I called Kevin VanDam Tuesday afternoon to congratulate him for moving onto the Knockout Round at Stage Two of the Bass Pro Tour on Douglas and Cherokee Lakes. KVD employed his namesake Strike King Jerkbait to catch over 13-lbs a day throughout his Qualifying Rounds on Douglas Lake amidst brutally cold and tough conditions and was excited for what the next day of fishing on a new body of water might bring.
While his attention was obviously directed towards the Knockout Round, VanDam mentioned his thoughts on the upcoming Bassmaster Classic on the Tennessee River. Along with being who most consider to be the greatest competitor to ever fish a bass tournament, VanDam is also a huge fan and proponent of the sport.
If anyone is qualified to give their two cents on the eventual winner of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, it’s KVD. With twenty-eight Classic appearances and four Classic trophies sitting on his mantle in Kalamazoo, VanDam knows a thing or two when it comes to excelling in Bassmaster’s championship shootout.
“I have a lot of good friends and teammates fishing the Classic this weekend and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings… but if I had to bet, I’m putting my money on Brandon Lester,” VanDam said with confidence. “Other guys like Greg Hackney, Swindle, and Carl Jocumsen are great picks and hard to bet against with these conditions, but Lester gets my nod.”
If Lester didn’t already have enough eyes on him this week, he just got some added pressure curtesy of the G.O.A.T… Lester has been vocal about not having a local advantage in this tournament, but that didn’t matter to his Team Toyota colleague. VanDam listed several reasons why he thinks this 2023 Classic sets up in Lester’s wheelhouse.
“I know Lester’s no local, but he understands the Tennessee River and the important role current plays on these fisheries,” VanDam explained. “The two main reasons he gets my pick is his maturation as an angler these last few years, and the fact that we fished around each other quite a bit in the 2019 Classic in Knoxville. We crossed paths a lot in 2019. I saw what he was targeting and how he turned that into a great (6th place) finish.”
VanDam believes the winner of this Classic will need to exploit a few different patterns and not be a one trick pony. Specifically, he thinks power fishing with a shallow crankbait, bladed jig, or spinnerbait will play a big factor – along with having the knowledge and ability to catch a few key fish off the bank over the course of the three-day event.
KVD saw this ability in Lester’s gameplan back in 2019 and is confident he will have only added to his repertoire on this fishery since then. But perhaps no consideration is as pivotal to VanDam as the x-factor of becoming a tournament closer.
“Lester’s progression as an angler has been solid as a rock,” VanDam noted. “He has notched consistently high finishes for years, but in 2022 he got his first two big wins, one of which being on the Tennessee River (Pickwick). Those first wins do so much for your confidence as an angler and truly make you a bigger threat moving forward. He knows how to win now, and I guarantee you he has more trophies in his future.”
That’s high praise coming from the man who has won more major tournaments and money than any other person in the history of competitive bass fishing.