VanDam employs unlikely strategy in tightening the AOY race

WADDINGTON, N.Y. — Why would you go to your second-best spot on the St. Lawrence River if you were 50 points behind in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year race?

Yours is not to question why, when the seven-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Kevin VanDam, employs such a strategy.

Of course, it worked.

Theoretically, VanDam sliced 21 points from Edwin Evers' AOY lead on Day One of the Elite Series Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at the St. Lawrence River. In other words, never question the BASS master.

“The biggest fish I've found, I didn't go to because of where I'm at in the points,” VanDam said. “It's far enough away that you can really screw up.”

In a testament to just how good the smallmouth bass fishery is here, Evers “screwed up” by catching a five-bass limit weighing “only” 18 pounds, 7 ounces. VanDam had 21-1. He was one of 24 anglers that caught a bigger bag than Evers. At almost any lake or river anywhere, five bass – largemouth or smallmouth – weighing 18-7 would be a satisfying day on the water. But not here, not now.

VanDam, who is from Kalamazoo, Mich., and grew up fishing the Great Lakes, can't help but notice that smallmouth bass fishing in these lakes is better than it's ever been, at least in his 45 years on this earth.

“These lakes have sure changed,” he said. “I don't know if it was the gobies or the zebra mussels, but these fish are so fat (now).”

Edwin Evers' chances of closing out the AOY race on the next-to-last Elite Series event of the season are a bit slimmer. VanDam applied the pressure Thursday. He added some subtle smack-talk (if there is such a thing) when he said on-stage, “Honestly, I've been catching a lot bigger fish than that in practice.”

So you weigh-in a fourth-best 21-1, and you say you've been catching bigger bass elsewhere? Really? Or is that just talk?

Backstage, VanDam explained his strategy. It has been formed from while winning his first AOY title in 1992, winning six more since then, and being in the running for the title almost every other year.

The basic tenants are: One, don't gamble on Day One. By making a long run to the biggest fish he'd found in practice, VanDam would be gambling with the weather. Two, see if the other guy slips a bit. Then you can really tighten the screws, weather permitting.

“I didn't want to have a bad day today,” VanDam said. “Taking a gamble on a really long run was something I didn't want to do. You've got to see what Evers does.”

Evers' 18-7 left him in 25th place. The 21-point “theoretical” shrinking of his 50-point lead is based on the standings finishing as they are now – with 21 anglers between VanDam and Evers. That's the thing about this AOY race: To make up significant ground on the leader, you need a bunch of other guys to do well too.

“If I can continue to do that, and Edwin doesn't catch 'em, and finishes 30th to 50th, I'm right back in this thing,” VanDam said. “That's my goal.”

Evers, naturally, didn't express any panic. He said Wednesday that 20 pounds was his goal today. He didn't miss it by much.

“I could have really had a good day,” Evers said. “I think I should have had about 20 pounds.”

But he didn't. That also left the door open for Aaron Martens, who is in eighth place with 20-9. He made up points on Evers too Thursday, cutting his deficit from 50 points to 33, theoretically.

There are some six- and seven-pound smallmouth bass swimming in the St. Lawrence River that could make all the difference for any of these anglers at the top of the AOY race.

“I caught a 7-8 (in practice) Monday,” Martens said. “It was my biggest smallmouth ever.

“I lost a six-pounder (today) after fighting it for two minutes.”

The St. Lawrence River holds the key to everything in the Toyota Tundra Angler of the Year race at this point. All scenarios are possible.

“The strategy in winning Angler of the Year is not having a bad event,” VanDam said. “So far, Edwin has had a great season. I've left some things on the table here and there. I know these last two events are my kind of fishing. This is where I've got to make it happen.”

VanDam made it happen on Thursday, but that's just one day.