KVD: I’ll be back
UNION SPRINGS, N.Y. — It didn't become official until Saturday's weigh-in at the Bassmaster Elite Series Cayuga Lake tournament was complete.
But it's a done deal now: Kevin VanDam, the most accomplished angler in B.A.S.S. history, didn't qualify to compete in what would have been his 25th Bassmaster Classic in a row.
That's almost unimaginable because VanDam has been so consistently good for so long.
KVD handled the bad news just like he's handled everything else in his brilliant career—with class and honesty.
“I can promise you, I hate it right now,” he said at the Frontenac Park weigh-in site.
“But I don't care who you are or how good you are, it's going to happen eventually. It's very humbling out here.”
This season has been unfathomably humbling for the 46-year-old Kalamazoo, Mich., resident. Only a few years after he burst on the B.A.S.S. scene it was unquestionable that there was a Superman on the circuit and KVD were his initials.
Consider this: In the first eight seasons of the Elite Series, VanDam missed the top 50 cut (and the $10,000 check that goes with it) only four times.
That's cashing-in on 69 of 73 chances. But in 2014, VanDam doubled those sub-top 50 performances – four more in a single season, including the four worst finishes of his Elite Series career.
“I fished harder and longer hours of practice this year than I ever have,” VanDam said. “I knew some of these events would be really challenging, like the Delaware River (where he finished 97th).
“But the tournaments that really disappointed me this year were at the St. Johns River and (Lake) Dardanelle. Those are places where I know the water. I have history there. I know what to do and how to do it. I just couldn't make it happen.”
Friday on Cayuga Lake was a fitting capper to a frustrating year. If VanDam had caught just one additional 2 1/2-pound bass, he would have made the Top 50 and had a chance to improve his Angler of the Year points standings.
Only the top 50 in AOY points here qualify to fish at Lake Michigan in September, when the final Classic qualifiers for 2015 will be determined.
“It was almost surreal (Friday), the way things were going badly for me,” VanDam said. “When I would get a bite, I'd lose it. One decent fish was the difference between me being in the top 50 and going to Michigan or sitting out on the sideline.”
VanDam has seven Angler of the Year titles in his career. His previous worst finish in the AOY race was 26th.
“Other than that, I've never been out of the top 10,” he said. “That's something I'm pretty proud of. The fact that I messed it up so bad this year tells me that I need to really re-think how I'm going about these events.
“Believe me, I'm going to have a different focus next year.”
VanDam has always kept himself in good physical condition. His power fishing style requires it. And never has his mental toughness been questioned.
But he promised to be better on both fronts next season. That's got to be a little scary for the rest of the Elite Series competitors.
This bad season may have awakened a sleeping bear.
But VanDam knows it's not that simple. You just don't decide to win and follow up with victories. This game is more competitive than it has ever been.
“I can't guarantee anything,” he said. “I'm not going to say I'm going to knock it out of the park and win three of the next five events or anything like that.
“But I can tell you this: I'm going to come back with a new focus and intensity. I can't do it any other way. We'll see what the results are.”
One final note: Before VanDam came along, Rick Clunn was the king of B.A.S.S. Both he and VanDam have won four Bassmaster Classics, and Clunn has qualified for 32 Classics.
Since Ray Scott held the first Classic in 1971, there have only been three (the first three) when either Clunn or VanDam wasn't in the Classic, and most often both were there.
The 2015 Classic field isn't completely set yet, but it will probably be the first one since 1973 that doesn't include either Clunn or KVD in the field.
“I've watched the greatest anglers in the sport rise and fall,” VanDam said. “It's inevitable.
“I'm just not ready to go away yet.”