GROVE - Relying on his typical “helter-skelter” approach and covering abundant water on Grand Lake, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., caught a 21-pound, 11-ounce limit Thursday to lead Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Marty Robinson of Landrum, S.C., by more than a pound at the Sooner Run.
The seventh Elite Series event of the season will end Sunday, with the winner receiving a $100,000 top prize.
Perhaps the most dominant angler in professional fishing, VanDam already has scored one Elite victory this year, at Alabama's Lake Guntersville.
His focus for the rest of the season is turned to the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. He is in second place, trailing California's Skeet Reese.
“When I fish, I am trying to effectively control all the variables that I can,” said VanDam, who is looking to clinch his fourth AOY title. “I have had some ups and downs this year, but if I finish well, I have a real shot at the angler of the year.”
Despite the lead, VanDam said he was never in a “comfort zone” Thursday and used most of his competition day to practice for the remainder of the tournament.
The 39-year-old said he caught the majority of his weight just hours after launching.
VanDam, who finished 22nd at the Elite event on Grand last year, said the fishery is much different than it was a year ago. The change allowed VanDam to catch fish with a spinnerbait and buzzbait, two lures he prefers.
“There are a number of ways to catch them out here,” said VanDam, who is the BASS all-time money winner with more than $2 million in career earnings. “But it will be hard to duplicate things from day to day. The angler who will win this event needs to be versatile.”
Robinson, who finished second, is following in the footsteps of rookie Elite anglers who have been successful this year.
First, Derek Remitz won the season-opening event on Texas’ Lake Amistad. Just two weeks ago, Casey Ashley, the youngest angler in the field, was victorious at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake.
Like most of the field, Robinson targeted shallow fish early in the morning and then focused on the deep bite later in the afternoon. He worked 30 to 35 points to catch 20 pounds even.
“The big fish come on the first few casts to the points,” said Robinson, who moved into the top five for the first time. “I feel if I stick with the same pattern tomorrow, I can bring in another solid limit.”
Tied for third with 19 pounds, 8 ounces, were 2006 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Mike Iaconelli of Runnemede, N.J., and Ben Matsubu of Hemphill, Texas. Remitz, an Elite rookie from Madison, Ala., was fifth with 19 pounds, 1 ounce.
Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., the 2006 Sooner Run champion, was 11th with 17 pounds, 15 ounces.
In the co-angler division, Texan Michael Vintges led the field competing for a Triton/Mercury boat package valued at $50,000. He weighed in 17 pounds, 11 ounces.
Trailing Vintges were homestate anglers David Herman with 16 pounds, 7 ounces, and Kelly Banks with 15 pounds, 13 ounces.
Fishing fans can view all of the on-the-water action on The Bassmasters on ESPN2 at 8 a.m.