 percent preparation
  • 60 percent confidence

That's my theory.  I should point out that even though confidence is the dominant driver of success, preparation is one of the keys to gaining confidence. I met Bobby Knight a few years, and he told me one of the most profound things I've ever heard. He said, "Your desire to win can never be greater than your desire to prepare. You have to want it 24/7, not just on game day."

But the bottom line on tournament day is not whether you've prepared; it's whether that preparation has helped give you the confidence you need to win.

At the Bassmaster Classic, Kevin and Aaron Martens and Scott Rooks took a gamble. They parked in an area where fish had not been biting. And they did it because they had the confidence that the big bite was coming. They took a gamble that paid off. Kevin hadn't even practiced there on the final practice day.

I went to Venice on Day 1, because I had practiced on Lake Cataouatche the last day before the tournament, and I caught one fish all day. I knew I would catch fish in Venice, and I knew I wouldn't lose the tournament by going there on Day 1. But Kevin and Aaron and Scott had rolled the dice and staked their spots on Day 1.

Let me say another thing about KVD's confidence. He stays in tune all the time. I've seen him throw a line out there and get on a 5-pounder, only to lose it. And when he loses one, he doesn't stomp around the boat or sit down and drop his head in his hands. He just simply casts again and before you know it he's got another 5-pounder. He's lost more fish than anybody I know. He just doesn't care whether a bass stays on or not. If he loses one, he just catches another one. KVD focuses on none of his bad days and all of his good days.

How about Tiger Woods? Does anybody really think he's not the same golfer he was two years ago in terms of ability? Tiger Woods' troubles have nothing to do with ability and everything to do with confidence. For 10 years he was the greatest golfer to ever draw a breath. His only trouble now is between his ears.

So with all of that said, how do you gain confidence?

Well, before I suggest how to gain confidence, I'd like to suggest how not to. Don't try to work up artificial confidence. It won't happen. Confidence is a combination of your mind, body and heart all being in the game.

Another thing that's important to know about confidence is that it's an individual thing. What builds confidence for one person might not build confidence for another person. It's important, for example, to Aaron Martens that he has the sharpest hooks in the field. He gains confidence knowing that his hooks are just right. But that's not critical to me. To me, it's important that my tackle is prepared and in order. That boosts my confidence.

In fact, that's one of five things I would suggest are critical to every angler about to compete in a tournament. I would suggest that if you do the following, you can go into any tournament with a high level of confidence that you'll do your best.

  • Prepare your tackle beforehand; have it in perfect working order. Determine what you need and get it ready the night before.
  • Do your research. Discover everything you can about the body of water you're going to fish, even if it's familiar water you think you know. Do your homework and go over your research in your head the night before a tournament.
  • Focus on eliminating distractions. When your mind goes, you are derailed — and it's hard to get back on the tracks when you're derailed.
  • Visualize the tournament. Rehearse scenarios in your head and be prepared. Take a positive approach that there's no situation you can't overcome.
  • Find and focus on individual triggers that make you comfortable on the water. Only you know what they are.

Remember, preparation yields confidence.

The more I think about it, I'm still amazed at Kevin VanDam's performance in the Classic. Although he fished a great tournament and caught them when he had to, I believe KVD won the Classic the night before the event started. He won it in his hotel room when he decided that he knew the conditions were right on Lake Cataouatche.

Nobody caught them good there in practice. But KVD listened to his years of experience and his gut. He knew they would be there.

And they were.

The Duckett Exchange is a regularly scheduled column about competitive fishing. Written by former Bassmaster Classic champ Boyd Duckett, the column addresses issues and trends that affect anglers at every level of competition. In addition to competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour, Duckett is also a popular a public speaker and successful businessman. He is the owner of Southern Tank Leasing, an Alabama-based company with terminals all over the Southeast and Midwest, and Duckett Fishing, a rod manufacturing company that produces MICROMagic rods. His pro fishing blog can be found on his website at The Duckett Fishing website is