Kevin VanDam is fishing his 28th Bassmaster Classic. He’s won four of them. Nick Ratliff is a 22-year-old college senior who will graduate in May, and he earned his way to bass fishing’s biggest event for the very first time in Knoxville this week through the highly competitive Carhartt Bassmaster College Series.
And while “KVD” is arguably the most recognized three-letter nickname in pro angling, unless Ratliff, a business and marketing major from Campbellsville University, shoots to the top of the leaderboard – and he could – then most fans will likely refer to him as “The College Kid” as he navigates his way through bass fishing’s big dance in East Tennessee.
Despite their vast difference in experience, and the fact VanDam has twin sons the same age as Ratliff, don’t be shocked if both of them do extremely well. And both were gracious enough to talk openly about their expectations for the 49th Bassmaster Classic while sharing a few minutes together on the banks of the Tennessee River.
What is the single most special thing about fishing in your first Classic?
VanDam: Even though I didn’t do real well at that 1991 Classic, it was the energy I felt watching Ken Cook win, and recognizing how bad I wanted to hold that trophy some day.
Ratliff: What’s most special to me is the fact my first Classic is so close to my home in Kentucky. So I’m able to share it with about 50 family and friends who plan to make the short trip here.
What will be the biggest challenge in this Classic?
VanDam: Being consistent over three days amid so many changes in weather and water conditions.
Ratliff: Dealing with so many changing variables all piled on top of fish that are already changing daily as the spawn approaches.
What percentage of the fish weighed-in this week do you think will be smallmouth bass?
VanDam: 25 percent
Ratliff: 35 percent
What’s the coolest thing about the recent explosion in popularity of high school and college fishing?
VanDam: It’s solved much of the concern we had for years as to how to attract young anglers to our sport.
Ratliff: The coolest thing to me is the amount of talent that exists in the college ranks. There are so many kids fishing in college right now that are amazingly talented anglers.
If you had to give one another a single piece of advice, what would it be?
VanDam: Nick just needs to realize that it’s so hard to qualify for this tournament. It’s super special – so just enjoy every moment you can this week.
Ratliff: The only advice I can offer Kevin is that he needs to start calling me more often with more free advice.