When Kevin VanDam thinks of Grand Lake – “Cold weather tournaments jump to mind,” VanDam said. “The coldest event I think I’ve ever fished was here on Grand Lake in early November of 1991. Ron Shuffield won that one. Boat ramps were frozen, and so were rod guides. It was brutal. And then one year later, again in early November, Jim Morton won the 1992 event on Grand with a buzzbait in a snowstorm. Not to mention Day 1 of the 2013 Classic that Cliff Pace won. It was 23 degrees at take-off.”
It’s Still Winter – Speaking of cold weather, Sunday’s first official practice day ended with air temps in the 70s, but began in knit beanie caps with temps in the 40s – much like the water surface temps.
“Dude, this is kind of shocking! 48-degree water is way colder than I was expecting,” VanDam said to begin the day. “That explains why I saw gulls diving on stunned and dying shad in the middle of coves. And with overnight lows in the 30s the rest of the week, this tournament will fish way more like a late winter event, versus a true prespawn springtime derby.”
“Baby Carp” the crankbait color – VanDam’s Elite Series win on Grand Lake in June of 2007 was the launch pad for the now iconic color “Sexy Shad” he helped originate.
Right now, a brown-orange-red craw color Strike King called “Baby Carp” has become a true love of his during this time of year. He throws it a ton, so don’t be shocked if Grand is once again the stage for VanDam to make yet another new color famous.
Shotgun blast – Around 9:30 a.m. Sunday, VanDam was slinging his “Baby Carp” colored Series 3 crankbait around the back of a mid-lake creek, when an otherwise calm and peaceful morning was abruptly interrupted by a tremendously loud shotgun blast.
It came from an elderly man standing on the porch of his lakeside home, who was obviously shooting to scare geese off his lawn, and apparently never saw VanDam’s boat.
The shot pellets landed in the water, 20 yards from VanDam’s trolling motor. A second later, Kevin hollered to make sure the man knew he was there, and understandably perturbed. The man waved and went back inside his home.
A younger man, doing landscape work, checked to make sure VanDam was OK.
No harm. Likely an honest mistake, but a little too close for comfort.
54 and still fast – After 30 remarkable years as a tournament angler, VanDam may occasionally slip on reading glasses these days, but at age 54 he still fishes with much the same super-fast tempo he became known for in the 1990s.
He covers a remarkable amount of water, often with a crankbait, or a jerkbait twitched with a rapid cadence. And at one point, joked that he hoped the jig he had just pitched near a dock didn’t get bit – because that might force him to fish slower.
At the end of the day – VanDam spent 12 hours practicing Sunday on Grand Lake. It took him 90 minutes to get the first bite, and he caught five or six scorable bass after that totaling around 16 pounds.
Bites certainly didn’t come easy, and he knows with rain and colder temps coming, Grand will fish more like a stingy winter event.
But at the end of the day, two different groups of young fans, who had spotted his Toyota Tundra and empty boat trailer, waited at the boat ramp for him to arrive at the end of a long practice day for a chance to meet him.
They hollered “KVD” – and he graciously asked if they’d like to have a photo taken with him; to which they of course said “yes” – and one of the youngsters commented, “Oh my gosh, this is like the best thing ever.”
Suddenly Grand’s cold waters and a careless shotgun blast were almost forgotten, as the goodness of The G.O.A.T.’s life and career were placed in healthy perspective.
— by Alan McGuckin