Contenders in the Citgo Bassmaster Classic find themselves answering many interview questions presented to them by the media. Recently, Bassmaster.com gave two anglers the opportunity to interview each other.
Kevin VanDam is arguably the hottest professional angler around. He enters the Classic competition with three consecutive wins and hopes of huge follow up.
Many weekend anglers think that Jeff Coble is the best among those anglers who compete regionally or locally. He won back-to-back championships in 2000 and 2001 in the Redman All American, a tournament series designed for weekenders, and his recent rout of the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series proves that he is certainly at the top of his respective game.
When these two champions were given the opportunity to interview each other before practice for the Classic began, each was allowed to ask ten questions of each other. So with notebooks in hand, Coble and VanDam became cub reporters for a day.
KVD Question 1: Jeff, it's pretty well documented that you and David Wright have had a partnership or team for quite some time and in the history of the sport of professional angling, I've seen almost all of those relationships go awry and break up. Do you think in the future, as competitive as the Tour is getting that you're going to see a lot more teams and a lot more people working as a team?
Coble: Well I would think that there's a potential for more of that to happen because it is getting very competitive and like NASCAR. Years ago when I first started watching NASCAR they were all single car teams. Now a single car team can't compete against the multi-car teams because they share too much information. The biggest reason I think they fail is people's egos get involved and if one gets to winning more than half the money that kind of gets a little animosity between the two. But that's never really happened with us. We're really good friends. We consider ourselves equal as far as skill level so we haven't had that jealousy to come between us like that.
KVD Question 2: Along that same line, when you win a $100,000 check, obviously you give him half but you're going to get a tax bill for that full $100,000. How do you handle the tax aspect to make it truly equal?
Coble: Well, you have to have a plan before you start and the way we've always done it is we deduct taxes and expenses and then divide the remainder between the two.
Coble Question 1: What gets Kevin Van Dam up for this Classic more - the potential to win your third Classic or the potential to win 4 BASS Events in a row?
KVD: Probably it's really both. I just like to win. I'm a real competitive angler. More importantly, I hate to lose. I've got an opportunity here to do something really special in our sport and I'm not taking that opportunity lightly. So I put a lot of time and effort into focusing on this Classic but I wouldn't say it's more than any other. The Classic is without a doubt the biggest event in our sport. Every year I try to do those same things and I've been fortunate enough to win 2 but I've lost, I guess, 13 of them going towards that. So, it's the toughest event out there but it is also the most important one to me.
Coble Question 2: If you could enhance your chances of winning the Classic by eliminating one name off the competitors list, what name would that be?
KVD: Terry Scroggins.
Coble: Yeah, I would have to go double on that one.
KVD: You know there is a really good field of anglers in this but Terry has spent a lot of time there. I consider him probably the best heavy vegetation flipper on the Tour but there are a lot of other guys that are dangerous too. I'm going to tell you, it is so tough to be the favorite going into a Classic but if the conditions get cold and the bite is a flipping bite, he's going to be there. He's going to be in the top 5 for sure.
KVD Question 3: You are well documented as you travel around to these tournaments that you've qualified for - BFLs or Weekend Series events, etc, as planting a lot of brush piles. Have you planted brush piles at Toho?
Coble: No, actually if you have vegetation around anywhere, you can forget the brush piles. They are non-existent. I've never, never been able to do well with any kind of planted cover in a lake or river that has a lot of aquatic vegetation. They just love that stuff too much. They're not effective in that situation.
Coble Question 3: Could we agree that your fishing style and pace does not mesh well with Florida fishing? What errors have you made in the past Florida tournaments that you plan on correcting in the Classic?
KVD: I think that for the most part that statement is probably true. There are times when power fishing can be effective down there but you have to have the exact right conditions and typically January and February, that's not the case. What I've learned about Florida is that you can get a lot of fish or you can find a big concentration of fish in a small area and power fishing has usually helped find that area. With the successes I've had in the past, I've learned to just slow down and just really work those areas thoroughly.
Coble: So you think you'll be able to slow down to get in gear with the Florida fish?
KVD: That's my plan.
Coble: We fished together years ago at Sam Rayburn and you fish awful fast it looked like to me.
KVD: Well, it's not how fast you fish it's how efficient you fish. You know, I've fished in Florida quite a few times and I've missed the mark a few times but I've also had some real good finishes here especially even on Lake Toho - I've had a couple of top 10's anyway. We'll just have to wait and see.
Coble Question 4: Do you think this Classic will be technique intensive or area intensive? Do you think a technique is going to be the decisive deal or an area is going to be the most important deal?
KVD: I believe it's going to be both. The thing about Florida is you can have an awful lot of lake that looks the same but certain little areas hold the concentrations of fish and depending on the weather conditions they can really affect the techniques. Over a period of 3 days that can very much change. If it's cold the first day, flipping could be the primary technique and then as it warms up those fish will come out from that cover and you may end up using a spinnerbait. You really have to adapt to the weather in Florida, probably more so than any other lake or any other type of lake in these shallow natural lakes that I've fished around the country.
KVD Question 4: Jeff, having qualified for the Classic in 2002 and again in 2006, how different is the media attention and just the overall buzz this year than in it was in 2002?
Coble: This year for some reason it is different and I really don't know why, probably a combination of a lot of factors. In 2002, ESPN had just purchased BASS so they really didn't have their marketing engine running at that time as strong as it is now. Maybe that's part of it. Maybe another part of it was because I was the last qualifier. You know, you guys have been qualified for 8 months basically. Maybe there wasn't a lot to talk about or something… maybe I got a lot of media attention because of that. Or maybe because I qualified as one person, not a group of anglers through the Open division or through the Elite 50's. I kind of feel like it's a combination of all of it.
I went to some of the Elite 50 weigh ins this year. The crowds were huge compared to tournaments I've been to in the past. I just think ESPN's message is starting to resonate and they're gaining momentum and I feel like a combination of all of this is the reason I've received more media attention this time than before.
KVD Question 5: In 2002, I think there were 49 guys in the Classic and you finished 48th that year, is that correct? What are the odds that you can beat your 2002 performance this year? (Editor's note - There were actually 52 anglers in the 2002 Bassmaster Classic. Coble finished 48)
Coble: Well, I don't think we have as many people in it this year so I can't finish quite as low as I could have. [laughter] But, you know, it's kind of like the last time I fished Lake Toho in 1984 and Shaw Grigsby won the All-American. I zeroed both days so I can't do any worse than that on Toho.
Hopefully, the 48th would be the bottom of the barrel and I can only improve on that. After the pre-practice round we had at Lay Lake in 2002, I didn't feel like I could catch any the way I was fishing anyway. I thought the best way for me to have a chance to win down there was offshore cranking and it didn't work. I didn't feel like that was going to be the way to fish by the time the tournament started. I finished about where I thought I would based on my pre-fishing.
Coble Question 5: The Classic allows only a finite amount of tackle in your possession. What percentage of your allotted tackle includes soft plastic and what percentage includes hard baits?
KVD: Oh, I'm definitely skewed a lot more to the soft plastics just because when you're fishing heavy vegetation and stuff like that you go through a lot more whereas with lipless crankbaits, jerkbaits, top waters, things like that, you're not going to lose very many to have that opportunity. I carry a lot more plastics just because a hundred bag may be what it takes to get you through 3 days of competition where if you were catching with the diamond shad, I could probably fish the whole tournament with a couple.
Jeff: Sou think that hard baits will be just as important as soft plastic in the Classic but it just takes more soft plastic.
KVD: Yeah, I'm hoping so.
Coble Question 6: Of the 10 rod and reel combos allowed in your boat, how many will be spinning combos?
KVD: Ah, I haven't decided that yet because we haven't gotten to practice but my thought ahead of time is I'll probably have one anyway . I really can't say for sure until after I see what the lake looks like for the 3 day practice.
KVD Question 6: Are you going to wear that Duke hat during the Classic and have you talked to Duke University about a possible boat wrap deal for the coming season?
Coble: Well, you know, I haven't talked to them about that but that's a good idea since you bring it up and yes I may have a Duke hat on during the Classic. I think I wore it during the Series Championship but it's not out of the question for the Classic.
KVD: Ok, I just thought that was a viable question to ask with what's gone on in the past.
Coble: Oh yeah, no doubt.
KVD Question 7: Ok, I've got another one for you. When you won this weekend series championship, you said it was all about the money. You weren't there for any reason but you fish tournaments to try and win money. Why didn't you give up your Classic sponsor to the second place guy then if it's just about the money?
Coble: Well, you gotta remember now, keeping that theme that it's all about the money, there's $500,000 at stake now during the Classic so it's still all about the money.
Coble Question 7: Do you think when it's all said and done the winner of this Classic will have concentrated on one lake exclusively or a multi lake strategy prevail?
KVD: I believe it will be one lake. If a guy wins the tournament down in Kissimmee he might catch a few fish in Toho on the way back just because of having to go through the lock and compensate for that time but I believe the Classic will be won out of one lake and one general region of that lake.
Coble Question 8: Could you give any advice to younger, less seasoned Classic competitors on how to avoid getting caught up in and distracted by the media attention and wow factor?
KVD: Well, you can tell them to be prepared for it but until they've experienced it, it's hard to get ready for it. I've said that to a lot of people and the reality of it is now with all the hype and all the live coverage that ESPN does for the event, it's even more than it was a few years ago. The aura of it all is more intimidating. Probably the best advice is when you get on the water is to try to block out all those other distractions and just really try to concentrate on the fishing. When you're in the hotel room and in the media conferences and dealing with the press, enjoy that, enjoy that part of it but put your game face on when you put the boat in the water.
KVD Question 8: Jeff, you have a well documented career of fishing the Weekend Series type events through the BFLs and Redmans and jackpot tournaments all over the country and especially down in your region. Do you consider yourself the best weekend angler ever?
Coble: I don't know. There are other regions of the country, like the West Coast, I've heard of a guy named Gary Dobbins quite a bit out there. If I am, the only reason is because I've continued to fish at this level. I mean there are tons of people that are as good or better than I am at different lakes and at different times of the year but I've not progressed up to the level that you are. My lifestyle has never enabled me to do that so I guess I've stayed at the lower levels maybe longer than most people. I guess one of the best statement to that is when I had the desire to fish at the Elite level I didn't have the means and now that I have the means I don't have the desire. I think younger guys are going to dominate this sport in the future and I'm kind of in the middle of the road there - I'm the younger group and the older group. If I could turn back the clock 20 years and know what I know now and have the capabilities I have now, I would probably try to fish at that level. So yeah, I may be the best but it's probably because I haven't moved up the scale like most other people would have.
KVD Question 9: From the region of the country that you come from (North Carolina), a lot of those lakes are excellent summertime type lakes and some of the best crankbait fishermen in the country have come out of that region. That's probably one of your specialties too. Do you believe, in your mind, that you're the best crankbait fisherman from your region?
Coble: No, absolutely not. You know, David Wright and David Fritts - those guys were crankbait fishing off short structure a long time before I was. I kind of get branded in that camp because of my association with David Wright in fishing and I've won some big tournaments like that but I've also won tournaments sight fishing and flipping and stuff like that. So yeah, I maybe one of the top 5 crank bait fishermen in the country but certainly not the top one.
KVD Question 10: Ok, last question is, you're going into this 2006 Classic and this is your second appearnce. I'd like to know how winning the Classic might change your life and if you did win, would you take that step out and jump on the Elite Series or the Tour for a year and go after the big time?
Coble: Well, I have said I wouldn't. Maybe if I win I'll change my mind but you know, as I sit here now thinking about that decision I would probably continue to do what I'm doing.
Now I would enjoy fishing the Elite Series from one standpoint. You guys are going to some great lakes at great times of the year. Your thumbs are going to be bleeding at the end of this year. You guys are going to have a ton of fun catching a lot of fish but I still feel like I would probably continue to fish kind of like I have been. I might fish a couple more Redfish Cup events if I had the chance though but no I still stick to my guns. I wouldn't try to fish for a living.
KVD: The reason I ask that is because most of the guys that worked up through that weekend series and tried to qualify for the Championship have aspirations to become a professional and apparently you're saying yours is absolutely the opposite.
Coble: In 1994 or 1995 I fished what was then the top 100 tour. The first day of the first tournament (at Lake St Clair in Michigan) I was leading the tournament . I finally finished out the season in like 50th place or something like that. I decided then that the only way to compete with you guys was to do that full time because most of the guys that were successful that's all they did. They concentrated totally on fishing. When I left that tournament I decided I wasn't going to try to do that for a living. It was going to take too much of a gamble and I still stick to that. After that I started winning more tournaments because I didn't fish for points or to qualify for this or that. I just fished the individual tournaments to win those events. I think I started fishing for first a lot more than I ever have before that.
Coble Question 9: NASCAR drivers in their later years typically do not perform as well as their younger competitors. The late Dale Earnhardt, Sr once told Earl Bentz on a hunting trip "The heavier a driver's wallet gets, the lighter his right foot gets." How do you plan on keeping your right foot as heavy in 10 years as it is now?
KVD: Well, I think that's a good observation and you see that in a lot of sports. The one unique thing about bass fishing is even NASCAR is a physical sport where being in tip top shape makes a big difference in how well you're going to compete. Certainly it's important in bass fishing too, but obviously the mental side of it is a bigger factor as you can see from the physiques of some of the guys who have been successful on tour.
To me, it's just about the drive that I have. As I have gotten more successful in fishing I get to fish less and I truly absolutely love to fish. I really love the competition. You cannot compete at the top level if you are not obsessed with it. I think that's what happens - guys lose that obsession and when you lose that you're not going to compete well. I haven't lost that fire. I don't see myself losing it anytime soon. I just really love what I do.
Coble Question 10 Last week I went to the Duke-North Carolina college basketball game. That's arguably one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports. All sports have rivals. Who is Kevin Van Dam's biggest rival? Who do you find yourself looking over your shoulder at most often?
KVD: Well, I don't think I really have a rival per se but the media has really made Mike Iaconelli a rival for me as much as anybody. Especially with the way the season finished last year through the Elite 50's where we were going really back and forth for the points lead there in those events. It probably helped to fuel that and that's fine.
Mike and I get along great. I respect him as a really good angler. I've fished with him. I know how he is. He's a lot like myself in having that really unbelievable drive and he's got a tremendous work ethic for it.
I think the big thing is for me to think of somebody as a rival, you know, I want to see him beat me a bunch of times and get under my skin and that's what drives me. I don't like to lose. So when Gerald Swindle and Skeet Reese and Mike Iaconelli and those guys are popping off at me, that just kind of fuels the fire in that furnace for me and gets me more intense to want to go out and do even better.
So I think those rivalries are good but at the end of the day all that back and forth talk and stuff that goes on is really all in good fun and we're really pretty good buddies even though we're extremely competitive on the water.
Coble: I like it. I like the rivalry deal - two guys with two different personalities going at each other. I think it makes for good TV.
KVD: There's no doubt.
At this point in the interview, each angler had reached his limit of Ten Questions, but Bassmaster.com had a few of our own.
Bassmaster.com: Coble, you and David Wright have a unique relationship in bass fishing that Kevin kind of touched on earlier in the interview. If you win the Classic, the $500,000, will you split that money with David Wright as well?
Coble: Oh sure. You know, it's no different than the one All-American I won he was not in but he helped me prepare for it. He was just as important in that as he is this tournament because he spent a lot of time down here last year fishing tournaments. I haven't been here in 22 years so, yeah, he's part of it.
That really bugs people that see what's going on. I've won the greater percentage of the money but they don't realize how important all that other stuff is. Yeah, definitely, he'll get his share of that.
Bassmaster.com: Van Dam, a lot has been said about you being the greatest angler in the world at this time. Let's take you out of the picture, not necessarily the Classic picture but the whole angling picture. If Kevin Van Dam wasn't present here, who would be the greatest angler at this point in time in Bassmaster?
Kevin: For the history of the sport?
Bassmaster.com: No, not the history, I'm talking about right now.
KVD: I would probably put Greg Hackney there right now. He's been really strong consistently for the last two year but it's hard not to put Mike Iaconelli right there too. Mike has had a pretty strong showing but I think Hackney's got him edged out right now.