By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

If Kevin VanDam had finished 3 places higher in the final standings at Heavy Hitters, the greatest career that competitive bass fishing has seen to date would've come to a true storybook conclusion. As it turned out, it was still quite a finale.

VanDam, who retired from tour-level competition at the conclusion of the 2023 MLF Bass Pro Tour campaign, caught the largest fish in the Championship Round at Florida's Kissimmee Chain. The 7-12 bruiser was worth $100,000, and combined with the $18,000 payday for his 4th-place finish, he went home with more money than winner Jordan Lee.

He definitely made the long journey from his Michigan home a profitable trip at the annual all-star event. He brought his camera operator along and was able to turn the practice period into an episode for his new show, The VanDam Experience, which will premiere in the first quarter of 2025 on the Outdoor Channel.

The episode, which will focus on breaking down a lake in the days leading up to an event, will feature a fish that weighed north of 10 pounds from Lake Cypress, where he spent the derby in relative solitude.

"I caught them really good in practice and I was able to get plenty (of video) for the show, and I realized I had a chance to win the tournament," he said. "I knew I was (potentially) on the winning fish and there were multiple big ones there. A lot was going to depend on the conditions and I didn't know how many locals had pounded it.

"On the weekend they had two big tournaments out of Camp Mack and the locals throttled Cypress, where I was fishing, but there were still big ones there. I told the cameraman and I told my wife (Sherry) that I'd catch the big bass on one day of the tournament – that's how confident I was."

He said the grass in Cypress had been sprayed about a month prior and there wasn't much of it, but a few isolated patches of vegetation held the type of quality needed to make a run at victory.

"There was some scattered hydrilla and eelgrass, but not a lot of it that was good," he said. "That's probably why a lot of people missed it. I only saw three or four other competitors the whole time and there was only one area where I even saw any of those guys."

The fish that brought him his six-figure payday bit a 1/2-ounce Strike King Thunder Cricket bladed jig (white) with a chrome-colored Strike King Blade Minnow trailer in the third period. It easily supplanted the previous pace-setter in that category – a 6-12 caught by Keith Poche.

"It came up and jumped and I saw the head, and I knew it was bigger than the one that was leading at that time," he said. "It was kind of skinny – it didn't end up weighing as much as I first thought it would.

"With only 10 guys out there, I knew there was a pretty good chance it would hold up for the day. Fourth place and $118,000 – that's a pretty good way to walk off."

With the exception of a couple of specialty and charity events, he said he has no additional tournaments on his schedule. He'll now turn his full attention to completing the initial season of The VanDam Experience – he's wrapped up six shows and has seven more to do. There will also be a lot of filming for YouTube offerings.

He said the camera can usually capture all that's needed for an episode in a single day. It's getting to and from the venues that takes up the most time, with visits to Texas and Tennessee and the Florida excursion already in the rear-view mirror.

"I guess we don't have to have them all done by the end of the year, but we will," he said.