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Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Greatest Angler Debate continues with #5, Kevin VanDam

ESPN Outdoors Communications — May 24, 2005

  • The Kevin VanDam profile on "The Greatest Angler Debate" re-airs on ESPN2 at 5:30 a.m. June 3 and 6:30 a.m. June 4; all times Eastern.

    It's all a question of era.

    Professional bass fishing has been around for nearly 40 years. In the early days, the sport was dominated by Bill Dance and Roland Martin; then came Rick Clunn, Larry Nixon, Gary Klein, Hank Parker and Denny Brauer.

    Kevin VanDam
    Kevin VanDam
    The young guns of the sport — those who debuted on the cast-for-cash circuits in the last 15 or 20 years — are still busy making their marks. Anglers like Mark Davis and Jay Yelas are still winning CITGO Bassmaster Classics, still earning Angler of the Year titles and still growing their legends.

    Few would deny that the very best of those young guns is Kalamazoo's Kevin VanDam. In just 15 years in the bass wars, the Michigan pro has qualified for 15 Classics, won one (2001), earned three CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year crowns (1992, 1996 and 1999), one FLW Angler of the Year title (2001) and snagged seven BASS victories while totaling more than $1.8 million in prize money.

    Add it all together and you come up with the fifth-place angler in ESPN's Greatest Angler Debate.

    The Greatest Angler Debate presented by John Deere started with a list of 35 top anglers from the world of competitive bass fishing.

    That list was pared down to the sport's 10 best in January. Fan voting began in January and ended in March. The process ranked the pros third through tenth. The two finalists will face-off in a second round of voting that begins June 15.

    Several weeks ago, the countdown began with angler No. 10, Mark Davis. Since then, ninth-ranked Gary Klein, eighth-ranked Jay Yelas, seventh-ranked Hank Parker and sixth-ranked Larry Nixon have been profiled.

    This week it's Kevin VanDam's turn at No. 5. He'll be profiled on "The Greatest Angler Debate" this Saturday at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2.

    Ask fans of professional bass fishing who's been the best angler over the past 12 or 15 years and most would say it's been the Kalamazoo Kid, Kevin VanDam. His record is phenomenal.

    VanDam has qualified for every Bassmaster Classic since turning pro. In 162 BASS events, he's finished in the money an astounding 127 times; 78 percent of the time, VanDam cashes a check! That's almost 10 percent better than anyone else in The Greatest Angler Debate.

    In addition to his penchant for finishing in the money, VanDam has placed in the top-10 in 32 percent of the BASS events he's entered. Only Bill Dance and Roland Martin — two legends who may have benefited from their performances in the early days of the sport — post higher top-10 percentages.

    VanDam has clearly earned the respect of the angling community since turning pro at the ripe old age of 22. He never had any doubt that he would succeed.

    "I remember meeting Kevin back in the late 1980s," said fellow Greatest Angler Debate semifinalist Larry Nixon. "This skinny kid walked up to me and said, 'I'm Kevin VanDam, and I'm going to kick your butt.'"

    Kevin Van Dam
    VanDam has qualified for every Bassmaster Classic since turning pro.
    He did it, too, finishing in the money in the first 23 tournaments he entered after turning pro.

    Among his peers, VanDam is widely regarded as one of the greatest "power" fishermen ever. Put a spinnerbait, crankbait, jerkbait or topwater in his hands and watch out; he'll cover more water and present his lures to more fish than anyone else on tour.

    One angling great who ranks VanDam at the very top is two-time Classic winner George Cochran. When asked who should win The Greatest Angler Debate, Cochran was contemplative.

    "That's a hard question, but I'd have to say Kevin VanDam," the Arkansas pro said. "In my book, he's the best of all time.

    "I remember thinking when he started that he would become a well-known fisherman because he was so consistent. Today, if you graded all the fishermen, he's still No. 1.

    "From the time he started until today, he's been probably the most versatile fishermen no matter where we go — clear water, deep water, shallow water, mud holes, rivers. He's the most consistent. He's in the top-10 more than anyone I know of. In my book, he's the best."

    While a fifth-place finish in The Greatest Angler Debate might be a disappointment to someone as competitive as VanDam, he certainly recognizes it as a great honor. And fishing fans everywhere know that his career is far from over.

    If the same debate is held in another 10 years, VanDam will certainly rank even higher.

    "My goal my whole life has been to be considered a great angler, and this list says just that," VanDam added. "It's an honor just to be on the list. I have a lot of respect for all these guys."

    On Saturday, May 28, at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2, BASS Saturday will profile Kevin VanDam.

    Fans will find stats and stories on The Greatest Angler Debate in the pages of Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times, and on the weekly ESPN Outdoors radio show.

    On June 15, the debate heats up again as the fans choose between the top two anglers during a second round of voting on

    The debate will conclude in Pittsburgh — at the 2005 Classic — when two champions are crowned. One will be given the Classic trophy and the other — or perhaps even the same angler — will be hailed as the greatest angler of all time.

  • The Kevin VanDam profile on "The Greatest Angler Debate" re-airs on ESPN2 at 5:30 a.m. June 3 and 6:30 a.m. June 4; all times Eastern.