What a dummy.
Prior to our holiday break, I compiled a list of tournament statistics for your review that included major victories and the attributable lure category. Surprised by a lack of crankbaits, I inadvertently reported that the once-dominant bait choice was completely absent from the win column.
However, as I was quickly corrected by our readers, a crankbait did factor in for a major title: Kevin VanDamís beat down at Toledo Bend, where he won by nearly an eight-pound margin.
Somehow, I overlooked it, despite VanDam making headlines for needing a cameraman to assist with removing a whopper treble hook from his hand while on the water in that event.
I donít know how I missed it, but it brings up a good point.
VanDam is the undisputed, all-time king of tournament bass fishing. My neglect of his recent accomplishment further proves it.
VanDam went on to win two more events last season, including the made-for-the-web Classic Bracket, further dispelling any rumor that his career might be on a downhill slide. Heís far outdistanced his competitors in overall tournament victories and blown away the chase for the all-time earnings title.
But possibly even more impressive than his statistical feats is his placement in the industry, specifically as a master of nearly every bass fishing technique and, therefore, an inside designer and promoter of endless lure categories. Letís take a step back in time.
Early on, fans will remember VanDam bursting on the scene with wins at Lake Lanier, the St. Lawrence River and Buggs Island. He became the Spinnerbait Kid, bringing painted blades to the forefront for little known lure-maker Nichols, and later taking the theme with him to Strike King. Often coined the greatest spinnerbait fisherman of the era, little did we know how VanDam would evolve. Bass fishing was a specialistís game, we were told.
So what is it, exactly, that's made Kevin VanDam the top angler the sport has ever seen?
Fast forward to the early 2000s, a time when VanDam piled up B.A.S.S. wins, and came home with bags of money from FLW during a brief side job. During this era, VanDam won his first Classic flipping, but then immediately became the best jerkbait fisherman in the world, mastering a power/finesse combination with a lure once deemed a niche bait. He destroyed the mammoth smallmouth of Lake St. Clair, and then turned right around to trick the minuscule largemouth of Three Rivers with the same lure category, claiming his second Classic title.
The end of the decade saw VanDam step to the head of the class with yet another lure, the lipless crankbait (Strike King's Red Eye Shad). VanDam taught us all that the lure is limitless, even in ultra-cold water as he proved at Lay Lake en route to his third Classic title. He also made a believer out of everyone Ė even me Ė that the subtle fall characteristics of these ďidiot baitsĒ can be vitally important to success. I hate to even imagine how many Red Eye Shads VanDam sold for Strike King during this time.
Fast forward to the modern era, and VanDam is again revolutionizing lure categories. As evident by my absent-minded behavior, VanDam has deep-cranked in more wins than I can keep up with. What specialists like David Fritts and Gerald Beck may have started, VanDam has finished. Heís applied run-and-gun strategies at break-neck speeds to precise presentations on subtle structure. Heís advanced the diving bait category to push lures to unheard of depths. Heís developed rods, reels, lines and hooks to match.
Also add to the equation that VanDam is regarded as a leading developer of square-billed crankbaits and a champion of the technique, and itís easy to see how everything he touches turns to gold. Is a Strike King square-bill better than the others? Probably not. But you can bet if VanDamís has played a part, the lureís a winner.
Forgive me if I left a few high-points out Ė I started the piece admitting I was a dope Ė but nowhere else have we seen such dominance in fishing across multiple categories. As we continue to hear stories from pros taking advantage of specialty circumstances, fishing their strengths, and capitalizing on the right bite to win, VanDam continues to prove that it doesnít matter what the bite is, he can prevail, all the while moving everyone forward through product innovation.
Thatís never happened so strongly, and never will again.
Reflection of VanDamís dominance, however, always gets me thinking how much of a factor his persona is in his performance. Iím continually amazed how VanDamís competitors literally shudder in fear of him. Following the 2011 Classic, Aaron Martens stated ďVanDam seems to be quite a bit better than the rest of us."
As a fan of Major League Fishing, itís almost comical how competitors beat themselves down once VanDam lights up the Scoretracker.
And Iíve personally heard several of VanDamís peers credit a lucky horseshoe or an overall charmed life for his prowess in simply getting bigger bites while fishing amongst other anglers.
Is that it? Is Kevin VanDam blessed with a superior ability, and one that science, or modern journalism for that matter, has never been able to pinpoint within the sport of tournament fishing? Is he simply lucky? Is it the cookies?
Weíll likely never know. And Kevin VanDam will use that to his advantage for a long, long time to come.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)