By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor


Every day, multiple competitors catch bigger bags than the ones Kevin VanDam weighs at the Grand Lake Bassmaster Elite Series. Nobody's been nearly as consistent as KVD, however, and that rock-steadiness has him on the verge of his 25th B.A.S.S. win.

VanDam caught a 22-04 stringer on day 3 to push his total to 64-13. He'll be more than 3 pounds ahead of everyone else when the 12 remaining anglers depart the launch on Sunday morning.

His closest pursuers are excited by the challenge that awaits them.

"I've been on the Elites for 5 years and I've made a decent number of top-12s, but I've never been in one with him," said Randall Tharp, who'll start the day in 4th place. "He's the best there's ever been and he's a closer. I'm right where I want to be."

First-year pro Roy Hawk, the runner-up in the season opener at Lake Martin, is in the No. 2 position again after catching a day-best 24-12 to push his total to 61-09. Brandon Lester, the day-2 leader, slipped to 3rd with 60-15 in the wake of a 17-06 haul.

Tharp moved up 8 places with a 23-03 sack for a 59-13 aggregate. Seth Feider completed the top 5 with 58-00 (20-14 on day 3).

Here's a look at the totals for the dozen anglers who'll return to the water for the final day (red numbers in parentheses indicate deficit margins from the leader):

1. Kevin VanDam: 64-13
2. Roy Hawk: 61-09 (3-04)
3. Brandon Lester: 60-15 (3-14)
4. Randall Tharp: 59-13 (5-00)
5. Seth Feider: 58-00 (6-13)
6. Tommy Biffle: 57-03 (7-10)
7. Paul Mueller: 55-07 (9-06)
8. Greg Vinson: 55-02 (9-11)
9. Bradley Roy: 54-09 (10-04)
10. Fred Roumbanis: 54-07 (10-06)
11. Jordan Lee: 53-12 (11-01)
12. Cliff Crochet: 53-11 (11-02)

The tournament has basically evolved into a full-blown spawn derby, even though the stained water is preventing most of the bed-dwellers with the naked (or sunglass-covered) eye. Water temperatures that were in the mid 50s when the event got under way could hit 70 by Sunday afternoon and more fish are arriving in the extreme shallows every day.

Biffle, Mueller and Roumbanis were the only new arrivals to the top 12 as they caught 22-01, 19-07 and 19-11 bags, respectively. They supplanted Jacob Wheeler (3rd to 14th, 14-00), Cliff Pace (5th to 18th, 13-11) and Dave Lefebre (8th to 22nd, 12-00).



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

VanDam says he's becoming more confident in his program with each passing day.

The Sunday weather forecast for the Grove, Okla. area predicts a mostly sunny sky with a high temperature of 76 degrees and a south/southeast wind topping out at 11 mph.

More Bites for VanDam

> Day 3: 5, 22-04 (15, 64-13)

VanDam's bag edged his day-1 haul by 5 ounces for this best of the tournament and was his third straight that topped 20 pounds. He said he caught more fish than on either of the previous 2 days.

"I'm just grinding it out, trying to do the best that I can," he said. "You just don't know when you're going to get a big bite. I didn't get any really big ones today, but I got more quality bites than I'd had, so that's good."

His best specimen was a little shy of 5 pounds.

"I'm pretty committed to what I'm doing and I'm getting more confident every day, but I've done this for a long time and I know that you just never know what's going to happen. It's so hard to win at this level and you don't know when the next one's coming or which one might be your last.

"You have to appreciate every opportunity you get."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Roy Hawk jumped from 11th place to 2nd with the biggest stringer of day 3.

2nd: Quartet of 5s for Hawk

> Day 2: 5, 24-12 (15, 61-09)

As a member of the top 4, Hawk was pumped about the prospect of having a camera operator in his boat on day 4 instead of a marshal.

"I'm looking forward to getting on Bassmaster Live and having all my family and friends be able to watch," he said. "It's going to be a good time."

Four of the fish in his day-3 bag were 5 pounds or better and the other was right around 4. He caught twice that many keepers on the day.

"I was fortunate to hit the right area at the right time. It's a stretch I've been fishing periodically throughout the whole tournament and a lot of other guys have been through there, too. I just happened to roll up under the right scenario and I caught three big ones in probably five casts.

"Hopefully I can catch them again tomorrow, but who knows what's left? It's so hard right now because even 18 pounds isn't really that great of a bag. I'm going to need more than that if I'm going to take down KVD."

3rd: Lester A Lot Lighter

> Day 3: 5, 17-06 (15, 60-15)

Lester's bag was nearly 9 pounds lighter than the one he'd caught the previous day, but it nonetheless kept him in contention.

"I stayed in the game and all I can ask is to have a shot," he said. "I just didn't get the big bites today and I think some of that (was caused by) staying too long in used water, but when you catch a big bag like that, it's hard to not go back to the same place because you start thinking that maybe the Mother Lode's in there.

"Whenever I went to water that I hadn't used up, I caught more fish."

He went through about a dozen keepers and his bag contained one 5-pounder. He broke off one fish on a hookset that he said "felt decent," but he doesn't know where it would've aided his cause.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Brandon Lester's 17-06 stringer was much smaller than his day-3 haul, but it kept him in contention for the win.

"I made three big culls in the last hour and a half and that was doing something completely different than the way I caught them yesterday. I think I'll start with that deal tomorrow it's a way to catch another big bag and that's what it's going to take to beat Kevin."

4th: Tharp's Has Lofty Goal

> Day 3: 5, 23-03 (15, 59-13)

Tharp said a bag the size of the 29 pounds-plus that Edwin Evers caught at Grand on the final day of the 2016 Classic will be possible on the final day and he'll do his best to catch it.

"I'm trailing the best of all time by 4-12 and I know he's going to go out and catch another 22 pounds or more," he said. "Well, if I go out and catch 30, there's not much he can do about it."

He caught a 5-pounder at his starting spot and two more from a locale he visited late in the day. He revealed that he's throwing a jig, a spinnerbait, a crankbait and a finesse offering on spinning gear and might mix in a topwater on the final day.

"I tried (a surface plug) today and it didn't pan out, but the water's warming so fast that it could be another way to get a big one. I just want half a day in that good water so I can pick it apart and fish it the way I want to. The later it gets every day, the better they're biting.

"I won't go to 'the juice' until I know they're biting, though. Timing is everything with that."

14th: Wheeler Wasted Some Time

> Day 3: 5, 14-00 (15, 53-03)

Wheeler caught two big spawners that he'd been looking at on day 2 and that caused him to devote too much time to that pursuit on day 3.

"I got caught up in bed-fishing way too much," he said. "I'd caught the majority of my fish all week either flipping or throwing a wacky-rig and I felt like that was going away and they were all spawning now. I told myself that I needed to go looking, but I never came across the right pocket.

"The ones I did find are probably a day away from biting. If I could go back out tomorrow, I might catch 23 pounds."

He did finally catch a 4-plus-pounder that he worked on for much of the afternoon and was quite pleased with that.

"Five times I had that fish on and lost it it was a big male. I might've sucked today and I didn't make the cut, but I was happy when I caught that fish. It was a moral victory."

Notable

> Day 3 stats 50 anglers, 48 limits, 2 fours.

Weather Forecast

> Sun., April 29 Mostly Sunny - 76/56
- Wind: From the SSE at 11 mph

Day 3 Standings

1. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 15, 64-13 -- 110
Day 1: 5, 21-15 -- Day 2: 5, 20-10 -- Day 3: 5, 22-04

2. Roy Hawk -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 15, 61-09 -- 109
Day 1: 5, 16-15 -- Day 2: 5, 19-14 -- Day 3: 5, 24-12

3. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 15, 60-15 -- 108
Day 1: 5, 17-06 -- Day 2: 5, 26-03 -- Day 3: 5, 17-06

4. Randall Tharp -- Port St. Joe, FL -- 15, 59-13 -- 107
Day 1: 5, 18-05 -- Day 2: 5, 18-05 -- Day 3: 5, 23-03

5. Seth Feider -- Bloomington, MN -- 15, 58-00 -- 106
Day 1: 5, 18-07 -- Day 2: 5, 18-11 -- Day 3: 5, 20-14

6. Tommy Biffle -- Wagoner, OK -- 15, 57-03 -- 105
Day 1: 5, 16-09 -- Day 2: 5, 18-09 -- Day 3: 5, 22-01

7. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 15, 55-07 -- 104
Day 1: 5, 19-03 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13 -- Day 3: 5, 19-07

8. Greg Vinson -- Wetumpka, AL -- 15, 55-02 -- 103
Day 1: 5, 19-13 -- Day 2: 5, 17-13 -- Day 3: 5, 17-08

9. Bradley Roy -- Lancaster, KY -- 15, 54-09 -- 102
Day 1: 5, 18-12 -- Day 2: 5, 19-09 -- Day 3: 5, 16-04

10. Fred Roumbanis -- Russellville, AR -- 15, 54-07 -- 101
Day 1: 5, 18-09 -- Day 2: 5, 16-03 -- Day 3: 5, 19-11

11. Jordan Lee -- Grant, AL -- 15, 53-12 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 20-04 -- Day 2: 5, 18-07 -- Day 3: 5, 15-01

12. Cliff Crochet -- Pierre Part, LA -- 15, 53-11 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 19-11 -- Day 2: 5, 19-04 -- Day 3: 5, 14-12

The following anglers did not make the cut and will not fish on day 4.

13. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL -- 15, 53-04 -- 98 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-12 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13 -- Day 3: 5, 18-11

14. Jacob Wheeler -- Harrison, TN -- 15, 53-03 -- 97 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-10 -- Day 2: 5, 22-09 -- Day 3: 5, 14-00

15. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 15, 53-02 -- 96 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-09 -- Day 2: 5, 19-12 -- Day 3: 5, 19-13

16. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, AZ -- 15, 52-15 -- 95 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-03 -- Day 2: 5, 21-15 -- Day 3: 5, 16-13

17. Scott Rook -- Little Rock, AR -- 15, 52-09 -- 94 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-09 -- Day 2: 5, 15-14 -- Day 3: 5, 19-02

18. Cliff Pace -- Petal, MS -- 15, 52-08 -- 93 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 21-04 -- Day 2: 5, 17-09 -- Day 3: 5, 13-11

19. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 15, 52-04 -- 92 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-01 -- Day 2: 5, 17-10 -- Day 3: 5, 17-09

20. Jesse Wiggins -- Cullman, AL -- 15, 51-01 -- 91 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-12 -- Day 2: 5, 20-12 -- Day 3: 5, 16-09

21. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 15, 50-05 -- 90 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 21-00 -- Day 2: 5, 13-05 -- Day 3: 5, 16-00

22. Dave Lefebre -- Erie, PA -- 15, 50-03 -- 89 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-02 -- Day 2: 5, 24-01 -- Day 3: 5, 12-00

23. Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 15, 49-14 -- 88 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-12 -- Day 2: 5, 15-04 -- Day 3: 5, 17-14

24. James Elam -- Tulsa, OK -- 15, 49-13 -- 87 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 19-13 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13 -- Day 3: 5, 13-03

25. Gerald Swindle -- Guntersville, AL -- 15, 49-05 -- 86 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 5, 13-13 -- Day 3: 5, 14-00

26. Brock Mosley -- Collinsville, MS -- 15, 48-09 -- 85 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 23-05 -- Day 2: 5, 12-11 -- Day 3: 5, 12-09

27. Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 15, 48-08 -- 84 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 23-12 -- Day 2: 5, 07-13 -- Day 3: 5, 16-15

28. Brent Ehrler -- Redlands, CA -- 15, 48-08 -- 83 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 5, 13-10 -- Day 3: 5, 13-06

29. Brent Chapman -- Lake Quivira, KS -- 15, 48-05 -- 82 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-11 -- Day 2: 5, 18-15 -- Day 3: 5, 14-11

30. Randy Howell -- Guntersville, AL -- 15, 48-01 -- 81 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-02 -- Day 2: 5, 15-15 -- Day 3: 5, 15-00

31. Mark Daniels Jr. -- Tuskegee, AL -- 15, 48-00 -- 80 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-04 -- Day 2: 5, 15-12 -- Day 3: 5, 17-00

32. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 15, 47-13 -- 79 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-10 -- Day 2: 5, 17-12 -- Day 3: 5, 13-07

33. Bill Weidler -- Helena, AL -- 15, 47-06 -- 78 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 19-12 -- Day 2: 5, 15-08 -- Day 3: 5, 12-02

34. Kyle Monti -- Okeechobee, FL -- 15, 46-13 -- 77 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 22-06 -- Day 2: 5, 11-15 -- Day 3: 5, 12-08

35. Alton Jones Jr. -- Waco, TX -- 15, 46-09 -- 76 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-12 -- Day 2: 5, 18-06 -- Day 3: 5, 12-07

36. Ish Monroe -- Hughson, CA -- 15, 46-04 -- 75 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-04 -- Day 2: 5, 15-05 -- Day 3: 5, 13-11

37. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 15, 45-12 -- 74 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 5, 17-07 -- Day 3: 5, 11-10

38. Adrian Avena -- Vineland, NJ -- 15, 45-11 -- 73 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-05 -- Day 2: 5, 15-00 -- Day 3: 5, 13-06

39. Keith Poche -- Pike Road, AL -- 15, 45-07 -- 72 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-09 -- Day 2: 5, 16-08 -- Day 3: 5, 11-06

40. Marty Robinson -- Lyman, SC -- 15, 45-05 -- 71 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-07 -- Day 2: 5, 17-02 -- Day 3: 5, 13-12

41. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 15, 44-09 -- 70 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-06 -- Day 2: 5, 14-05 -- Day 3: 5, 12-14

42. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 15, 43-14 -- 69 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-14 -- Day 2: 5, 18-05 -- Day 3: 5, 09-11

43. Chris Zaldain -- Laughlin, NV -- 15, 43-14 -- 68 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-07 -- Day 2: 5, 14-15 -- Day 3: 5, 13-08

44. Jacob Powroznik -- North Prince George, VA 15 -- 43-12 -- 67 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-00 -- Day 2: 5, 16-09 -- Day 3: 5, 12-03

45. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 15, 43-10 -- 66 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-03 -- Day 2: 5, 13-10 -- Day 3: 5, 12-13

46. Josh Bertrand -- San Tan Valley, AZ -- 15, 43-03 -- 65 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 19-15 -- Day 2: 5, 12-09 -- Day 3: 5, 10-11

47. Fletcher Shryock -- Dennison, OH -- 15, 42-09 -- 64 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-12 -- Day 2: 5, 15-11 -- Day 3: 5, 11-02

48. Stephen Browning -- Hot Springs, AR -- 14, 42-08 -- 63 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 20-08 -- Day 2: 5, 11-02 -- Day 3: 4, 10-14

49. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 15, 42-04 -- 62 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 18-05 -- Day 2: 5, 14-04 -- Day 3: 5, 09-11

50. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 14, 38-06 -- 61 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-02 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11 -- Day 3: 4, 07-09