"Unless your name is Kevin VanDam, you're eventually going to have a bad year."
I've heard that statement, or something very similar to it, at least a dozen times from anglers coming off a sub-par Bassmaster Elite Series campaign. Now the qualifier can be removed.
The great KVD has had a bad year – for the first time ever. He won't be one of the 50 anglers competing in the AOY Championship next month at the Bays de Noc in his home state of Michigan, where he would've been a prohibitive favorite. More shockingly, he won't be a contestant in next year's Bassmaster Classic at South Carolina's Lake Hartwell.
A Classic without VanDam in the field has not occurred since 1990. George Bush – the older one – wasn't even halfway through his Presidency then. The most popular TV shows that year included "Cheers," "Roseanne," "The Cosby Show," and something aptly called "A Different World." Indeed, just about everything was much, much different than it is today.
There's no need to get sappy here, as VanDam's record speaks for itself – loudly. In the most competitive era this still-young sport has ever seen, he's captured 11 major titles (seven Angler of the Year awards and four Classic championships). No other current, full-time pro has even half that many and nobody is within smelling distance of the more than $6 million he's won in B.A.S.S. and FLW competition.
When contrasted against his stellar record, his struggles this year were simply stunning. He finished in the bottom third of the field four times in seven Elite points events – something he'd never done even once in the 8 prior seasons of the circuit (one disqualification not withstanding). He was his old self on a couple of occasions (2nd in the inaugural BASSFest at Chickamauga and 5th at Table Rock), but he was a boom-or-bust guy and the busts were far more frequent. His incredible consistency – which produced a phenomenal 29 straight Top-50 cuts prior to this year's St. Johns River stop – was nowhere to be found.
VanDam, who'll turn 47 this fall, has vowed to bounce back stronger than before. That quest alone will make the 2015 season one of the most compelling ever. Was this year just an unexpected but inevitable downtick, or was it the end of his reign as the most feared competitor in the game?
At this point, anyway, the smart money is staying away from the latter scenario.
--BassFan Senior Editor