VanDam climbs into Classic lead

BIRMINGHAM — Kalamazoo's Kevin VanDam lived up to his reputation as the "Tiger Woods" of bass fishing, roaring from 19th place into the lead as the Bassmaster Classic heads into today's final round on Lay Lake.

In Tiger-like fashion, VanDam put together a rally to catch 19 pounds, 14 ounces Saturday — including the 5 pound, 7 ounce lunker of the day — to take a slim 9-ounce lead with 32 pounds, 15 ounces.

Skeet Reese, the California pro who said after Wednesday's practice he had no clue what the fish were doing, climbed from third to second. Terry Scroggins of Florida is third with 30 pounds, 15 ounces while first- day leader Boyd Duckett dropped to fourth place with 30 pounds, 13 ounces. Alabaman Tim Horton is fifth with 29-11.

VanDam, who has been battling the flu all week, caught all of his fish on a gold-colored Strike King lipless crankbait that he burned over shallows.

"The weather played into my hands," he said. "(Friday) the sky was bright with no wind and it made it tough on me. (Saturday) it was cloudy and windy. That fits my style of fishing because I'm aggressive and I fish for aggressive fish."

They weren't aggressive for just anyone. The overall tournament catch was down and the fish ran smaller than the first day.

"It's because of all the boat traffic," said Horton. "There are a lot of boats running around out there. The fish want to bite, but they're a little edgy because of the traffic."

VanDam said he was plagued by spectator boats all day and expects it to be worse today. An armada of boats follow the pros to their spots, and when everyone shuts down, the boat wakes muddy the shallows the anglers plan to fish.

As a two-time Classic winner and the all-time BASS money winner, the Michigan pro draws a lot of attention.

"It could hurt me, but it's something I've always had to deal with," he said.

Only the top 25 of the 50-man field will fish today, including Greenfield, Indiana's Terry McWilliams who was ninth after the first two rounds. Oddly enough, the last man to make the cut was Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., a heavy pre-tourney favorite, with 22-7.

One pro who qualified but won't be fishing today is Alabama favorite Gerald Swindle who was disqualified for "unsafe boat operation" following an incident Saturday morning.

Swindle was running upstream in heavy current when his boat got close enough to a camera boat that his engine wake sprayed water on a still photographer who was filming Randy Howell, another competitor. The cameraman complained to tournament director Trip Weldon, who after reviewing the incident on ESPN tape, disqualified Swindle.

Swindle said he was running in the channel bordered by shallow rocks and stumps and had no choice but to come close to the cameraman's boat. BASS officials said he should have slowed down.

"I had to make a split second decision, and in the heat of competition, probably made a bad judgment," Swindle said. "On the other hand, I'm a professional boat driver and didn't see it as a dangerous situation.

"This is competition and what I do for a living," he continued. "If put in that same situation again, I can't say I wouldn't do it again."