Kevin VanDam has had a tough year. At the end of last season he won the FLW Angler of the Year (AOY), was named the first No. 1 angler in the world and won the BASS Masters Classic, all in a matter of weeks. As you might imagine, after that the demands on his time were incredible.

This season he maintained his No. 1 world ranking -- and was runner-up in the B.A.S.S. and FLW AOY races -- by continuing to fish extremely well even while juggling an amazing number of personal-appearance and other commitments, which he's still doing.

In other words, VanDam still is on fire and is, as always, a threat to win this year's Classic.

The million-dollar question is: How does he do it -- and how does he keep doing it?

When you ask VanDam why he's so good and why he out-performs other anglers, he just laughs self-consciously. He doesn't know what to say (though you can read his latest book for some insights). So to get some "professional opinions" on the matter, we asked a few of his peers.

Denny Brauer

VanDam has mentioned several times that Denny Brauer has had a direct influence on him in terms of teaching him (or showing him by example) how to win. Here's what Brauer had to say about VanDam.

"He's so good at locating fish and adapting to every situation," Brauer said. "It seems like wherever we go, Kevin's going to catch them.

"A lot of us out there struggle under certain conditions. We're not experts at every technique -- and I'm not sure Kevin is either. But he always seems to find something to get by.

"In my opinion, no one's ever done it better in the history of the sport than what Kevin's done in the last few years."

Rick Clunn

Rick Clunn is widely known as being an intelligent "thinking and feeling" angler, meaning that he's constantly exploring ways to improve his fishing but he doesn't let that interfere with his feel for the natural environment and his predatory instincts. Clunn also happens to be one of the best bass fishermen ever to visit planet Earth. Here's his take on VanDam.

"If I was going to coach a young fisherman, I would do several things that you see with Kevin. One thing that's one of hardest things to do as a teacher or coach is to allow (the student) the time to teach themselves -- to allow them to achieve their own results (and learn from it). In that way, Kevin is the ultimate student.

"There is a right way to do this sport, to learn and utilize that knowledge. And unfortunately still to this day, the majority of anglers go about it the wrong way. But Kevin has gone about it the right way, as have few others. The main thing is that when he gets on the water, he will do it himself. He minimizes any outside help.

"That's usually the kiss of death for young anglers. They observe the older anglers (getting help) and think they should do it too. But eventually that robs you of your self confidence. And that's what Kevin has more than any other angler out there in this sport: self-confidence. That's what separates him from everyone else out there.

"He also has a youthful enthusiasm to go along with it. That's what separates him from me. At times I don't have that. And he's mixed that enthusiasm with experience, knowledge and self-confidence."

Jay Yelas

Jay Yelas and VanDam jumped onto the national tournament scene in the same year (in fact both have been in every Classic since 1991), and know each other well. Yelas is of course a great angler in his own right, and here's what he had to say about VanDam.

"He's obviously gifted with a lot of natural ability to locate and catch bass. He also has a tremendous work ethic. He puts in as many hours as anybody, working at getting better at his craft. And I don't just mean time on the water. Kevin's a very intelligent guy. He spends a lot of time thinking about ways he can make himself better.

"He puts in hard work and puts his good head to use. That's probably his biggest asset, that willpower, focus and intelligence.

"He also has a tremendous amount of energy. That's physical energy that he exerts as part of his work ethic, and when he just goes out and overpowers the fish, and it's mental energy too. He's a thinker. He's tough to beat."

VanDam will certainly be among BassFan.com's Top 10 anglers who could finish well in next week's Classic. Stay tuned for much more pre-Classic coverage, only on BassFan.com.

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