GROVE — After catching his heaviest limit of the tournament, bass fishing superstar Kevin VanDam produced five bass that weighed 22 pounds, 4 ounces to take the lead at the 2018 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees.
Not only was today’s limit of largemouth VanDam’s biggest of his week, it was his third limit exceeding the magical 20-pound mark — a benchmark in professional bass fishing.
His three-day total is 64-13.
With one more round remaining in the four-day Elite tournament, the bass fishing legend is looking to add to his already astounding record of 24 titles on the Bassmaster tournament trail, including four Bassmaster Classic wins and seven Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year awards.
With $100,000 on the line for first place, and win No. 25 for the Kalamazoo, Michigan, resident, VanDam is confident his fishing areas are only getting better.
“It’s going to take another bag of 20 pounds or better to win this thing,” he said. “I think where I’ve spent my time this week has the right fish, but as the standings will show, the other Top 12 anglers are also catching them. I’m not comfortable yet.”
The field will be cut down to the Top 12 anglers with VanDam leading them out on Championship Sunday.
“Each of us are focusing on spawning bass,” VanDam said. “And with the weather and moon phase both factors, the spots are reloading by the hour. The bass are fat and very healthy looking — plus I feel like my pattern is only getting stronger.”
Most anglers aren’t usually willing to reveal their tactics until the tournament is over, but if the world’s greatest bass angler is confident, history indicates that big things will happen.And that’s what makes him the most feared angler on the planet.
Bassmaster rookie Roy Hawk of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., finished in second place at the first tournament of the year on Lake Martin in Alexander City, Alabama.
That was his first appearance on the Elite Series.
Saturday, he weighed 24-12 to push is three-day total to 61-9. Hawk will be starting Sunday’s final round of competition in second place yet again.
“My pattern hasn’t changed much this week,” Hawk said. “Each day I’ve narrowed down the most productive water, and the fish have been getting bigger. Of course, everything will have to go perfectly tomorrow if I’m going to win.”
Hawk said he was implementing several different techniques, and one of those in particular was catching the larger fish.
“Today I dialed in on that pattern, and weighed my biggest limit of the week. I don’t think that’s an accident, and I plan to do the same thing again tomorrow.”
After leading Friday’s second round of competition, Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tennessee, weighed 17-6 today and fell back to third place with a three-day total of 60-15.
“I didn’t catch as many fish today, and they weren’t as big,” said Lester. “I spent too much time fishing water I caught fish from the past couple days. I learned something valuable today, and tomorrow I am going to focus on new water.”
A late-day cull helped keep Lester in contention, and it revealed a potentially new pattern.
He plans to begin Championship Sunday in that spot.
Rounding out the Top 5 are Randall Tharp of Port St. Joe, Florida, with 59-13 and Seth Feider of Bloomington, Minnesota, with 58-0.
Alabama’s Bill Weidler is currently leading the $1,500 Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award, thanks to a heavy 7-3 largemouth bass he caught during Thursday’s opening round of competition.
Championship Sunday takeoff will begin at 6:15 a.m. out of Wolf Creek Park, and the final weigh-in is scheduled in the same location beginning at 3 p.m.