The product recommendations on our site are independently chosen by our editors. When you click through our links, we may earn a commission. Thanks for helping us do what we love.

Why Kevin VanDam’s Impact on Fishing Will be Forever

Not many anglers or athletes will ever be known as the greatest that EVER DID IT in their sport. And perhaps VanDam’s accomplishments will be eclipsed some day. But I doubt the character in which he did it ever will. And Kevin VanDam’s impact on fishing will remain forever. He was a bull in a China shop in the early years of his career, and he ran roughshod through fishing ranks over the next two decades. I was enamored with him the first time I saw him burning a spinnerbait in cold muddy water with his windbreaker flapping on his skinny frame and a foam trucker hat that stood a foot off the top of his head.

Let’s start back where I picked up on VanDam and then move into our working relationship and my observations of Kevin VanDam the man throughout and now into the twilight of his tournament fishing career. And maybe you’ll understand why we think his legacy will last forever.

I was still in high school, about to head to college that fall, at the time he started fishing professionally in 1990. So here was this guy that was basically my age that was immediately dominating pro bass fishing. Two years in and he had already won the BASS Angler of the Year Title (1992). I was enamored with him. I was a pretty decent bass fisherman and was majoring in accounting. I was hating my major and the classes, and I met with my academic advisor, who was one of the accounting professors. He had me go shadow a couple of local accountants and come back and discuss with him.

When I saw him next, I told him how miserable those guys seemed and how much I didn’t want to be that person. He asked me what it is I wanted to do. I said, be the Editor of a fishing magazine. He laughed. Loudly. And a lot. It sort of pissed me off. The next semester I changed my major to Business Marketing Management and got out of school a couple years later. I worked for a few companies in Information Technology and worked my way up the ranks and technical certifications where my skill set was in high demand.

After 10 years of IT, I had been getting into photography with this new version of cameras called DSLRs which were digital SLR cameras. I bought the first one from Canon the D30. I used that camera to freelance for the local newspaper’s outdoors section, then some state magazines and finally some national fishing magazines like FLW Outdoors. Next thing I know, I’m working full-time at FLW and moving to Kentucky, worked my way up to Editor-in-Chief and then eventually moved on to digital to run content at Wired2fish.

kevin vandam spotted bass jerkbait


I was able to shoot photos of VanDam on the water at a Beaver Lake FLW Tour event for the newspaper and that was my first time being around him and seeing him fish in person. That was 2001. Oh by the way, he won the angler of the year on the FLW Tour that season, his first year fishing over there.

When I moved over to Wired2fish, I covered him at my first event, the Bassmaster Classic in 2010 on Lay Lake. Yep. He won that one too. Made the Red Eye Shad famous in that event. It was a cold, grinder of a tournament, and I will admit seeing him at the end he seemed wiped out. It’s the first time he ever even seen fallible to me.

But the next Bassmaster Classic in 2011, he seemed energized and unstoppable, this time solidifying the Strike King 1.5 as one of the best squarebill crankbaits of all time. I actually wrote an op-ed piece about Why Bass Fishing Needs a Superman like Kevin VanDam. I wrote that piece in response to what I heard other folks saying at that Classic about how boring it was seeing Kevin VanDam always win everything and how it would not be good for the sport. Shallow thinking. So I wrote a response to that shallow thinking. Because when I look at any sport, there are a few greats that buoy that sport. That are synonymous with excellence. That all the other athletes are aspiring to be and still in awe of even though they do the same job.

Kevin was doing that with the non-mainstream sport of bass fishing.

When I started working one-on-one with Kevin VanDam, I expected him to be this overbearing, big ego, larger than life guy. It was somewhat intimidating. But what I soon realized was the guy had this million-mile-an-hour work ethic. He was solely and supremely focused on whatever the task was at hand, and he did it with speed and intensity. The ego thing was played up. Yes he brims with confidence in bass fishing circles, but he likes to play coy with people because he’s grounded on who he is and what he’s capable of. An uber-competitive, driven guy with an incredible sense of urgency about all things. No wasted time. No wasted motions. No letdowns in emotional outbursts.

In fact, many of us believe he has more than 125 top 10s because he literally makes more casts, wastes less time and is way more efficient than the majority of his competitors. He’s probably averaging 30% more casts a tournament. He’s probably wasting 25-40% less time than his competitors. So he’s always in a better position to win just on his focus alone.

kevin vandam wormin on ledges


I’ll give you some small examples of VanDam’s character. I can tell you he’s great. But maybe some conversations and actions explain it better.

He and I are filming at Kentucky Lake in the fall early in the 2010s. We were in the back of a bay shooting a piece on topwaters. We come out of the back, and he sees a guy in a boat and fish breaking on the surface out in front of him. The guy made a couple casts and didn’t get bit. As we are idling by, he looks back over to me and said with scowl on his face, “I’d catch every one of those damn fish.”

That was intensity towards another local angler just fun fishing and not having much luck with fish all around him. He was in another gear.

Another time we were shooting on Table Rock. It’s in the spring and the bite was pretty good. At that time, Table Rock was chock full of 2-3 pound smallmouths, largemouth bass and spotted bass. Kevin and I shoot an awesome series of jerkbait videos.

We get done with that, and we have another 3 hours to do something. So, he said, “Man what do you want to do,” expecting me to want to go fishing or something.

I, being similarly wired to work, said, “Man, I only get to get in the boat with you a handful of times. I want to go make as many videos with you with as many different baits as possible.”

He said, “Good! That’s what I wanted to hear. I hate coming to these events and writers think I’m here to entertain them and take them fishing. I want to work. I want to promote. I want to help my sponsors. I’m taking time away from my family. I want to work! I hate when folks come to these and want to goof off the whole time.”

Intensity. To this day that is the single best day of shooting I’ve ever had with a pro. In a 4-hour window, I think he caught good bass on 10 different baits. We ran 90 to nothing all over Table Rock to get on the right banks, right stuff to shoot the right video about a technique, lure, topic, etc.

We tried to instill the same philosophies at Wired2fish. If we go to a media event to shoot with pros, we don’t pick up a rod. We don’t fish. We work dark to dark shooting to honor their time. Heck, I’ve personally been ridiculed by professional anglers for not “hanging out” enough at those events because I was literally holding a camera from dark to dark and then back in my room until midnight dumping footage, charging batteries, clearing media, cleaning equipment, repacking for the next day and trying to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before the next shoot. All of our guys are like that. Kevin always appreciated that about us. And we always appreciated that about him.

At one event in Texas, the first morning, I got in there early and was going to make some coffee. It was probably 1/2 hour before everyone was supposed to start trickling in. I get in the kitchen and Kevin is already fully dressed in his tournament jersey, boat uncovered, made coffee and has just about downed his first cup already. First one up, at an event put on by someone else, making coffee for everyone. The next morning, I got up an hour early to make coffee for Kevin. When I got in there, it was like that son of a gun knew I was going to try to beat him in there, and he was already in there just putting the grounds in the filter.

“Dang it, man,” I said.

“Thought you were gonna get up before me? Come on,” he laughed back!

One year at ICAST, we were at the Strike King Dinner where Strike King would host their pros and the media who had helped promote them. I had brought my wife and son, who at the time was 7 or 8 years old. Kevin was so gracious with Jett. Talking fishing with him. Talking me up to him. Giving him a hard time. Jett vaguely knew who Kevin was at the time, and most people talk about how Jett fell asleep at the dinner table that night, having been at Universal Studios all day with his mom. But Jett doesn’t. Now when the guys in his frat find out his dad works for a big fishing media company, the first question is always, “Does he know Kevin VanDam?”

Which Jett happily replies with his chest puffed out a little, “I know Kevin VanDam.” Because Kevin had in fact spent a bit of time with Jett at dinner.

kevin vandam smallmouth

Kevin has always been very gracious to us at Wired2fish. Always giving of his time, always a side fist bump when he sees us in a crowd of people. He knows we are kindred spirits on the work ethic thing. We don’t bother people at big events. We don’t crowd our way in when guys like him are bombarded with people doing their thing. We lay low and help where and when we can.

He, likewise, always takes time to come talk to us. And I always appreciated that about him. Most folks don’t truly realize how busy the guy is. The last time I shot with him on Kentucky Lake, he had his phone turned on. Usually we have guys put their phones on silent and put them away when we shoot. But you can’t always do that with Kevin.

While we’re shooting, his phone rings. He apologizes and answers it. He hangs up and says he’s ready to film again.

“Who was that?” I ask out of curiosity.

“Oh, just the head of NASCAR. I have to do a master of ceremonies thing in the Carolinas next week,” he said.

About 5 minutes later his phone rings again. He apologizes and answers. A short conversation and he hangs up.

“Sorry, Johnny Morris asking if I was coming to Springfield for the event there,” he said.

So in 10 minutes, he was talking to Johnny Morris and the head of NASCAR. Our shoot went on like that for 2 hours. People asking of his time and he graciously accepting, while trying to graciously give me his time in between. Busier than most. And still willing to give.

While he has been rewarded handsomely for his efforts in all arenas, he’s one of the people that I believe deserves every penny and then some. He never slacked. He never thought he was too good for people. He never cut corners. He never pushed the limits of the rules. He never found ways around the rules. He never has rumors circulating around about him. He never copied other people’s ideas or creations. He’s never in that gray area that some anglers seem to live in because they believe the only way to be competitive is to find ways around rules others haven’t found yet. He just goes about his business with an intensity few can match. And he does it the right way.

I fear we’re headed into a very gray area in society where the wrong folks would try to blur the lines of right and wrong until you can’t tell which is which anymore. I feel that is some of why we’re seeing the VanDams of the world walk away from fishing now. Because the way the game is being played is more and more in the gray area it seems instead of just doing it the right way where there is no question on what is right and wrong. We call that above the board.

I feel privileged to have lived and worked in the fishing space in the time of Kevin VanDam. I learned a lot from him. About fishing of course. But about how to do things with intensity and a sense of urgency. About how to do everything above the board. About how to be confident and gracious at the same time. About how to do things better than everyone else for a lot longer.

Kevin added validity to bass fishing. It’s not luck. He made that fact. You can’t win nearly 30 tournaments and it be luck. You can’t get lucky 4 times at the Classic. You can’t luck into 8 Angler of the Year Titles. You can’t just be luckier than 90% of the field to finish in the top 10 more than 110 times. That’s called dominating. And keep in mind he did it for more than 3 decades. A lot longer than many guys will ever get to participate in a sport or competitive field.

For those many reasons and the way they were done, Kevin VanDam’s Impact on Fishing will be remembered forever!

kevin vandam largemouth bass jerkbait