BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Watch him: Kevin VanDam says he is better prepared for the Feb. 21-23 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro than he’s been for any of his other 23 Classic competitions.
And that also goes for the four Classics that KVD has won, said the seven-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 20-time Bassmaster event winner.
“Most Classics I’m scrambling right down to the wire trying to get ready. For this one, I feel prepared on all levels,” said VanDam, as he was hauling his bass rig Feb. 13 from his home in Kalamazoo, Mich., to Lake Guntersville, the 2014 Classic fishery, to arrive in time for the practice period.
“My tackle prep is done, my equipment is ready — and I feel prepared mentally,” he said.
VanDam prepared in a way he has not for any of his recent Classic appearances: He scouted Lake Guntersville.
“It was a very meaningful trip for me,” he said, “Lakes that have a lot of grass change from year to year. I’m hoping that seeing it last fall will help me.”
VanDam already knows Guntersville well. In his Bassmaster career alone, he’s been in 13 competitions on Guntersville. For the most part, those tournaments produced keeper memories. He won the 2007 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Guntersville. He had a ninth-place Elite finish on Guntersville in 2010. Pepper in a second, three thirds and one fourth-place finish over the years, and the confidence factor working for VanDam builds quickly.
Backed by such a history, he’s prepared to take chances to go after Guntersville’s largest bass. That’s what it will take to win this one, he said.
“It’s all or nothing. You have to be prepared to fail, have the guts to risk coming across the stage with nothing,” he said.
Guntersville’s huge bass population is a positive for all 55 competitors, VanDam said. The choices of where to fish along the sprawling Tennessee River impoundment are almost endless. But having so many choices can flip around to become a negative.
“It’s a ton of water to manage,” he said. “That’s going to be the biggest thing for me to overcome because I know so much of the lake. I’ll have to narrow it down based on the conditions. And it’s easy to get caught up catching fish in a certain area (during practice), then come Classic time, something might happen to make that area not as good as another.”
Not to mention that on Guntersville, there’s little water that can easily be eliminated from a game plan, he added.
There’s a new wild card in this Classic, too. It’s the frigid weather Guntersville experienced in January and so far in February.
“I’m not sure any of us really know the impact of that,” he said. “It’s unprecedented. Fishing’s going to be a lot tougher than a lot of people think. In the overall field, some will struggle. The few people who find the right area and patterns are going to make it look easy.”
At least one of those anglers will beat the five-fish-limit, three-day Classic weight record, VanDam said. The record, 69-11 in the 2011 Classic on the Louisiana Delta, will fall, he said. (And he’s the one who owns that record.)
“Everybody in the bass fishing world knows just how good the Tennessee River chain is,” he said. “I say Guntersville is the crown jewel of that chain. We’re about to showcase it to the world in a way that’s never been done before.”
Fans can catch the Classic in Birmingham at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Arena doors will open Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m. for the weigh-ins. There’s no admission charge. Bassmaster.com will cover the weigh-ins live, and all online access is free.
To see the Classic competition on ESPN2, fans can tune into The Bassmasters on Saturday, March 1, at 10 a.m. ET for the first hour of five centered on the Classic. The Classic finale show will air in prime time — 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET — Sunday, March 2.