MANY, La. — Kevin VanDam continued his charge toward a possible wire-to-wire victory in the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Toledo Bend with a Saturday catch of 24 pounds, 12 ounces that pushed his three-day total to 74-12.
But he said to make no mistake: The fishing has definitely gotten tougher.
"It was one of the toughest days I've ever had on the water — absolutely brutal," said VanDam, who is vying for his record 21st career B.A.S.S. victory. "I only caught five fish all day, and the last one came very late."
As other anglers in the Top 5 started fast, VanDam only had one fish that weighed just under 5 pounds by 10:30 a.m. But then he worked the same deep-diving crankbait magic he worked the first two days, landing a giant largemouth that tipped the scales at 8-11.
It was 2 p.m. before he landed his third and fourth keepers — one that weighed 2-plus pounds and one that weighed just over 3. Then just when he seemed destined to come in one shy of a five-bass limit, he caught a 5-pounder on his final stop with only minutes remaining.
The superstar pro from Kalamazoo, Mich., said he wasn't really sure what made the fishing so much slower than it was on Thursday and Friday.
"I don't know if it was pressure or if it was because there was no current and no wind," he said. "There were a lot of people fishing, and I saw a lot of them out there who watched me yesterday."
The fans have been out in force for this week's tournament, which is taking place on a fishery that was ranked No. 1 on the most recent list of America's Top 100 Bass Lakes by Bassmaster magazine. While he appreciates the fanfare, VanDam said it can make things tougher sometimes.
"It's pretty hard to duplicate water when I have as many people around me as I do," he said. "Somebody told me I had 40 boats following me at one time. So it's pretty noisy out there."
"I know I'm fishing the way I need to fish to catch a really big sack. So we'll see what the weather does and just see what happens."
VanDam almost doubled his lead over second-place angler Chris Lane, but Lane seems to be on a solid big-fish pattern as well.
The veteran Alabama pro, who has won seven career B.A.S.S. events, caught a good limit early Saturday and slowly upgraded throughout the day to bring in 21-3. He used a couple of different topwater baits from start to finish.
"I had a pretty bag early, but I knew I still had three fish that I needed to cull out," Lane said. "I ran some new water today, fishing some stuff that I was just checking. There was some stuff I wanted to fish on one side of the lake before I ran to the other side."
Lane caught his early limit on a walking bait and then switched to a buzzing lure later in the day. He said he stuck with the second bait because it usually gets better as the day goes along.
"The bite for that bait really doesn't start until around 10:30," Lane said. "To me, when you're topwater fishing, the biggest ones you'll catch will usually be around 1 o'clock when the sun gets as high as it will get.
"I'm fishing topwater all day long."
With a gap of 5-12 to make up, Lane said he'll need to catch 6-pounders Sunday instead of the 4-pounders that have been so common for him this week.
"The mountain just got a little higher because of what Kevin caught today," he said. "I'm just going to put the hammer down and try to bust a giant bag and make him earn it."
California pro Ish Monroe (65-13) moved into third place, while North Carolina pro Hank Cherry, Jr. (63-2) dropped one place into fourth.
The other anglers who made the Top 12 cut to fish on Championship Sunday were as follows: Paul Mueller (59-10), Keith Combs (57-14), Tommy Biffle (57-10), Andy Montgomery (57-8), Stephen Browning (57-1), Edwin Evers (56-12), Morizo Shimizu (55-13) and Brett Hite (54-7).
The tournament will conclude Sunday, with take-off scheduled for 6:15 a.m. CT from Cypress Bend Park. The weigh-in will begin back at the park at 3:15 p.m., with the winning angler earning $100,000.