GILBERTSVILLE, Ky. — Four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn can reduce to football terminology what his game plan has to be today in the 12-man final of the Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl presented by Diehard Platinum Marine Batteries.
Clunn and the other 10 anglers trying to catch leader Kevin VanDam can't play any prevent defense today: It's strictly two-minute offense time.
"We've got to play a lot of prevent defense in this game," said Clunn, who is in second place, 6 pounds, 13 ounces behind VanDam's three-day total of 68-4. "I've done that a little bit every day to try to protect my area.
"But the problem with a prevent defense is it's not about winning. It's about not losing. You've got to understand the difference in those two mindsets.
"You'll see it a lot when one team goes into a prevent defense, the other team starts to catch up and sometimes beats them because they're not being aggressive."
VanDam, the 40-year-old three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, has built his lead by being aggressive, for the most part. He has come in early every day, but only after he's caught a five-bass limit weighing 20-plus pounds. VanDam is the only angler that has topped the 20-pound mark all three days.
"I'd love to catch 20 pounds again today," VanDam said. "It's not that easy though."
Timmy Horton is in third place with 59-1, trailing VanDam by 9-3. Paul Elias is within the 10-pound mark too, with 58-14, which is 9-6 back of VanDam. Both those anglers have found schools of big bass at times this week, which, if they found them again today, could move them to the top of the leaderboard.
"I've got to find another place like that," said Horton, who moved up with 23-5 Saturday despite losing two bass in the 7-pound class. "But schools like that are hard to find.
"Any of these top five or six guys could do that and make it a ballgame, if Kevin catches 17 or 18 pounds.
"Realistically, he's going to be tough to beat. But if you're not here today, you don't have a chance."
Clunn predicted after Friday's weigh-in, when he was less than 3 pounds behind VanDam, that the angler who best managed all the fishing pressure Saturday on Kentucky Lake would win this tournament. That turned out to be VanDam.
"He's not completely out of range," said the 61-year-old Clunn. "But I knew how many (observer) boats he had on him, and the only day I thought he might stumble was yesterday. And it was not Kevin stumbling so much as it would have been the other boats taking up a lot of his water.
"Yes, there's a chance we can catch him, but the probability is pretty low now."
Mike McClelland, who is in seventh place today with 55-6, came back from a 10-pound deficit to win the first Elite Series tournament of the season, on Florida's Harris Chain. But he didn't do that against VanDam, the pro most accustomed to fishing under pressure and with a crowd around him.
"You better get used to it, because it's not going to change," VanDam said. "I'm used to it. It happens at every event. It doesn't matter if I'm at the bottom of the field or the top of the field. I get followed at every competition.
"But if we didn't have fans, I wouldn't have all these sponsors on my shirt. That's what it's all about.
"It does make it hard. There's a lot of events where I might have to find a few more schools of fish than some of the other guys, but I'm good with that."
Yes, VanDam's "good with that." And it's why anything but another VanDam victory today will be a major upset.
The winner of the $100,000 first-place check in the Bluegrass Brawl will be determined at the 6 p.m. ET weigh-in at Kentucky Dam Marina.
Visit Bassmaster.com for full coverage of the Elite Series Bluegrass Brawl with weigh-in host Keith Alan, June 12–15, 2008. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, daily weigh-ins with live streaming video and real-time leaderboards start at 6:00 p.m. ET. On Saturday, catch "Bassmaster University" at 5:30 p.m. ET before the weigh-in. Then on Sunday, get "Hooked Up" with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. ET, with the final day weigh-in and real-time leaderboard content starting at 6:00 p.m. ET.