Kevin VanDam made his initial appearance on the Bassmaster Trail in 1987 fishing the New York Invitational on the St. Lawrence River where he finished a dismal 110th out of 311 anglers. He then fished an event in ’88 and placed 19th, another in ’89 finishing 39th and also the last event of the 1989/90 season at Guntersville where he placed 39th.
A spark must have gone off for him in those last three events as he upped his ante for the 1990/91 season and competed in all the Invitational events. The outcome that year was six top-50s, three top-20s, and two top-3s in six events where the average turnout averaged over 300 anglers. To top that off, he led the 1990/91 Classic qualification for the Invitationals, beating out veteran pro Guy Eaker by a little over 11 pounds. Pretty impressive for a first-year rookie.
VanDam was making noise but a few anglers didn’t pay much attention, even after he placed 15th in the 1991 Bassmaster Classic. In fact one pro angler, after being asked what he thought of VanDam’s ’91 performance told Michigan angler Kim Stricker (July/August 1992 issue of Bassmaster Magazine), “Let’s see what happens when he steps on his bubblegum.”
Then 1991/92 season rolled around.
Between September and December of 1991 VanDam finished 32nd at the Illinois Invitational, 10th at the Megabucks on Chickamauga, 25th at the South Carolina Top 100, 50th at the Oklahoma Invitational and then won the Georgia Top 100 at Lake Lanier wire-to-wire. Before the halfway point of each season he’d racked up $56,600 in prize money and mechandise. By the end of the year he logged five more top-20s including two 3rd-place finishes, set the Bassmaster record for a 5-fish limit at 31-11, ran away with the 1992 AOY title – in his second year as a pro. His total B.A.S.S. earnings were 168,400 in cash and prizes.
Since then we all know what he’s done to the record books. Four Classic wins, seven AOY titles and 20 Bassmaster wins. All he needs is another Classic win and three more AOY titles to lead in those categories and at the age of 46, no one out there doubts he won’t do it.
I guess VanDam didn’t have any trouble with keeping his bubblegum in line.