RIDGEDALE – The question of who is the Greatest of All Time is a question ripe for debate in most sports.
It’s no different when it comes to bass fishing.
There’s Bill Dance, Forrest L. Wood, Ray Scott, Roland Martin and Jimmy Houston.
One fisherman who takes a back seat to no one was in the region over the last couple of weeks.
Kevin VanDam is a Michigan native who has accomplished virtually all there is to accomplish when it comes to tournament fishing.
He has eight Angler of the Year awards – seven in the Bassmaster Elite Series and one in the FLW series – has won four Bassmaster Classics, with 25 tournament wins, 120 top-10-finishes and 182 top-20 finishes.
His career earnings of more than $6.82 million is the most of all time.
VanDam made a run at the six-figure payday for first place at the Bass Pro Tour event, part of Major League Fishing, on Table Rock Lake earlier this week, but struggled on the final day.
VanDam pocketed $12,000 for his 10th-place finish, catching 14 fish weighing in at 23 pounds, 2 ounces, on Wednesday.
It was a little bit of a downer after VanDam’s performance early in the tournament.
He finished first in his group in the Elimination Round, catching 33 fish for 54 pounds on the opening day, then following that up with 39 fish for 69 pounds, 14 ounces on the second day.
Then in the 40-angler Knockout Round, he was second overall, with 81 pounds, 14 ounces for his 46-fish catch.
VanDam said conditions where markedly different from when the tour was at Table Rock a couple of weeks ago for Stage 6 of the tour, when he finished 46th overall and was out of the money.
Add in the change from fishing early in the day – the norm on tour – to later in the day for Stage 7, and anglers were left to scramble.
“That did change things up,” VanDam said. “Just in that week-and-a-half, it did change a lot, there were a lot of fish that just were on the tail end of the spawning process the last time we were here, and now there were none.
“Just two totally different events. I thought making that decision to change that time frame, kind of throws a curveball at the guys.”
VanDam was a fan of the change in schedule, brought about to give the anglers different fishing conditions from their last time at Table Rock. The tour came right back because of flooding in Oklahoma forcing the scheduled stop on Grand Lake to be moved.
In the early rounds of this event on Table Rock, anglers were on the water from noon to 8 p.m.
“I think it was good, even just from the aspect of not having to get up at 4 a.m. every day,” VanDam said with a laugh. “I talked to a lot of guys, and everybody seemed to really like it.”
“The Grand Lake cancellation was tough. Thankfully, we were able to come right back here to Table Rock, and had the facilities to do it. …
“We were able to come away with an incredible event that was 180 degrees away from what it was before.”
VanDam has a long-term relationship and endorsement deal with Bass Pro Shops, and spends much of his time in the region and fishing on Table Rock Lake.
He said he has fished Table Rock in tournament competition probably more than any other body of water, even in his home state of Michigan.
But he’s quick to add there is no such thing as a home-lake advantage.
“This lake is so good,” he said. “Just look at the number of fish that we caught in both events – just record-breaking events, both of them, for us.
“That’s a testament to it, and every single day, I’ve caught all three species, and yesterday I caught four – I caught a mean mouth, a largemouth, a smallmouth and a spotted bass. There’s quite a few in this lake, but to catch all four in the same day … it’s a great fishery.”
VanDam’s relationship with Bass Pro Shops dates back to 1987, when he started selling Tracker boats out of his brother’s dealership in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
One thing led to another, and 30 years later, it is still going strong.
“I’ve known (Bass Pro founder and CEO) Johnny Morris now for 30 years,” he said. “It’s unbelievable to see how everything that he’s been a part of has grown.
“It’s incredible to see all the things that he’s done for the Ozarks, with all these unbelievable facilities. … He’s leaving a legacy for generations to come that is pretty darn special, and I feel fortunate to have gotten to see it.”
VanDam’s feelings about Table Rock Lake were perhaps most clear when he was asked about any tips he could share for any nonprofessional anglers who were planning a trip to the area.
“It’s a tremendous lake, and you can catch fish just about any way you like to here, no matter what your style is,” he said.
“Another great thing about Table Rock is, it has just a big number of guides on it, where you can get a lot of information. … It’s a busy lake, and it gets a lot of fishing pressure because it has a ton of bass.”