Each week, I bring you an opinionated take on the biggest news in professional bass fishing. Despite the constant changes in our sport, the new directions developing faster than ever and the big players moving around, there are times when picking a topic isn’t easy. This week was not one of those times.

The biggest news is the finalized retirement of the best to ever play.

Kevin VanDam went out the way he should have, I suppose. Qualifying for the final day of the Heavy Hitters event on the Kissimmee Chain, there was a moment when it appeared the magic could happen once more. With little time remaining and the leaders struggling, VanDam was there, again, bucking the trend and doing things the way he always did. The way God himself would fish for bass. Chunking and winding. Destroying bait cast reels. Beating his competitors into submission.

The stage was set. The big bass bit.

“Oh yeah. There’s a hundred-grand, right there ,boys.” Chills went down everyone’s spine but VanDam’s.

This wasn’t an undeserving competitor begging and pleading for a bass to stay hooked, dollar signs in his eyes. It wasn’t the breakthrough moment that would define a career, or a lifetime.

This was KVD. Just another bass between him and a massive stack of hundred-dollar bills. There were no nerves.

“Looky there! Hundred Grand. Boom.”

Game over.

The relentless power-fishing paid off, like he knew it would. Once again, VanDam stood atop the pyramid. The biggest single-fish payout in national competition was his, all that was left to do was take down the title. Sweep the whole shooting match.

I have to admit, I was pulling for him. But, in the end, the GOAT would have to settle for the richest of consolation prizes.

Keith Poche put on a show of his own, bringing additional hope to those of us seeking more from bass fishing. Poche continues to buck the trend of video game antics, relying instead on up-close techniques that rival anyone’s. Once again accessing an inaccessible area – this time without his trusty aluminum rig – Poche found an unpressured group of bass that had the potential to win it for him. A lost fish likely cost Poche the crown. But he’ll be back.

We all know how it turned out. Jordan Lee, one of the sport’s best, closed the door like he’s done before. It was a lesson in the subtleties of technique and how to maximize a fishing area, while playing the competition.

In the earliest days of Lee’s career, I thought he was all hype. Lee had won a major college title, then placed well in a few Opens and Elite events before taking the Bassmaster Classic in 2017. At the time, Lee was receiving so much press and publicity – the Cinderella story that he was – the Classic win proved over-the-top. The media fell all over themselves. Lee, I assumed, was simply fortunate.

The following year, he dispelled any doubt. Again wining the Classic – matching only Clunn and VanDam as back-to-back winners – Lee solidified his career.

Like most of the big names of bass fishing, Lee left B.A.S.S. for the BPT, quickly winning Heavy Hitters, the World Championship and the AOY crown. Late last year, he announced that the 2024 BPT title events would be his last with the group. He’d be returning to B.A.S.S. under an exemption clause.

HIs choice, but one I’ll never understand. In the course of his brief tenure with MLF, Jordan Lee made more money than the vast majority of tournament anglers will make in their entire career. In fact, he made more than he did with B.A.S.S.

Regardless, Jordan Lee won’t need me rooting for him. His performance continues to supersede luck or wishful thinking. Halfway through the Elite season, Lee is again staring down a very realistic shot at AOY.

Lee’s frog game at Kissimmee was a master's class. He found one more big fish when he needed it most. Lee didn’t sell out his strategy. He modified his bait. He perfectly read the cover.

In the end, though, it will always be KVD’s tournament. When the scales settled and time expired, each angler gave a heartfelt rundown of their day. VanDam started his seminar as usual. Disappointed but still hungry. Plugs for productive lures.

But his commentary quickly changed from world-class athlete to a young dreamer.

“Thank you,” he spoke to his wife and children, “for letting me live my dream.”

It was gone before we knew it, ending with a tear.

Bass fishing changed, forever.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)