By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Kevin VanDam is unquestionably the biggest name in bass fishing. Well aware of the opportunities that the sport has afforded him, in conjunction with the KVD Foundation, he's launched the College Bass Tour.
The series, open to collegiate teams in the U.S. and Canada, will hit key lakes throughout Michigan this summer. The goal is to offer anglers an opportunity to fish competitively without incurring significant expenses.
Most importantly, VanDam stresses that the only beneficiaries of the entry fees, donations, or prizes will be the competitors in the tournaments.
VanDam’s sons, Nick and Jackson, both attend Grand Valley State University and compete on the school's fishing team. They'll be volunteering with the tournament series along with VanDam’s wife, Sherry, and brother, Randy.
“I just think that I could really help with putting our (KVD Foundation) name on it. Including the scholarships that we could support through it, we could create a great platform for the next generation of anglers coming up,” VanDam said. “When I went to my sponsors, they all knew we were coordinating this for the right reasons and were very supportive.”
The KVD Foundation is set to dole out more than $6,000 in scholarships and the tour has amassed an impressive list of contributing sponsors. Bass Pro Shops, Mercury Marine, Tracker Boats, K&E Lures, Nitro Boats, Minn Kota, Talon, Humminbird, Toyota, Strike King, Mossy Oak, T-H Marine, Plano, Go Pro, Mustad, Oakley, Yeti, Costa, ShowSpan, Midway Chevrolet, Wahoo, Body Armor and D&R Sports (Randy VanDam’s marine dealership and tackle shop) have all stepped up to support the effort.
The team bringing in the big bass at each tournament will receive a GoPro camera. The series champs will take home a Tracker Heritage boat with a Mercury outboard.
Passion is Evident
Through speaking to various groups of college-age anglers, VanDam experienced their passion for the sport firsthand. Regardless of whether they aspire to become an Elite angler or further their involvement through competition, VanDam wanted use his foundation, influence, and relationship with his sponsors to create an opportunity to grow the sport from the grassroots.
“We are all trying to do this for the right reasons and that’s really to get more of these kids involved in competitive fishing. Whether they end up becoming the next Jordan Lee or they just enjoy fishing as a pastime, we’ve helped our sport,” VanDam said.
Capped at 125 teams, the tour will include five events held over the course of three weekends. The first two weekends consist of individual tournaments held on lakes relatively close in proximity each other. That way, anglers can arrange for central accommodations without having to expend significant travel fare.
The final weekend is a two-day event that will crown the tour champions.
The entry fee for each event is $60, which goes toward the series' 100-percent payout structure. A detailed breakdown of payouts can be found at www.CollegeBassTour.com.
VanDam was adamant that the tour will be transparent and accountable. The website has a detailed list of the payouts based on the number of boats in each field. As well, the rules adopted by the College Bass Tour are very similar to those of Bassmaster or FLW, including the mandatory use of non-piercing culling clips to protect the health of the fish.
Jim Sprague of K&E Tackle has a long history in running successful tournaments and will take on those duties for the five-tournament series. Stops include Muskegon (June 16), the Grand River (June 17), Sanford (July 14), Wixom (July 15) and the championship at Burt and Mullet lakes out of Alpena, Mich. (Aug. 11-12).
For the first 60 teams that sign up for the Muskegon event, T-H Marine has donated a package valued at $70. It includes a Conservation Cull System with non-piercing cull clips, a container of G Juice livewell formula and a Wave Away screen-cleaning system.
Careful Venue Selection
VanDam selected venues that can handle the potential boat numbers the serious could attract without being crowded.
“Sure, St. Clair is a great fishery but a lot of our anglers have smaller boats and older boats. Safety has got to be on your mind also,” VanDam said. “We wanted the schedule to be somewhat diverse and fair so that there is something on the east and west side and geographically move it around the state.”
VanDam emphasized that any college team in the United States is welcome to fish the events.
“If a college team from Texas or Florida wanted to fish our event, they’re welcome to. I’m pretty sure we’ll get some teams that travel just because it’s only those three weekends."
While there is a competitive element to the series, VanDam wants it to be a fun experience for the anglers and their families. Each Saturday night, food, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages will be provided at the weigh-in with plenty of free raffles.
“This is all just for showing up” VanDam said. “Not everything is geared toward the winning teams.”
VanDam encourages the anglers’ parents to attend the event as well. It’s no secret that for many collegiate anglers, their parents are the primary sponsor and deserve to feel welcome and appreciated. VanDam's wife, Sherry, has coordinated raffle prizes specifically for the parents as well.
When asked if VanDam had loftier aspirations for the tournament series down the road, he answered without hesitation.
“It would be great to see other professional anglers create the same platform in their region. For them to put their name behind such a worthy cause, it provides the necessary visibility to get it going. College and high school fishing is already in a huge growth stage; it’s just taken a little bit of time."
Ultimately, VanDam hopes more states get involved and that eventually the College Bass Tour will be able to hold a national championship event.