Each morning, ESPN Outdoors reporter David A. Brown joins one of the Bassmaster Classic anglers on their drive from the boatyard in downtown Birmingham to the launch site at Lay Lake. Today's host: Kevin VanDam.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. One of the basic rules of recreational fishing is that you shouldn't leave fish to find fish. However, in a tournament scenario, anglers are often tempted to do just that with the intent of "saving" fish for subsequent days.
That will not be the case for Kevin VanDam, who leads the field of 51 anglers going into day two of the Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake. Yesterday, VanDam enjoyed the fruits of his pre-tournament planning, as he found a bunch of active fish in a small bay off Beeswax Creek not even a mile from the launch site. Employing his trademark power fishing tactics, VanDam sacked up a limit weighing 19 pounds, 8 ounces.
FACT BOX: AT A GLANCE
Angler: Kevin VanDam
Boat #: 1
Vehicle: Toyota Tundra, Toyota Tundra wrap
In the console: Peppermint Eclipse gum, phone charger, ball point pen, and a receipt for a McDonald's chicken club sandwich
Tunes: ESPN radio
Classic Record: Qualified 20 times, won 2001 and 2005
Breakfast: Strawberry Danish and coffee
Lunch: Homemade sandwiches (turkey/pepper jack, ham/Swiss)
Favorite Winter Olympics Event: Speed skating and snowboarding (He thinks Shawn White is amazing on the half pipe.)
Quote of the Day: "That's the thing about our sport you can't see the fish and you can't talk to them."
With what he described as an intimate knowledge of his main area, VanDam correctly surmised that the warming trend presently thawing a lake left frigid by recent cold extremes would find fish moving into the sun-drenched shallows. VanDam knows that similar scenarios may exist elsewhere in the lake, but he learned a long time ago that tomorrow brings no guarantee. Therefore, it's a get-while-the-getting's-good kinda deal.
"You want to have enough to do well the next day, but what's 'enough?'" he said. "When do you stop? Or if you have a good spot and the fish are biting should you catch them? It's always a tough decision and I've been on the right side and the wrong side of that decision many times.
"You might say 'Well, this area is not panning out like I thought it would, I only have a few fish and I've been here a few hours.' You may make a move and go somewhere and destroy the fish on your second spot and say 'That was a good call.' Or you go there and you don't catch anything; you go back to your original place, catch a fish or two and say 'Gosh, if I had spent all of my time there, I would have done a lot better.'"
VanDam said he's committed to living and dying by the spot he's convinced will produce the tournament-winning fish. He believes that the weekend's warming trend has created a golden opportunity that he cannot risk sharing with competitors who may slip into the area if he departs.
"This time of year with the seasonal patterns changing as fast as they do, things are warming up, the bass are moving up and it's transition time," he said. "If you get a day when you have the opportunity to do well and the fish are there, my philosophy is you'd better catch them because you never know about tomorrow.
"Many times, something happened and the fish that I tried to save for the second day just left. Other times of the year when conditions are stable, you can get away with that. I've been on both sides of the fence on that one and it's worked for me and against me."
VanDam's thoughts on ...
FATIGUE: During Classic week, rest is at a premium, as the schedule of a successful pro angler includes multiple sponsor events. Therefore, organization and personal discipline are essential to keeping in top shape for peak performance. Nevertheless, a few yawns are inevitable.
"I'm pretty tired this morning," VanDam admitted. "After Day One, you have a lot of media commitments and the Classic is the highlight of the year for sponsors, so you end up spending a lot of time doing things for them. I had a few things to do for sponsors last night and 10:30-11 o'clock is a long time to be up when you have to get up before 4 a.m. to compete all day on the water.
"But I never have trouble sleeping during the Classic. It's a very tiring event and when I'm out there on the water, I give it 110 percent."
OUT-OF-TOWN DINING: As most of his fellow pros will agree, VanDam calls fast food "a necessary evil" of life on the road. However, when venues allow, he'll find a Mexican restaurant at least once a week. His go-to dining option is Outback Steakhouse.
MOTIVATION: "I don't have to work very hard to get myself up," he said. "I can pull from a lot of experiences. This is my 20th Classic so I know what to expect and how to deal with the time pressure.
"In last year's Classic, after the first day, I was out the bottom of the field. I had a tough day and didn't do well at all. I think I had a lot more anxiety that night than any time when I was leading. I learned a long time ago to worry about the things you can control and don't worry about the things you can't."
Contributing to his motivation, VanDam is quick to praise his family for the support he receives. His wife Sherry and their sons Jackson and Nicholas attend every Classic. Today, VanDam's mom and dad will be in attendance, as Sherry's parents Jack and Sharon Campbell celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary while watching their son-in-law do his thing.
"I can't imagine fishing without the family support it's a big help," VanDam said. "A lot of things have to be done at the Classic and you get pulled in different directions, so that help is very important."
Besides his fishing gear, the one thing VanDam won't launch without is his Tupperware container of Sherry's famous cookies. A decadent melding of peanut butter, chocolate chip and sugar cookies, Mrs. KVD's creations are simply amazing. Outside of VanDam's travelling partners Davy Hite and Scott Rook, most folks will see Bigfoot rollerblading before touching one of these little delights.
"It started out that Sherry would make some cookies for me every time I went out of town," VanDam said. "I'd bring a big batch of those cookies and give those guys some. One time, all three of us were fishing pretty good and having a good tournament and Davy Hite said 'Those are the lucky cookies.' It got to the point where we had to have those cookies on every tournament.
"The only people I've shared them with are (Hite and Rook). Everyone else wants to try them, but that's part of the mystique not spreading them out."
At the end of our morning ride, I was honored with a rare sampling of the highly-guarded treats – perks of the Media badge, I guess. Each bite was nothing short of blissful, but when I expressed my enjoyment, VanDam shut the lid and warned "Don't ask for a second one."
He's like that with his fish, too.