SPRING CITY, Tenn. – Bass Pro Shops pro Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, caught 12 scorable bass weighing 30 pounds even to earn the win Monday and advance directly to his third Bass Pro Tour Championship Round at the General Tire Stage Five on Watts Bar Lake Presented by Covercraft in Spring City, Tennessee.
VanDam’s astounding career includes 29 major wins and eight Angler of the Year (AOY) awards; but this marks the first time he has earned an automatic berth to the Championship Round on the Bass Pro Tour.
VanDam’s two-day Qualifying Round total of 21 bass weighing 51 pounds, 3 ounces earned him the Group A win by a solid 10-pound, 15-ounce margin over second-place pro Takahiro Omori of Tokyo, Japan, who caught a two-day total of 18 bass totaling 40-4. Berkley pro Jordan Lee of Cullman, Alabama started in 16th place on Monday, before ending the day in third place with a two-day total of 16 bass weighing 34-13. Meanwhile, Tennessee pro Andy Morgan of Daytonfinished in fourth place with a two-day total of 13 bass weighing 34-10. Favorite Fishing pro Mark Daniels, Jr. of Tuskegee, Alabama, rounded out the top five with a two-day total of 15 bass weighing 34-8.
The six-day event, hosted by Fish Dayton, the Rhea County Economic Tourism Council and Spring City, Tennessee, showcases 80 of the top professional bass-fishing anglers in the world competing for a total purse of $805,000, including a top cash prize of $100,000 to the winner.
“Things normally don’t go the way you plan them, but today was a perfect day for me,” VanDam said. “I knew I had a little ground to make up, so I decided to start in a creek to get away from the main river current and I got off to a good start.”
VanDam started the day in sixth place, but moved quickly to the top spot by the end of Period 1. He began the second period with a one-pound lead over the entire field, before gaining more ground to start Period 3 with a 10-pound, 1-ounce advantage.
“I knew if I could make a run at it and be able to automatically qualify for the Championship Round, I’d be sitting in a great spot,” VanDam said. “The Knockout Rounds are one of the hardest rounds to get through on this tour because the weights zero and all the guys you are up against have been catching them for two days in a row. Anything can happen, so everything has to go well, and you’ve really got to be catching them. Being able to skip that day of competition and move on is key.”
VanDam has several big wins on Tennessee River lakes – including his 2021 Bass Pro Tour win on Lake Chickamauga – and more than 20 finishes in the Top 10 on the TVA fisheries, so it’s no surprise to find him on top of the leaderboard midway through the event. What is surprising, however, is his technique.
“I’m junk-fishing, which is far different than I initially planned to fish on Watts Bar Lake and the Tennessee River,” VanDam said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to make it work so far.
“I expected to come here and throw crankbaits on offshore ledges – and that’s what I’d love to do, but that just didn’t happen in practice, so I’ve had to mix it up,” VanDam said. “I’ve caught a lot of my fish flipping a Strike King KVD Perfect Plastics Game Hawg, watermelon-seed-colored with a little chartreuse on the tail, around shallow docks and shallow brush.
“I also caught some key fish on a Strike King KVD Jerkbait and skipping a Strike King Thunder Cricket around rocks and overhanging trees, just mixing it up and doing whatever fits what’s in front of me.”
VanDam said earning the automatic berth to the Championship Round is a really good feeling, especially after a tough tournament at Lake of the Ozarks last month, where he finished in 51stplace.
“I’m happy to be able to bounce back here at Watts Bar Lake after a disappointing finish at the last event,” VanDam said. “Lake of the Ozarks was a place where I had a ton of confidence and I had a great practice, but I just didn’t execute and never made it past the Qualifying Round.
“I’m really focusing on AOY points, so that event cost me a lot right there for the season,” he said. “In spite of that, we’re going to end up with a good finish here, regardless of how things go on Thursday, and I’m looking forward to taking a shot at the win.”
Covington, Georgia, pro Jared Lintner also made a big run Monday afternoon, catching a total of 18 pounds, 8 ounces on the day to finish with a two-day total of 27-14, moving him from 25thplace into 11th and securing his spot in Wednesday’s Knockout Round. Pro Paul Elias of Laurel, Mississippi, caught a 2-13, followed by a 1-10 in the final hour to move from 29th place to 20th for the day and squeeze into the Top 20. Elias was only one of two anglers to move into the Top 20 during Day 2 of the Group A Qualifying Round.
“This thing took a toll on me, let me tell you,” Elias said after the round concluded. “My practice was pretty bad, and the first day of competition just crushed me, but thankfully I got on a smallmouth deal that saved me and we made it in the Top 20.
“I ended up having to go to some spinning stuff and I started throwing a little 6-inch worm on a ¼-ounce drop-shot,” Elias said. “I caught a largemouth weighing 4-13 with that on Saturday, and one or two on it today, but most of my fish were caught on a wacky-rigged stickbait, and I’m just not that style of fisherman.
“I made so many mistakes today, just trying to skip that thing under stuff, but it worked out and I’m thankful to be moving on to the next round,” Elias said.
The Top 20 anglers from Group A will now enjoy an off day, while the 40 anglers in Qualifying Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round of competition on Tuesday. The Knockout Round, featuring 38 anglers competing to finish in the top eight, will take place Wednesday. Thursday’s Championship Round will feature VanDam, Tuesday’s Group B winner, and the top eight anglers from the Knockout Round competing in a final-day shootout for the top prize of $100,000.
The Top 20 pros in Qualifying Group A that now advance to Wednesday’s Knockout Round on Watts Bar Lake are:
- 1st: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 21 bass, 51-3
- 2nd: Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 18 bass, 40-4
- 3rd: Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., 16 bass, 34-13
- 4th: Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 13 bass, 34-10
- 5th: Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 15 bass, 34-8
- 6th: Randall Tharp, Port St. Joe, Fla., 14 bass, 32-5
- 7th: Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., 13 bass, 32-4
- 8th: Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 15 bass, 31-11
- 9th: Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., 15 bass, 30-1
- 10th: Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 15 bass, 27-15
- 11th Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., 13 bass, 27-14
- 12th: Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, 12 bass, 27-11
- 13th: Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, 13 bass, 25-11
- 14th: Timmy Horton, Muscle Shoals, Ala., 13 bass, 25-10
- 15th: Bobby Lane, Lakeland, Fla., 11 bass, 25-2
- 16th: Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 14 bass, 25-0
- 17th: Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 13 bass, 24-11
- 18th: Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, 10 bass, 24-3
- 19th: Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., nine bass, 24-1
- 20th: Paul Elias, Laurel, Miss., 10 bass, 21-9