MANY, La. — The biggest thing Kevin VanDam has caught so far this week has been himself.
But there could be far bigger catches ahead of him if he remains on his current path at the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend.
VanDam had to have a treble hook removed from his hand during Friday’s second round after landing his biggest fish of the day. But it didn’t stop him from catching five bass that weighed 20 pounds, 11 ounces and helped him hold onto the tournament lead with a two-day total of 50-0.
“The fish had just one hook in its mouth, and those Mustad treble hooks are really sharp,” VanDam said. “The fish kind of shook as I was trying to take the hook out, and it jerked one of those trebles right in my hand. I had a crankbait with one hook connected to my hand and the other connected to a big bass.”
Freelance photographer and experienced saltwater angler Garrick Dixon was nearby, and he performed a quick hook removal for VanDam. (Click here to see the video.) Once the angler was free of his own bait, he turned his attention back to a day that was rapidly improving.
After a slow start, he quickly put together a limit that weighed better than 18 pounds. Then he managed a couple of culls to get to 20-11 — and he did it all despite a strong wind that gave him fits much of the day.
“I knew it was just a matter of running enough places,” VanDam said. “If you fish long enough here, you’re going to get them.
“I really only had the one big bite today, but it was a good one.”
VanDam will begin the semifinal round with a solid chance at securing his 21st career victory and the $100,000 check that goes with it.
He is followed closely by Alabamian Chris Lane (47-13), North Carolina pro Hank Cherry, Jr. (44-6), Californian Ish Monroe (43-9) and Arkansas pro Stephen Browning (43-0).
Lane, who has struggled at times this year, said he had hoped to catch a good limit early by targeting schooling fish. But when those fish wouldn’t cooperate, he made a long run and put together a catch of 23-15 doing something different.
Earlier this season, Lane complained that his “loonies,” were off, meaning he wasn’t making the best decisions on the water. But now he’s within striking distance of his first Elite Series win since the 2015 season-opening event on the Sabine River — another Louisiana fishery.
“I’m having a blast, and I’ve got a full head of confidence,” Lane said. “My loonies are starting to come back now.
“Feeling confident helps you make those early adjustments, and it helps you to grind it right to the end. I caught a good fish late (Thursday), and I caught a 4 1/2-pounder late today.”
Cherry began Friday’s round in third place and held onto that spot with a catch of 19-15 that gave him a two-day total of 44-6. He said he’s been fishing for bass that are still spawning, even as the weather in central Louisiana has turned hot.
“It was still slow this morning, just like it was the first morning,” Cherry said. “But once I got to where I thought the fish would be, they were there.
“I think all of the fish I’m catching are spawning. If you miss one, you can just about count on going back to that spot and getting bit again.”
Monroe had the heaviest bag Friday with 24-10 — and he didn’t hesitate to detail how he caught his fish.
“It’s no secret what I do,” Monroe said. “I love to frog and flip. This week, I’m throwing a River2Sea Tommy Biffle Jig that has a really big, wide-gap hook. I’m backing that up with a Missile Baits D Bomb Destroyer, and it gives the bait a big profile that these big fish down here love.”
Toledo Bend Reservoir is noted for producing big largemouth bass — so much that it topped the most recent list of America’s Top 100 Bass Lakes by Bassmaster Magazine.
The biggest bass of the week so far was caught Friday by Arkansas angler Stephen Browning. At 9-5, the fish took the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass and will earn Browning $1,500 if no one tops the mark the rest of the way.
VanDam also earned the Livingston Lures Leader award of $500 for leading the second day of the event.
The tournament will resume Saturday with the Top 50 remaining pros leaving Cypress Bend Park at 6:15 a.m. CT. The weigh-in will be held back at the park at 3:15 p.m., with only the Top 12 pros advancing to Championship Sunday.