BassWestUSA - May/June 2009, Page 33

he revealed. “In order to stay ahead of them, I needed to strike faster and more often, so I did what I could to stay one step ahead of them.” VanDam has also had a repu- tation for being a quick study, as proved by an experience at New York’s Thousand Islands during his first year on the tour. “I drew Dave Fenton, an angler from Texas, he was in 3rd place and I was in 12th place, so I chose to go with him to his largemouth in the backwaters in- stead of my smallmouth in the lake,” said VanDam. “He was throwing a Sluggo, so I picked that up, and fin- ished 3rd in that tournament, and used that bait a lot over the next few years.” One of the other elements of his style is that, like so many of the other suc- cessful anglers out there, he spent most of his early years fishing head to head in the boat. “My personal opinion is that the newer, Pro Am style of tournaments doesn’t have the same effect of teach- ing anglers to fish as hard, nor are they as competitive as they used to be,” VanDam opined. “I’ve fished against many of our top anglers head to head in the boat, and it helped me learn to make more casts, be more accurate, and cover water faster than my competitors. I’m glad we don’t fish that way anymore, but it certainly helped make me the angler I am today.”

“I don’t really stop

and think about goals or my

legacy,” VanDam said in clos -

ing. “I fish hard, I fish to win,

it’s a great example of how it should be done, I only hope I feel the same drive when I’ve been competing as long as he has.”

and I hope that one day, when

my career is over people will

see that I did it right.

For an angler who can be char- acterized as the definition of a pro- fessional angler, VanDam said that winning his first Bassmaster Classic championship is the defining mo- ment of his career. “Winning the An- gler of the Year title is important, and it signifies consistent excellence, but winning the Classic is what really put the icing on the cake in my career,” said the two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. “Winning in 2001 in New Orleans really caught me off guard, but the more in sunk in, the more I realized how much it meant to my career.” Part of the reason it was a big deal to VanDam, was because it was his 11th trip to the tournament, and early in the week, the late Tim Tucker, Bassmaster Senior Writer asked him what it meant to be the best angler who had not yet won a Classic; the question hit him hard. “Tim wasn’t trying to embarrass me, he was just doing his job, but the question really stung me,” he revealed. “To win it that year really put an exclamation point on my career, and then to win again in 2005, meant the world as well.”

deFining momenTs

While he has been a fixture on the Bassmaster Tour for 19 years, his family has been in the fishing industry for much longer than his professional angling career. The family’s proximity to the business allowed him to rub shoulders with some of the sport’s greats for many years. “We started selling Tracker Boats in 1987, and when Johnny Morris bought Nitro boats we got to interact with some of the an- glers that I had grown up watching,” VanDam said. “When I went on tour, I was running a Nitro so I kind of got lumped into their group, because I was fishing with those same guys.” VanDam said that the Nitro team was an amazing group, and being around anglers like Tommy Martin, Larry Nixon, Rick Clunn, Lendell Martin, Penny Berryman and Woo Daves left an indelible impression on the young pro. “Tommy [Martin] and Larry [Nixon] were always there to assist me,” VanDam said of his early mentors. “They helped me to understand the business side of the game, I learned a lot from all of them, but those two were always there.” He said that he didn’t have a lot of interaction with Clunn in his first year, at first he pondered as to why, but as he would find out later it was Clunn’s respect for the integrity of competition. “Rick and I were locked in a battle for the Angler of the Year title in 1992, and he didn’t say much to me,” VanDam said. “But after the sea- son, he explained that it was his way of trying to keep the pressure off of me, and trying to maintain the integrity of the competition. Rick has a real respect for the game; I learned that then, and I’ve learned a lot from him over the years. Another competitor that VanDam has taken some lessons from is Strike King Lures teammate, Denny Brauer, “He and I have be- come pretty good friends over the years,” VanDam said of Brauer. “Denny is still one of the hardest working anglers out there, he puts his time in, practicing from dawn to dark, he fishes to win, and

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