VanDam leads first round at Lake Dardanelle Bassmaster Elite
Published By OutdoorsFIRST Media Published June 2, 2017
Bass-fishing superstar Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., is in an early position to win a record-breaking 24th Bassmaster title. After weighing 19 pounds, 3 ounces, the four-time Classic champion is leading the GoPro Bassmaster Elite at Dardanelle presented by Econo Lodge.
With $100,000 and valuable Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points on the line, VanDam fully understands what's at stake. But even the seasoned veteran was surprised at today's results.
Kevin VanDam (Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.)
"I've had mixed results on Dardanelle. I got second to Mark Menendez in 2009, and had a terrible tournament in 2014," VanDam said. "But I know the bass in this lake move around a lot, which makes staying consistent difficult sometimes. I'm actually very pleasantly surprised with my weight today, and the rest of the field did better than I had expected."
The seven-time Angler of the Year caught his limit early, but made a substantial upgrade later in the day that nicely augmented his five-bass limit.
"I caught two big fish that really helped," he said. "I learned some things today, but on Dardanelle you can't always bet on a pattern holding - you have to stay flexible. I don't believe the forecasted storms will have much impact on how and where I'm fishing, but duplicating today's weight would surprise me again."
There has been plenty of discussion about the high, muddy water, but VanDam said the bass are still eager to bite, and replicating a pattern on similar structure across the lake is key to his approach.
"I feel like I know what I need to look for under these conditions," he said. "After I had a limit, I spent a lot of time running around and practicing for the coming days."
Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn., anchored his second-place, 18-12 limit of largemouth bass with a 6-pounder that was key to his first round success.
"This lake can be stingy, but catching that big one today really helped set me up for a strong start," DeFoe said.
Like most anglers during the first day, the 31-year-old DeFoe was tight-lipped about how and where he was fishing, but he is known for fishing an area thoroughly instead of moving around a lot.
"Over the years I've learned that after several times through an area, the biggest fish will often come from a spot I've already fished," he said. "Never leave biting fish."
Tim Horton of Muscle Shoals, Ala., won the second Elite event of the 2017 season at Florida's famed Lake Okeechobee, and he'll be starting Saturday's second day of competition in third place after weighing 18-7.
"I feel pretty good about what I'm doing," Horton said. "The weather forecast is calling for rain over the next couple of days, and I think it could help me. My better bites happened this morning when it was cloudy, and I hope I can keep that pattern going.
David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., caught a 6-pound, 8-ounce largemouth that is currently leading the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award.
Saturday's second round of competition will resume with takeoff at 6:15 a.m. CT at Lake Dardanelle State Park. Weigh-in will occur in the same location at 3:15 p.m.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Outdoors Expo will also take place at Lake Dardanelle State Park on Saturday and Sunday beginning at noon. The expo will feature boat and motor demo rides by Skeeter, Yamaha, Nitro, Triton and Mercury. Toyota will be onsite with interactive displays such as designing your own lure and a NASCAR video game vs. your friend. Other companies including GoPro, Econo Lodge, Huk, Berkley and Power-Pole will also be onsite featuring their latest products. All venues and activities are free and open to the public.
The event is hosted by the Russellville Advertising and Promotion Commission.