DECATUR, Ala. — Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., amassed enough points Saturday to close the deal he said he’s been focused on since his first cast this season: the 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award, his seventh best-angler title and fourth consecutive.
Not even the legendary Roland Martin, holder of nine Angler of the Year titles through 1985, strung together more than three in a row.
VanDam on Saturday also became the first pro to land AOY and Bassmaster Classic titles in the same season for two seasons running.
“This one means as much if not more to me. Winning never gets old when you’re competing against these guys,” said VanDam of his fellow Elite Series pros. “I’ve been out to win Angler of the Year since the first cast of the first tournament of the season.
“Every pro wants to win Angler of the Year because it is our sport’s highest award. It shows you’re at the top of your game and it rewards consistency. I haven’t won a regular-season tournament this year — although I’m trying to change that here on Wheeler.”
VanDam — many fans call him “KVD” — closed on the Angler of the Year title on the third day of the four-day Dixie Duel, the Wheeler Lake event in Alabama that doubled as the points race finish line and the Bassmaster Elite Series season finale. The tournament concludes Sunday, but by Saturday no angler had a mathematical chance of overtaking VanDam in the points standings.
Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., came the closest. Trailing by 55 points going into the Wheeler Lake event, Evers had been VanDam’s top threat.
The Oklahoma pro had, in fact, been nipping at the heels of the points leaders throughout the season: Shaw Grigsby after the season opener (which he won), Alton Jones from tournament No. 2 through No. 5, and Terry Scroggins, who took the lead after the sixth event but lost it to VanDam in Arkansas.
Evers — the runner-up to VanDam for the 2010 title — faded as a threat in the first two days of Dixie Duel competition. But the game wasn’t over, and Evers got another at-bat when the competition continued Saturday.
“I don’t have any quit in me,” Evers said as he set out Saturday for one more swipe at VanDam.
But the heroics Evers needed didn’t happen for him. There was no magic in Steve Kennedy’s hat either. Third in points behind VanDam going into the Wheeler event, Kennedy on Saturday also had had a mathematical chance of catching VanDam.
The $100,000 award was based on points earned in 2011 over eight regular-season tournaments. VanDam started the season with a fourth-place finish on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes. He followed with 11th place on the St. Johns River.
After the third and fourth events — finishing 22nd on Pickwick, 33rd on Toledo Bend — he was No. 3 in the standings. Then, fishing through back-to-back events in April at West Point Lake and Lake Murray, VanDam inched into second place in points.
He took over at No. 1 on May 12 after the Arkansas River event. At that point only one event, the Dixie Duel, remained.
VanDam won his first Angler of the Year crown in 1992 when he was the still the 24-year-old “Kalamazoo Kid.” The road to the Angler of the Year was much different in the early 1990s, VanDam said.
“It’s harder now to win,” he said. “And when I won that first one, I really didn’t understand the magnitude of what it meant to win an Angler of the Year title.”
He had to work four more years for his second title in 1996. He won for the third time in 1999. Then he started stacking the crowns: 2008, 2009, 2010 and now 2011. Meanwhile, he was winning Classics: 2001, 2005 and back-to-back in 2010 and 2011.
VanDam weighed in on the question of what the sport considers to be hardest title to win, Classic or Angler of the Year.
“Winning the Classic is a big deal — an incredible, awesome accomplishment. It’s the toughest tournament there is to win, but it’s one tournament. I think if you ask most anglers, they’d say winning Angler of the Year is harder,” he said.
VanDam, 43, has set the bar high on a list of statistics and records in Bassmaster tournament history. Since his first Bassmaster tournament in 1987, VanDam has won $5.2 million — more than the second- and third-place money winners combined — on the B.A.S.S. circuit.
When he won the 2011 Classic, he tied with Rick Clunn for most Classic victories, four. VanDam has qualified for 22 consecutive Classics (counting Classic 2012). He has posted top-10 finishes 94 times. He has stacked up a record 20 Bassmaster event wins, including the four Classics.
The competition among Elite Series pros for points wasn’t over when VanDam won the title. The Elite field will work through Sunday to claim spots below No. 1 and collect prizes awarded on a sliding scale to 50th place.
Photo by James Overstreet