UNION SPRINGS, New York – Of all the victories that he’s racked up in an impressive 26-year tournament-fishing career, Mercury pro Kevin VanDam’s latest – at New York’s Cayuga Lake – came in the rarest of fashions.
Just six weeks after claiming his record 21st B.A.S.S. tour-level victory at the “toughest tournament of my entire career” at Toledo Bend Reservoir in Louisiana, VanDam found himself raising yet another Elite Series trophy after weighing in 71 pounds, 13 ounces of Finger Lakes largemouth and smallmouth bass to squeeze past second-year pro Jordan Lee and Mercury teammates Brett Hite and Jacob Powroznik at the Busch Beer Bassmaster Elite at Cayuga Lake June 23-26.
“I have to admit, this tournament was almost 180 degrees different than Toledo Bend,” VanDam told the Championship Sunday crowd at Frontenac Park in Union Springs, New York. “I went into that tournament not feeling good about my practice, and really not knowing if I had the fish to even be competitive. This week at Cayuga, though, I knew what I had: After the first practice day, I knew that I could win it if I executed properly and managed my fish right. I’ve fished over 300 tournaments in my professional career, and can count on one hand how many times I’ve felt that confident. It’s rare feeling.”
VanDam diversified on a diverse fishery
VanDam had put himself in contention for his record 22nd B.A.S.S. win by piling up 20 pounds on Day 1 sight fishing, and 18-15 and 17-7 on Days 2 and 3 targeting shallow grass beds; he entered the final day with a 2-pound deficit to Lee, and trailing Hite by 13 ounces – relatively small differences on a Cayuga fishery that had already produced 35 19-plus-pound bags, and a record 4.99-fish average on Day 1.
With a steady wind disturbing the surface on Cayuga as VanDam opened up the throttle on his Mercury 250hp Pro XS and headed to his first grass bed on Championship Sunday, the Kalamazoo, Michigan-based veteran expected to match (or better) his 17- to 20-pound limits from the week.
That didn’t prove to be the case. VanDam struggled to match the productivity of the first three days, and ended up pulling out baits that he hadn’t used all week just to break the 15-pound mark.
“I think we were all surprised by how tough it was on Sunday,” VanDam admitted. “I ended up catching two fish on a jerk bait, which I hadn’t caught a single fish on all week. I think it was just a case of four days of everybody fishing through the same areas, and the conditions making it hard for guys to see their fish.”
KVD puts Pro XS to the test on Cayuga
At just under 40 miles long from Mud Lock in Ithaca to its outflow on the Seneca River, Cayuga is the longest of New York’s glacial Finger Lakes. And through four days of practice and four tournament days, VanDam covered “just about every inch of it.”
“I ran around a lot this week,” VanDam said. “I sight fished a lot the first couple of days, so I ended up running from fish to fish to fish. Just the nature of the fishery this time of year, you have to move a lot, and I ran that Pro XS across three-quarters of the lake every single day. I’ve had some ups and downs this season, but I know darn well that I can count on that motor to let me have as many casts as I need, and to get me where I need to go, no matter what.”
VanDam’s last two-win season came in 2010-11, when he won on the Alabama River and Kentucky Lake, and then claimed the Bassmaster Classic on the Louisiana Delta … KVD has rocketed up to 12th place in the Angler of the Year standings: he was 54th after the Wheeler Lake Elite in early May … Mercury anglers VanDam, Hite, Powroznik and Rookie of the Year leader Drew Benton will next compete at the inaugural Bassmaster Classic Bracket on the Niagara River in New York, July 19-22, an eight-man head-to-head event in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the 2017 Classic in Houston.