BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- The 2009 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., added another accolade to his career, winning the 40th Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake.
After a banner final day with a haul of 19 pounds, 7 ounces, VanDam will take home the $500,000 first-place prize from the total Classic payout of $1.2 million, along with bass fishing's most coveted trophy. With the win, his career BASS earnings topped $4 million, making him the first BASS pro to hit that mark.
With a three-day total of 51-6, KVD held off a determined and confident Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Okla., who finished second with 46-6, and third-place finisher Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Texas, who had 44-3.
A majority of the top finishers, including the top five, fished all three days in Beeswax Creek, not far from the Classic's daily launch site at Beeswax Creek Park. All fished roughly 2 to 10 feet of water, relying on a plentiful crop of submerged coontail in the creek, where bass were bunched up in the cold weather.
VanDam had an area to himself, save for a short visit to the spot by Takahiro Omori, who told VanDam once he realized the bounty of fish VanDam was focusing on that he would back off the area.
"That's the class of anglers that we have on the Elite Series, and that's one of things that makes it special to compete with these guys," VanDam said. "It's an honor for me to get to fish with them through the year. I love the competition; it's how we measure ourselves... they're the best in the world. You don't see that in other sports."
VanDam knows Beeswax Creek well, having fished it during the 2007 Bassmaster Classic. The only major Lay Lake creek with grass in it, the area holds a lot of food, along with two feeder creeks with channels, stumps, coontail grass, slime and shellbed points, all good habitat for bass.
With water temps in the low 40s as the Classic started Friday, VanDam had success with a lipless crankbait. He said that the shad kill wasn't as bad in Beeswax, and the bass were a little more active than they were elsewhere. As the weather warmed, more fish moved into Beeswax.
VanDam caught every bass he weighed on a ½-ounce Strike King Red Eye Shad in plain gold along with a new color, gold Sexy Shad. He used Quantum Signature cranking gear: a 7-foot, medium-action KVD Tour cranking rod with a Signature KVD Tour reel and 17- and 20-pound-test fluorocarbon, a larger size that helped slow down the bait, important in the shallow water.
Faircloth, who lost the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race to VanDam by a few pounds on the last day of competition, also felt the sting of going home without the trophy.
"It's a good finish, but not where I wanted to be," he said. "Third place. People say that's great but that's not what I came here for."
Kriet left stinging
Kriet, who went into the final day with a 2-ounce lead over VanDam, has battled and lost to VanDam before in a high-stakes competition, and was clearly disappointed with Sunday's outcome.
"What do you do?" he said. "I figured I had to have my best day today. None of these guys are really fun to have behind you. I respect him (Kevin), he's great -- obviously. But I guess I shouldn't want him there... that's two big tournaments I would've won if he hadn't been there. That's twice I've been leading and he's been in second and he's beaten me. This one hurts a little more than the first time."
Kriet also finished second to VanDam at an Elite Series tournament on Grand Lake in 2007.
Martin-Wells makes cut
Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., the 2009 Toyota Tundra Women's Bassmaster Tour Angler of the Year, made history as the first woman to make the cut into the Top 25 of a Classic. Martin-Wells weighed in a third five-fish limit Sunday for 25-0 overall and a 22nd-place finish.
Faircloth close yet again
For the second time, Faircloth had a shot at a major career title and for the second time, VanDam walked away with it. Two years ago, Faircloth was leading the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race, only to falter at the final tournament on Lake Oneida, leaving the door wide open for VanDam to claim his fourth title.
"I felt like I gave it to him almost," Faircloth said. "That was probably the worst tournament of my career and it came at the worst possible time. You are going to have to take it from him, you can't give him anything."
Top 6 finishers
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Total
Angler Wt Wt Wt Wt
1. Kevin VanDam 19-8 12-7 19-7 51-6
2. Jeff Kriet 16-7 15-10 14-5 46-6
3. Todd Faircloth 18-2 13-12 12-5 44-3
4. Russ Lane 14-11 11-10 18-1 43-12
5. Brent Chapman 13-0 8-2 16-12 37-14
6. Mike Iaconelli 14-9 12-3 10-9 37-5