- Lynn Burkhead
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There's not much that Kevin VanDam hasn't done in bass fishing.
Competing in his 11th consecutive BASS Masters Classic, the Kalamazoo, Mich., pro has won three Angler of the Year titles. He is nearing the $1 million mark in career B.A.S.S. earnings to go with six wins and 40 Top 10 finishes.
In short, he has done just about everything that can be done in fishing.
Except win the BASS Masters Classic.
"You know, it's been frustrating for me," VanDam said. "I've been close several times before to winning. Everybody says, 'You've done a lot of things, but you haven't won the Classic.' I've been close, but I haven't been able to come through, yet."
But just in case anyone thinks the 33-year old father of two is laying awake at night trying to figure out how to win in New Orleans next week, think again.
"I'm almost at the point now that if it happens, it happens," he said. "I'm going to go there and do my best and see what happens. I'm not going to put pressure on myself."
With an eighth place finish at the 1999 Classic and Top 10 finishes at two other B.A.S.S. events near New Orleans, VanDam is relaxed heading into Classic XXXI.
"This year, I know what I need to do to win," he said. "I'm just going to go down there and relax and do my thing and see what happens. I'm not going to get too worked up about it."
While Kevin isn't going to get worked up, his wife Sherry just might take that job for the VanDam family.
"You think about him the most during that tournament than at any other," she said. "I would be so thrilled for him to see him win it. It's one of his biggest goals in fishing and to see him accomplish it would mean the world to me. I'd love to seem him do it."
While his wife is in his corner, at least two veteran B.A.S.S. pros believe that Kevin is among the favorites to win.
"I think Kevin has a good chance to win any tournament that he goes into. He's a tremendous fisherman and he's won Angler of the Year before, so he knows what it takes to win," said ESPN television host Jimmy Houston.
"He practices very well in his pre-fishing. He's done well in some of the tournaments that we've had down there in New Orleans."
"One of Kevin's biggest attributes is that he's a very versatile fisherman," Houston said. "He's able to fish just about any tactic you need and I think he's a threat to win this year's Classic."
Former Classic champ Davy Hite agrees.
"Kevin has had a great career. He's due to win a Classic," said Hite, who won the 1999 Classic in New Orleans.
While VanDam has done well in past events on the Louisiana Delta, he admits that there will be some differences next week.
"It's going to be a much different fishery this time than it was a couple of years ago. It changes because it is so close to the Gulf," VanDam said. "The saltwater intrusion kills the grass and the hurricanes have an impact. The fish move a lot because their habitat changes a lot."
One variable that the Classic contenders will have to deal with effectively according to VanDam is the sheer abundance of fishable habitat in the Delta.
"It is such a tremendously huge area down there and you've got so much water to choose from," he said. "You're trying to find those areas that have the big fish that nobody else is fishing. That's really how Davy (Hite) won (the 1999 Classic)."
Despite the swampy terrain, VanDam said that lure selection is really quite simple.
"The nice thing there is that it's a flipper and spinnerbait angler's paradise," he said. "There are some crankbait opportunities, but it's primarily a shallow, stained-water fishery and that's conducive to big baits and big lines. Buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, and frogs are the kind of baits that you'll throw to coax them out."
The bottom line for VanDam next month is consistency.
"I think this Classic is going to be won by somebody having three solid, consistent days," he said. "Things change so much there with the tide and other things, it's a hard place to be consistent at."
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Michigan pro looks to secure first BASS Masters Classic title on the Delta