NEW ORLEANS — On Friday, Kevin VanDam put himself in a position to lose the title of being the best angler to never win the BASS Masters Classic by taking the lead heading into the final day of competition.
The 33-year-old Michigan pro has won six tournaments and three B.A.S.S. Angler-of- the-Year titles, but has failed to win bass fishing's "majors" (the Classic, B.A.S.S. MegaBucks and SuperStars events). However, his five-bass 10-pound, 2-ounce catch on Friday has given him an opportunity to erase that particular frustration. His two-day total of 21-7 gives him a 10-ounce lead over Arkansas' Scott Rook entering today's final round.
"I've led at least one other Classic, and I've definitely had my opportunities to win the Classic," said VanDam, who has finished in the top 10 in five of his 11 Classic appearances. "But something always happened, like losing fish or something else.
"But all you can do in an event like this is go out and fish your heart out. And where you end up, that's where you finish. All you can ask for with the first two days of the Classic is to put yourself in a position to win going into the last day. And I've done that. So far, I've fished a perfect tournament and not lost a fish that has hurt me."
With Tropical Storm Barry churning up the Gulf of Mexico, high winds and muddied water conditions extended into the Louisiana delta, hampering the 45 Classic pros Friday. And that has VanDam uneasy about what today will hold.
"So far, the conditions have been conducive to my style of fishing," he said. "But that could change. I've done a good job of adapting to the changing conditions, and I'll change tomorrow if I need to. I'm not going to die with what I'm doing if the conditions change."
Forty-year-old Scott Rook, a tackle store manager from Little Rock, Ark., finds himself in an unusual position — competing for the Classic crown in the home stretch — after catching a limit weighing 10-13 Friday (two-day total of 20-13). Although he is fishing in his second Classic, Rook has never won a national tournament.
"If there is anybody you don't want to be behind it's Kevin VanDam," he said. "He's the best in my book.
"But as far as the pressure goes, I'm not going to let that bother me. I'm fishing against the fish, not Kevin."
First-round leader David Walker struggled to bring three bass weighing 8-3 to the scales Friday and fell to third place with 20-6. The Kentucky pro gambled by making a long run to the Venice area, where he found his best spots flooded, wind-blown and muddy.
"It felt like a hurricane out there," Walker said Friday. "I just have to hope I can make the run down there (Saturday) and hopefully find some clean water to fish."
California's Robert Lee is fourth with 28-2, followed by Gerald Swindle of Alabama with 17-5.
Tennessee's Michael Holt took Friday's big-bass honors with a 3-pound, 13-ounce largemouth.
The Classic contenders are fishing for a $100,000 top prize and the most important title in the sport. Winning the Classic is the high-water mark in professional fishing and an accomplishment that has rewarded past winners with as much as $1 million in residual earnings. The Classic is the championship event of the BASSMASTER Tournament Trail.
Sponsors of the 2001 BASS Masters Classic include: Chevrolet Trucks, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Lowrance Electronics, Pennzoil Marine, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, Stowaway Batteries, Kumho Tires, Long John Silvers, Gore-Tex Outerwear, MotorGuide Trolling Motors, Bass Pro Shops, Armstrong Industrial Hand Tools, GMAC Vehicle & Boat Insurance, B.A.S.S. Platinum First USA Visa Card.
Associate Sponsors include: Bass Cat Boats, G3 Boats
The 2001 BASS Masters Classic is presented locally in conjunction with the
State of Louisiana, Jefferson Parish Tourism and Greater New Orleans Sports
To watch live video of the event, go to www.bassmaster.com.