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The Power of Dad

by Lynn Burkhead

The approach of Father's Day this year got me to thinking the other day.

About a day years ago, on a fishing lake far away, when a young boy tossed a jointed crankbait into stained bayou waters and began to reel it in as his dad looked on.

As the line was steadily retrieved, a sudden jolt of aquatic electricity traveled up the line courtesy of a Louisiana largemouth bass who had decided that the shad-color lure was simply too tempting an hors d'oeuvre to pass up.

With that big strike, the bass was hooked.

And so was I.

Today, as I think back on that angling trip, I can easily identify with country music legend George Strait. This Texan crooned a popular tune a few years ago that simply says, "Dad, this could be the best day of my life."

King George, count me in too. That long-ago summer day with my dad Bill was indeed one of the best days of my life.

Why? Because my dad took the time to take me out into the outdoors and to teach me how to fish.

Such is the power when a father mixes his kids, a little water and a few eager fish.

But I'm not alone. Prod most of the pros in Major League Fishing into talking and odds are they'll be more than willing to tell you how they got into the sport. And when they do, more times than not, you'll find out that dear old dad was the chief catalyst.

Take Ish Monroe for example.

The California pro can at least partially credit his presence in the upper echelons of bass fishing thanks to the keen love of fishing that was instilled in Monroe at an early age by his father Greg.

"He took me fishing every chance he could get," said Monroe. "He made the love for fishing so strong. I just wanted to figure out a way to make a living fishing."

But Monroe isn't alone in his sentiments.

It's the same for Kevin VanDam, arguably one of the greatest bass anglers of all time. Because when KVD looks back to how it all got started for him, his dad Richard was right there too.

"I definitely was real lucky to have a dad that was into the outdoors, who took me fishing and hunting when I was a kid," said VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. "I was probably a handful to have out there."

If there is a difference between KVD and many of his other bass fishing counterparts, it's that his fishing career didn't get started on a steamy summertime lake.

Instead, it was with his dad on the frozen hard waters of his home state.

"My first fishing trip was ice fishing with him when I was three," VanDam reminisced.

"To have a three-year-old out on the ice … I was running around, kicking ice in the hole, stuff like that. Fortunately, he was real patient and kept bringing me along and (now) I just have a real passion for the outdoors."

Today, that passion is what pays the bills in the VanDam household.

Pays the bills and then some, that is.

KVD, a finalist at last fall's inaugural Jack Link's Major League Fishing Challenge Cup on Lake Amistad, is also the owner of four Bassmaster Classic titles, seven B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year titles, 20 B.A.S.S. tournament wins, 96 B.A.S.S. top 10 finishes (and counting), the owner of one FLW Angler of the Year title, and a pro bass angler with more than $5.6 million in combined career earnings.

Not a bad resume. And all because his dad took him fishing.

"He gave me a lot of opportunities to go out and fish and hunt and now I'm making a career out of it," Kevin said.

One of the opportunities that Richard gave his son was access to Kevin's first fishing boat, admittedly a far cry from the high-dollar, metal-flaked bass rigs that he dashes around America's top bass fisheries in today.

"(My dad) had an old aluminum boat with a 7 ½-horse Merc on it," said VanDam. "That was my first boat … it was his boat first."

When VanDam's passionate hobby began to turn into a tournament angling career, Richard VanDam was right there once again.

And he still is.

"My dad used to travel with me to a lot of tournaments … (and) he has practiced with me," Van Dam said, noting that his dad still comes to a few events, most notably the Bassmaster Classic.

These days, as VanDam's own twin sons Jackson and Nicholas continue to grow up, it's KVD's turn to pass along the outdoors torch.

"It's pretty special," said VanDam, who is also a passionate deer hunter these days. "You know, my kids are at that point now where they are getting into fishing and hunting too, and it means a lot to me."

And that isn't just Father's Day talk either — VanDam clearly means it.

"They are (teenagers now but) they were born real premature," Kevin said. "It was a real challenge the first few years, but you would never know it now.

"They are playing baseball and doing things — the toughest part of my job right now is being away from them."

Even though VanDam's active tournament schedule and sponsor commitments keep him on the road a lot, he works hard every day at being a good father.

"It's fun and we do a lot (together)," KVD said of the time he now spends with his two sons in the out-of-doors. "My dad lives on a private lake at home and we do a lot of bluegill fishing and stuff out there.

"Sunday afternoons, we go out there for Sunday dinner and go fishing out there with them."

Such moments are something that VanDam is already treasuring.

"I know I'm going to remember it and I'm sure when they get a little older, they're going to remember it too," he said.

I'm sure they will too. Because that is the power of fathers, their kids and time spent fishing.