The 2006 Elite Series event on Santee Cooper was a slugfest in every sense of the word – Preston Clark won with a then-record 115-15, beating the “unbeatable” 108+ that Dean Rojas had caught at Toho in 2001. Of course, Clark’s record was passed by Steve Kennedy in 2007 at Clear Lake, and Kennedy in turn was passed by Paul Elias in 2008 at Falcon. A total of six anglers topped the century mark at Santee, and only one angler in the top 12 failed to hit the 90 pound mark.
Records in individual tournaments are of course important, but as many pros will tell you the Angler of the Year race is the one that matters most. This tournament outcome had a substantial impact on the 2006 AOY race.
Can you guess why?
For a hint, don’t look at the top of the standings sheet. Yes, Mike Iaconelli won the title that year, and he finished a commendable 18th at Santee, but that’s not why Santee is important.
The real story lies at the bottom of the scorecard. Three anglers – Randy Howell, Alton Jones and KVD — tied for 103rd place (last). They were all disqualified from the event. KVD was sent packing for allowing an amateur to drive the boat as he stood on the deck and looked for bedders, which BASS determined was a violation of Elite Series Rule 12. That rule only allowed non-boaters to drive the boat in emergency situations or on/off the trailer.
“I was stunned,” KVD told Bassmaster. “But it was my fault. I have no one to blame but myself.”
Jones was DQed for the same reason, although his ruling did not come down until later – when he was in 2nd place in the tournament.
Howell took a polygraph test after the first day of the tournament and was not disqualified at that time, but the ruling with respect to him came down on the Monday after the tournament ended. At that point, it appeared that he’d finished 21st and won $10,250. He subsequently realized that he needed to explain additional details to BASS and called for a meeting with tournament director Trip Weldon, which led to the DQ.
Despite the Santee DQ, VanDam earned six top ten finishes in that year’s 11-event schedule. Indeed, he never missed the money and finished outside the top 13 only 3 times in the remaining 10 events. He ended up 3rd in the AOY race, just 66 points behind Ike. Had KVD caught a single fish at Santee and everything else remained the same, he would’ve earned a minimum of 70 points. Of course, we can never know for sure that events would have played out the same way after South Carolina, but it’s food for thought.
It was a costly penalty for KVD. Ike won $125,000 for his AOY title, plus whatever contract bonuses he’d negotiated. Even second place finisher Steve Kennedy earned a cool $40k. VanDam didn’t suffer too much, though, as evidenced by the multiple AOY titles he’s earned since then.