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Published: May 2, 2013

VanDam Draws on 2001 Classic Triumph
in Attempt to Tame Tropical Trouble

by Lynn Burkhead

SUDDEN DEATH Day 2 Competitors

Kevin VanDam

Alton Jones

Edwin Evers

Boyd Duckett

Randy Howell

Brent Chapman

Tropical trouble lurking offshore during a bass tournament?

It's a case of been there, done that before - sort of - and going to do it again for Jack Link’s Major League Fishing pro Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich.

As Hurricane Sandy rolls by just off the Florida coastline - but close enough to give the Lake Istokpoga area a thorough thrashing - VanDam plans to draw upon the experience he gained en route to winning the 2001 Bassmasters Classic in July 2001.

While not nearly as tempestuous as Category Two Sandy is going to be on Sudden Death Day Two, VanDam had to win the first of his four Classic titles as Tropical Storm Barry played havoc with the B.A.S.S. anglers competing on the shallow Louisiana Delta near New Orleans.

"Believe it or not, hurricanes (and tropical storms) are something that we've had affect us quite a few times over the years," said VanDam. "We've even had days cancelled because they (storms) were directly on us."

This Sudden Death Round of the Jack Link's Major League Fishing 2013 GEICO Challenge Cup competition - as long as it remains safe - will not be cancelled due to television production schedules, budget constraints and angler travel plans.

And that's just fine with VanDam.

"The first Bassmaster Classic I won, we had a (storm) looming out in the Gulf," said KVD, one of the best foul-weather competitors in angling today. "It was really probably one of the reasons that I won because it really changed the conditions.

"The water was rising and it was a tough event (for the anglers and the area) and I was able to make it happen."

Tough? VanDam said after his 2001 Classic triumph in the Big Easy that the final day was among the toughest of his career to that point in time thanks to the choppy conditions, tough fishing, and the pressure of trying to win.

Undoubtedly, when it's all said and done, Sandy's visit will probably rank up there pretty highly on KVD's career list of tough outings.

One might think that would upset VanDam's angling apple cart a bit since the 20-time B.A.S.S. winner loves to control as many variables as he can while he's on the water.

Obviously, this semi-final round will be filled with plenty of uncontrollable variables including howling winds, blinding rain, and rolling waves.

Not a problem says KVD.

"You have to adapt when the conditions change," said VanDam. "These (tough conditions) are the kind of conditions that I really like (because it forces us to adapt)."

One adaptation that VanDam admits will be tough is the task of finding relatively clean, fishable water in the fishing zone.

Zone 3

Zone 3: 3.3 miles primary shoreline, 3.9 miles island shoreline, 3,061 acres

"The biggest thing the wind does on this lake - when it's blowing 30 mph - it just churns the shallow water and stirs it up," he said. "The fish don't leave, they just shut down.

"You're just not going to catch them when it's chocolate, silted mud. It's going to really limit the area in the zone that we're in today, the water that is going to be fishable. We're going to get to fish in maybe half of the water (in the zone)."

That being said, KVD says there should still be enough water to go around for the six semi-finalists.

"There's going to be enough protected water that you're going to be able to do whatever you want (presentation wise)," said VanDam. "Flipping is going to still be good because with these conditions, the fish are active. So you don't have to be as precise with your presentation."

Active fish - in a brush from a nearby hurricane?

Yup. With the bottom falling out of the barometer, VanDam says that's what he expects.

"With the cloud cover, they may not be as tight to the cover but they're still going to bite that way," he said.

Will KVD's patented style of "power fishing" work given the rough weather?

"We'll see," said VanDam. "I'm going to still try to make power-fishing work but I've got three flipping rods ready to go too and I'm planning on getting them out."

KVD - who has more than $5.4 million in career earnings along with a staggering 99 Top-10 finishes on the B.A.S.S. tournament circuit - says that it won't take him long to assess the conditions when he gets to the zone.

If the bite isn't going to readily happen with power fishing techniques, look for KVD to grab the flipping gear quickly.

Because with Sandy's active weather stirring up the bite, the Michigan pro expects the real-time leader board to sing early and often.

Even with Sandy's wind-borne assault lashing the shallow waters of 28,000-acre Istokpoga.Because of that, KVD says it's very important not to fall behind.

"On the beginning round (Elimination), you get to fish all three rounds (periods) no matter what," said VanDam. "Today, not so. As soon as the third guy hits the weight, it's done, it's lights out.

"(So) it puts a premium on starting off strong," he added. "I don't think you'll see this round go three full periods. I'm pretty confident in that today."

Even though VanDam is known world-wide as the planet's best crankbait and spinnerbait slinging power fisherman, don't discount him with the flipping and pitching gear.

In fact, KVD actually rode that gear to his 2001 Classic win in the Delta waters near New Orleans, fishing a black, blue and purple ½-ounce Strike King Premier Elite jig with a Zoom Super Chunk trailer fished on 25-pound line.

When the jig quit working, VanDam switched to a creature-type Strike King Wild Thing bait and kept the fish catching magic going.

While that was back then in the Louisiana Delta, he's highly confident that he can do it again on Florida's Lake Istokpoga if need be.

"With these conditions, the fish are going to bite, there are a lot of quality fish here, and three guys are going to catch 20 pounds before four o'clock," said VanDam.

And thanks to his previous experience at taming tropical trouble-makers while bass fishing, the best angler on earth plans on being one of those three guys.

No matter what Hurricane Sandy might try to do.