While Kevin VanDam’s career has gained steam over time with the addition of Angler of the Year titles and Bassmaster Classic trophies, it’s hard to remember a period in his career when he was a “typical rookie” or an “up-and-coming pro.” That’s because he seemed to jump onto the scene as almost a fully-formed, ready-for-prime-time superstar. I recall veteran outdoor writer Craig Lamb telling me that he interviewed KVD at one of the angler’s earliest B.A.S.S. tournaments (possibly the 1990 New York Invitational on the St. Lawrence, where KVD finished 3rd) and he could already give a superlative interview, unlike most twenty-something anglers. For that matter, he was probably better than most of the veterans.
His on-the-water skills burned brightly, too. After missing the money in his initial event in 1987, and in two of his first four tournaments overall, he reeled off 23 straight checks, including seven top 10 finishes and a win in the 1991 Georgia Bassmaster Invitational on Lake Lanier. That streak included the 1992 Angler of the Year title, and he added two more AOY trophies in the latter half of the 1990s before knocking out four straight from 2008 through 2011. For avid fishing fans, the only surprise was that it took him until 2001 to win a Bassmaster Classic title.
Lamb’s intuition about KVD’s media skills also proved accurate, as he became a pitchman for a wide variety of products and a constant presence in magazines and on TV. He would’ve dominated the internet, too, if any of us really knew what the internet was back then. He further benefitted from a close relationship with Bassmaster writer Louie Stout, who would’ve worked with him no matter what, but close geographic proximity made it even easier. Stout lived in South Bend, Indiana, less than 80 miles to the southwest of VanDam’s home in Kalamazoo. Therefore, even though KVD had yet to win a Classic and had won “only” one AOY title, it seemed natural for the two of them to collaborate on a book. The product was Kevin VanDam’s Bass Strategies: A Handbook for All Anglers. For those of us who recall eagerly purchasing it from Bass Pro Shops, it’s hard to believe that the book came out 20 years ago.
Read today, the book holds up well as a guide for all levels of tournament anglers. While it couldn’t have addressed many of the tackle and tactics used today – Chatterbaits, tungsten sinkers, the dropshot and swimbaits, for example – VanDam and Stout did an excellent job dealing with the problems faced on a daily basis by avid fishermen, none of which have gone away. In other words, if you ever need to deal with cold fronts, muddy water or heavily pressured bass, this book provides a roadmap to start you off.
Unlike many fishing books, VanDam and Stout went light on specific product mentions and sponsor plugs. Yes, they mentioned Bomber 7A’s, the Riverside Big Claw, and the difference between Trilene XL and XT, but not in a manner meant to push those items shamelessly. Rather, they serve as touchstones aimed at allowing reasonably informed angler to understand the concepts they are explaining.
Sure, it’s entertaining to hear VanDam discuss the “relatively new” use of GPS in bass fishing, and it’s funny to think that he was using 5-inch black-and-white LCDs, something just about no top pro would use in today’s era of big color screens with side-imaging. At the same time, if you read his electronics section as a guide to what you are looking for with your units, and not about specific features, it still holds up. That’s part of the beauty of this book – it deals with the timeless thought processes rather than providing date-specific prescriptions for problems. As such, it holds up well 20 years later.
Kevin VanDam’s Bass Strategies is still available through a variety of outlets, including Tackle Warehouse, Bass Pro Shops, KVD’s own online store, and of course Amazon.com. VanDam and Stout collaborated on another book, “Secrets of a Champion,” in 2002. That book further explained his tournament strategies, and included a section on the thought process that produced his first Classic victory a year earlier.