By Steve Graf
It’s not every day you get to have a sit-down conversation with the greatest bass fisherman of all time…Kevin Van Dam, who I’ll refer to from now on in this article as KVD! There’s never been an angler with the skills and instincts that he possesses, and no other angler has had the impact or influence on the bass fishing world like KVD. Now we all know he’s won everything the sport has to offer including four Bassmaster Classics and over $6 million in winnings. To put that into perspective, Pro angler Skeet Reese is number two on the all-time money list at $3 million (half the amount KVD has won). In this interview we’ll get see how it all started for KVD as he looks back on his outstanding career and gives his viewpoint on where the sport is headed. Enjoy….
Angler’s Perspective: How would you look at your fishing career up to this point and already going into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame?
KVD: I never had a dream or imagined that I could fish and do it for a living. You just kind of enjoy the ride and take it all in as it comes. But the whole sport has changed tremendously over the last twenty years but I’m still not sure what the future holds with so many new young anglers coming into the sport. But it’s definitely been a special time for me to watch the growth.
Angler’s Perspective: Kevin, at what point did you realize that you could compete and be successful at bass fishing?
KVD: You know, really the first B.A.S.S. Tournament I fished I was 18 years old, and I drew out a big-name pro and got a little intimidated. Back then all B.A.S. S. events were a draw format and you had to share the front of the boat with another angler, and I let the guy I drew talk me out of my game plan. I was just so in awe of being in the boat with this guy. It was also an awakening when I only caught one bass all day as I learned just how hard it is to fish tournaments. But then I started winning and beating legendary pros like Rick Clunn and Larry Nixon. It was then that I realized I could compete with the best. Angler’s Perspective: What has it been like to compete against the best anglers in the world?
KVD: It’s really been quite special. These guys are truly great anglers, but they are also great people. But I do remember Larry Nixon coming to my brothers store there in Michigan called D&R Sports to do promo and I was so intimidated by him that I could not even go up and say hello. In the meantime, my old team partner pointed me out to Larry that day while he was in the store and said, “You better remember that guy over there (pointing to me) because he going to be kicking yall’s butt soon.” Now of course I did not know he said this till sometime later, but he was simply making a point.
Angler’s Perspective: Kevin, let’s turn the clock back and tell our readers how it all began for you and who got you started bass fishing?
KVD: My dad took me ice fishing when I was 3 years old and its crazy because I still have vivid memories of that time. I probably didn’t really fish as I walked around kicking ice back into their holes while they were fishing. I think kids in general are just naturally drawn to water. But once I caught my first bass, I definitely developed a passion at an early age for bass fishing. We fished as a family a lot fishing for pan fish, catfish or pretty much anything that would bite; my dad never really got into bass fishing much. Then my older brother started fishing as we fished our first tournament together when I was 14 and we finished 2nd and I thought wow I just $250 and thought it was so cool and from that moment on, it was all about tournaments after that. Then I joined a local bass club and started fishing tournaments in our area and slowly progressed and moved up the ladder. Angler’s Perspective: How do you see the younger generation coming up in today’s bass fishing world?
KVD: Tournament fishing is like the PGA tour; you have to earn your way in order to move up and the only way you attract sponsors is by being successful. A lot of young anglers today are focused on getting sponsors when they should be focused on how to find and catch fish. It’s a very exciting time right now as whole in the fishing industry with so many opportunities to fish at a high level and get noticed by potential sponsors.
Angler’s Perspective: How has the pandemic affected professional bass fishing? KVD: Well, it’s given me a chance to sit back and look at the industry and reflect on where we’re at. It’s allowed more people to get outside and go fishing and enjoy the outdoors more. Whether you’re kayaking or backpacking, the pandemic has allowed us to appreciate what we have.
Angler’s Perspective: One thing that I see more and more of is the lack of ethics on the water with younger anglers. Are you seeing the same thing and if so, how do we fix this problem?
KVD: No, you’re exactly right, it is a problem and what we need is more experienced anglers to teach these young anglers on how to do it the right way. Today high school fishing has become so competitive that some of the boat captains are teaching kids the wrong way. With some boat captains, it’s not really a level playing field. Example, like when there are 400 boats on Sam Rayburn, these boat captains are taking control of the boat instead of letting the kids learn how to find fish on their own and they’re not teaching the kids the proper ethics out on the water. There is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed when it comes to high school bass fishing and the lessons being taught. But you have to take you hats off to the volunteers who offering their boat and time to help these young anglers in these events.
Angler’s Perspective: Kevin, have we peaked out when it comes to high school bass fishing?
KVD: Well, I don’t want to be that guy, but yes, we probably have. I think that with the pandemic and more kids getting outside to go fishing along with social media attention, there’s still room for growth. Today’s kids are so connected to their phones and computers that fishing has become cool, and I see that with my two boys. So many of their friends have now gotten into fishing and have become more involved which is a really good thing! One thing that will hurt the sport is the lack of success. Kids get discouraged quickly when their doing something and the success does not come right away, and I see that happening already. No matter who you are, if you’re playing baseball and you’re not having fun, then you probably won’t be playing baseball very long.
I hope you have enjoyed part 1 of my conversation with the greatest angler of all time. Next week I’ll continue my interview with KVD as he gives us a glimpse into his family with his wife Sherry and his twin boys Jackson and Nicholas. We’ll also dive into something else that KVD really enjoys like hunting and how it’s such a big part of his life. Till next week, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!
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