THE KING VALIDATES HIS DOMINANCE
Story by Matt Pangrac, Brent Conway and Dave Rush - Photos by Mark Jeffreys and Dave Rush
New Orleans, LA – At the conclusion of the second day of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, there remained a few lingering questions. Would Lake Cataouche hold up for three days, or would the treacherous run to Venice be the key to hoisting the 2011 Bassmaster classic trophy?
KVD started the week in third place, but climbed into the leader’s seat Saturday with a three-and-a-half pound margin to spare. Given that he was the only angler at that point to boat a 22-pound limit, it was assumed that he was primed to leave New Orleans with his record tying fourth Classic trophy on Sunday.
However, nothing is certain until the final angler crosses the stage so anything was possible as the anglers left Bayou Segnette Sunday morning. Brent Chapman, starting the day in second place, was committed to make it to his primary location in Venice fog or not.
With less than two hours of fishing time on Saturday, the gamble paid off big by surrendering better than 20 pounds catapulting him into second place. He commented at weigh-in that if he could have a full day to fish his area, 30 pounds wasn’t out of the question.
Unlike Friday and Saturday, fog wasn’t an issue on Sunday making Chapman’s wishes come true with the closest thing to an “on time departure” of the Classic. He still had to catch them, and though he was able to nab a 16-pound, 7-ounce limit, his 54-8 cumulative weight wasn’t enough to unseat VanDam, leaving Chapman to settle for fifth place instead.
With winds higher than they had been all week, the surface of Lake Cataouatche became choppy and rough sending the bass in the area into a feeding frenzy. Anglers in the hunt took advantage of the bass factory by plucking four bags over 20 lbs from the best spawning area in the Delta.
It goes without saying that VanDam is the 400-pound gorilla in bass fishing, and with 28 pounds on the final day he pulled away from the rest of the field. In addition to the win, VanDam also set the new high-water mark for total weight in a Classic, and joined Rick Clunn as the only angler to win back-to-back Classics.
Van Dam’s 69-pound, 11-ounce limit on Sunday was enough to unseat then leader Aaron Martens by nearly 11 pounds, who earned a history-making fourth second-place finish with a 24-pound, 14-ounce sack on Sunday. Martens ended the week with a total weight of 59-0.
Derek Remitz was one of the four leaders involved in the ring-around-the-rosie fishing in Cataouatche this week, and though his 26-5 sack on the final day was his heaviest limit of the week, his 56-8 total weight was only enough for a third place showing.
Representing the Federation Nation, Brandon Palaniuk weighed 22-15 on the final day to boost his three-day total weight to 55 pounds, 7 ounces.
Boyd Duckett, ending the week in sixth, nabbed big bass honors with an 8-pound, 15-ounce behemoth. The giant boosted his final-day bag to the week’s heaviest at 28-13 and his overall total weight to 53-2.
First Place: Kevin Van Dam
When you’re Kevin VanDam, each time you back your boat down the launch ramp for the practice day it’s not about practicing for second place – it’s about the win. Records are always nice, but as he put it – the win is what really counts.
“What a day...what a week,” he exclaimed. “I’ll always be grateful with each win I’m fortunate enough to have, but it’s the biggest motivator I have. Each (win) is better than the last one, so this trophy is really special – particularly because of how hard I had to work for it.”
While he made it look easy on the final day, VanDam noted that it was anything but. “It was a real grind every single day,” he said. “On the first day it was like a bite or two an hour, and by today they’d really gotten wound up – but this is the type of event where the first day is everything, so I’m really fortunate that I put myself in position then.”
This week’s winning area, which has become know as “The Tank,” wasn’t new to Kevin – in fact, he’d spent time there a decade ago. “I came into this area back in 2001, and never got a bite,” he said.
“When I started planning for this back in December, I ruled out Venice because of the risk of fog this time of the year, so I gambled on areas around Bayou Black and Segnette – but when I saw all the grass out in from of Cataouatche I knew where I was going to fish regardless of the history I had.”
Skipping visiting the Delta prior to off-limits due to the areas uncertainty from week-to-week weather wise, VanDam pointed out that one of the first areas he visited during official practice was Bayou Black – where he won in 2001. “I actually found some fish down there,” he said.
“In the back of my mind, I knew that I didn’t want to be in Cataouatche until the water warmed, but at the same time the risk of running to Bayou Black wasn’t one I was willing to take. Boy was that ever the right decision.”
One of the biggest keys was the hard bottom of the area inside Cataouatche. “You just don’t find that very much down here,” he said. “I checked it two times during practice and never got a bite. I came in on Wednesday and had enough bites – the right kind of bites – that I knew it would be won in there.”
Starting the week with a Strike King spinnerbait, VanDam ended up using a signature KVD 1.5 for the bulk of his damage. “I made some adjustments a little quicker than some of the other guys did, which really helped me on the first day,” he said.
“They went from just crushing the spinnerbait on the first day early on, to barely biting it by the end – and I knew that the spinnerbait bite was just about done because of the moon.”
With the fog delay on Saturday, the already crowded spawning area became all the more so, but it didn’t really phase the guys who were already established. “We knew the area, so even though some of the other guys started coming in there we had them pretty well figured out,” Kevin pointed out.
“The second morning, I fished for about an hour and had three bites on a spinnerbait – two of them missed it. That’s when I changed to the KVD 1.5, and pretty much weighed in every bass I caught from the second day on with that bait.”
Kevin noted that he “caught a pile of bass” on the crank Sunday using his signature series Quantum rod and reel en route to victory. “I culled four 20 pound limits today,” he said.
“It was just an awesome day! The area was just alive with bait today, so it was just going to be a good day to fish no matter how you looked at it.”
Regarding the bait, VanDam noted that he’d spend “nearly a year in development” to make certain it ran just as a baitfish would. “,” he said.
Key to the Win: “I was able to figure them out pretty good yesterday, so that really helped get into the position that I was in. Also, the bait was critical. All of us – Aaron and Scott – were throwing it. Because of the square bill, it deflects well, and the erratic nature of the bait triggers strikes. I could find those big groups of stumps out there and just fan cast multiple times. It was a real methodical deal, and I don’t think the other guys got that until today.”
Second Place: Aaron Martens
Second place at the Classic is “job well done” the first time, and if you’re fortunate to do it a second time you hear a lot of, “you’ll get them next time.” The third time…well, you get the picture. This is Martens’ fourth time as the bridesmaid; however, he’s not too down about it this time around.
“This was the easiest second place I’ve ever had,” he suggested. “If it would’ve been closer, it would’ve been harder to swallow. I’m actually very, very happy right now. I would’ve won two Classics right now if Kevin wasn’t around.”
All joking aside, it’s a toss up given the competition he faced in the water he fished all week. “I’ve been in this situation (sharing water) a few times, but never in a Classic,” he said. “The only challenge to sharing water was just watching VanDam. He really seemed to have an edge on us this week for sure.”
Still, Martens points out that there was never a doubt as to where the better fish were. “There were a lot of boats in there the first couple days, but you knew that the fish were there too,” he said. “The bites were really sporadic the first two days too.
“It was just one bite here, and one there. I think best-case scenario for us would’ve been 15 fish a day. Those guys were catching 15 an hour down south, but it was still a no-brainer.”
Aaron pointed out that looking at the calendar and the map simultaneously, the decision to fish in Lake Cataouatche was easy. The only gamble was weather. “If a cold front would’ve come in, it would’ve wrecked it for all of us – the Venice guys would’ve just killed us down there,” he said. “Fortunately, instead of a cold front, it got warmer every day.”
Thanks to the warming trend and moon phase, the fishing got stronger each day of the week. “I think we hit it at the perfect time,” Aaron said. “We might’ve hit a day or two later, but the way the weather held them back it just made it perfect.
“Today was one of the best days of the entire year to be fishing on the Delta.”
The spawning bass inside Lake Cataouatche had its drawbacks – particularly in getting them to hang onto the bait. “In practice they were just inhaling the spinnerbait,” he said. “I was throwing one without a hook and would literally have to shake my rod to get them to turn loose.
“By the end of the first day, they were getting off the spinnerbait though. I only landed five fish yesterday, and I know that I had 20 fish on. Really though, all week long you could not tell when a fish had it they were biting so soft. That was pretty much happening to all of us.”
With warmer weather forecast each day of the week, Aaron pointed out that his intel from practice and his knowledge of the season suggested that a big-fish tsunami could hit by the weekend. “There were some big fish in there during practice, but I think most of them were all males,” he said.
“Today was the kind of day that they move, and I just think that those fish were coming in to spawn. In the first two days you could get a bite every hour. Today, you could hit the same tree every 10 minutes and get bit. That really tells me that they were just flooding into the area.”
Third Place: Derek Remitz
If there were “do overs” in bass fishing, Derek Remitz would have taken advantage of that option on Friday. The sub-par day put him behind the eight ball in a big way. “Yeah, I’d like to have that one over,” the reserved Remitz said. “Those guys were just killing them throwing spinnerbaits, and I was over there with a crankbait.”
When the bite switched over to favor crankbaits, Remitz was already armed – but his RC 1.5 was the only one he had in that particular color. “I ended up never losing that crankbait thankfully,” he said. “I wound up catching most everything I weighed off that one bait.”
The water temperatures were 42 to 43 degrees at the start of practice, but Remitz was confident that if the conditions got right, the bite would improve. By the end of the week, water temperatures in the back of Lake Cataouatche had climbed to over 63 degrees.
“You’re looking at over a 20-degree swing in a week,” Remitz pointed out. “We were in one of those areas where they were wanting to spawn, so things happened fast.”
Regarding the crowded hot spot, Remitz remained upbeat. “As far as I know, none of us had a problem with anyone,” he said. “For me personally, you watching all these guys catching a four-pounder here, and a six-pounder there, you just had to block it out of your mind.
“(The area) was big enough for three of four of us to just meander through and be methodical.”
Remitz said that he arrived in New Orleans for his third Classic with a “take no prisoners” resolve, so he chose his area based solely on the fact that it was a noted big fish factory. “It’s the kind of event where you really have to put all your eggs in one basket,” he said.
“When you looked at the map, it was one of those areas that just stood out.
“I felt like if I was going to catch them anywhere, it was going to be right there. It’s flat, full of stumps, and there’s fresh water flowing into it. It’s probably the best place in the Delta to fish during this time of the year.”
Fourth Place: Brandon Palaniuk
Brandon Palaniuk came out of Idaho as the Federation Nation champion, and he did not disappoint. Like Derek Remitz who finished just ahead of him, Friday was the only kink to an otherwise perfect plan.
“I feel good about it, I really do,” he said. “Any time you can finish inside the Top 5 in the Classic it’s been an unbelievable week. I am a competitor, and I want to win, but really the whole week has been a dream.”
Using a Bandit 100 series crankbait that he bought off a clearance rack before he left for the Classic, Palaniuk made the most of his purchase. “I had thrown Bandits before, and when I saw it on the clearance rack I knew that it was too good to pass up,” he explained.
“I switched the hooks out to KVD Mustads, but that’s pretty much what I threw all week.”
Brandon pointed out that he did catch one fish the first day on a Berkley Havoc, but otherwise it was the Bandit. “I think as much as anything else it was the color,” he said. “I think it’s even called Louisiana Shad, but it has a green back and chartreuse belly. They loved it.
“I knew that I’d picked an area that had a lot of potential, but to realize the first morning that I was fishing in the same area as Kevin Van Dam – it was unreal.”
Unfazed, Palaniuk went about his week in workman’s fashion. “You could see the weights getting stronger each day,” he said. “When we got in there today, as a result of the cloud cover and wind, it was just on. Guys were catching them like crazy – and big ones at that.”
It wasn’t until today though that he fully realized what he’d found. “I knew that it had a lot of potential, but I had no idea that there would be that many big fish in there,” he said. “It was just unreal. It was like there was a four-pounder sitting on every stump.”
Fifth Place: Brent Chapman
Brent Chapman started the final morning of his 10th Classic in second place, and felt certain that if he could have a full day’s fishing in Venice he would be a threat to win. While it wasn’t quite delay-free, he did get to spend more time in his primary waters Sunday than he had for the first two days.
“The day started off great because I was going to get at least an hour and forty minutes more to fish,” Chapman said. “So I started off about 200 yards short of where I’d been fishing figuring I’d work to it, and I looked down and my temp gauge said 48 degrees.”
Thinking that the water would warm as he worked further back, Chapman pressed on. “It was just crazy,” he explained. “The warmest water I saw today was 51 degrees, when it was 58 and 59 yesterday.
“I haven’t checked the river levels, but it sounds like we had a rise in the river and it pushed cold water up in there. That’s what makes this place so unique. Just about the time you think you understand it’ll throw you a curve ball.”
Looking at things through the lens only hindsight allows, Chapman knows that with the way they hammered them in Lake Cataouatche, he wouldn’t have had the chance to catch up in the best of circumstances. Still, he would like to have had the chance to show what Venice is capable of producing.”
Flipping a Tight Lines 3-inch UV Beaver, Chapman said that he was as confident as he could’ve been on how the day was going to unfold. “I was really dialed into the right spot and the right bait,” he said.
“That’s really the sad part in all this because I really thought I would catch a 25- or 30-pound bag today based on what I’d seen yesterday. Still, it was a great week and I had a great time in Louisiana. If you can’t win, you’d better have fun trying anyway.”
Sixth Place: Boyd Duckett
Boyd Duckett knew that his only chance of winning his second Classic title was for VanDam to stumble, and for him to have a giant bag. KVD didn’t stumble, but at least he got half of it right. “I caught them today in an area that I found yesterday, but the trouble is I found them too late,” he said.
“I wasn’t behind the wall; I was outside on the lake, and really figured them out late in the day yesterday. When I re-found the area today it was just going nuts.”
Duckett explained that his sweet spot was a narrow ledge just behind the grass and scattered stumps of the shallows adjacent to the wall of the Tank Pond. “That’s where the big ones spawn right there,” he pointed out.
“I really didn’t understand until today what I’d found. I fished it with a Chatterbait yesterday, which wasn’t the right way to fish it. They really pulled up overnight.”
Fishing on the periphery of where the top three in the event fished, Duckett is quick to give credit where credit is due. “Kevin really made the right decision on how and where to fish this week,” he said. “I’d caught a five-pounder the day before right where Kevin started, and it’s where I was wanting to start the day.
“I stuck my head in there Friday morning and saw everyone, and opted to go to Venice for the safe out thinking I could make it up. The problem with that is that on the second day, with the (fog) delay, everyone had staked out their claim behind the wall so I couldn’t go back there. That’s how critical decisions are in this game, but I have no regrets.”
7th Place: Scott Rook
“They bit real good for everybody but me. I caught three times as many fish as I’d been catching, but I didn’t get the size that everyone else was. I watched Kevin cull four-pound after four-pounder all day today. It was just stupid."
“You’d go along there just fan casting until you hit a cypress stump with your crankbait, then you’d drop your Powerpoles and fish until you caught one. That was how you did it yesterday anyway. Today, it was just stupid with the amount of fish coming in there.”
“Where we spent the week is probably the best spawning area in the entire Delta. It has hydrilla, milfoil, coontail grass, a hard bottom, and a thousand stumps that are three-foot in diameter. Those fish are just piling in there. Plus, you’ve got the diversion canal that’s just pumping nutrient-rich water in there continually. What more can you ask for?"
8th Place: Todd Faircloth
“I had a great day and caught a ton of fish. I probably had around 20 keepers. I knew that I was going to get the bites today and I didn’t really feel rushed because I had about four hours to fish after the long run.
“I just picked up a flipping stick and went to work. I can really get into a zone when I’m doing that and it’s the most fun way to fish. Going in to this, I felt like I could catch 20 pounds a day, but that really doesn’t matter now.
“We just had a big warm period and it really put the fish in the shallow bay where the other guys smashed them. It was smooth sailing today making the run. All in all, it was a perfect day to make a long run.
“Most of my fish came on a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog. I also caught a few on an All Terrain Tackle jig. I alternated between the two and that’s all that I did.”
9th Place: Bobby Lane
“Today wasn’t bad. I finally caught some of the fish that I was after. I was able to fish for a little longer and the tide came in and put some water in the ponds that I was fishing. In the last two hours, I bet that I caught over 60 fish and caught some good ones.
“It was a good Classic and I can’t complain. My primary baits were a Humdinger Spinnerbait and most of my bigger fish came flipping a Berkley Havoc Craw Fatty. It was pretty simple down there. When you found them, you just caught the heck out of them.”
10th Place: Gary Klein
“I ran two hours and went to the same areas that I’ve been going to all week. I caught most of my fish on a Berkley Pit Boss in Green Pumpkin and Okeechobee Craw. I wanted the weather to stay cold, because that would have really played into my hands.
“I really thing that the warming trend played a much bigger factor in the results than the fog did. Even if the guys who were making the long run had been able to fish all 12 hours during the tournament, we couldn’t have beaten the guys who were fishing Cataouatche.”
11th Place: Mike Iaconelli
“They bit today. I fished the same place all three days and the water temperature rose today and the fish committed to spawning. I’d say that 20 of the 25 fish I caught today were spawning fish. Once I figured that out, the only modification that I made was that I went to a lighter weight.
“I was flipping a Havoc Devil’s Spear in Cobalt and Orange Vampire. Today was a little justification knowing that I was actually in a good area. Looking back, I still would have made the long run. The only thing that I would have changed was that I would have fished a little slower and switched to a lighter weight.”
12th Place: Cliff Pace
“I got a little bit more time to fish today but I just didn’t get any big bites. There’s such a difference here between three and four pounders. I just never got the four pounders to bite.
“Overall, I did what I wanted to do. The weather is what allowed the areas close to the launch to be so exceptional. I knew that it was a risk, but I was committed to where I was going to fish.
“I flipped a V&M Punch Craw and a Cyclone Spinnerbait. I also caught some fish cranking hydrilla with a Jackall Bling.”
13th Place: Dean Rojas
“It was very gratifying but also disappointing because I knew that things would be different if I got off to a better start on Day One. I just had an off day in a good area on the first day. I really thought that they were the fish to win with.
“It makes me feel a lot better to know that 20 pounds a day wouldn’t have won. Primarily, I used my SPRO frog. Yesterday, I caught two of my good fish on my new Big Bite Baits Warmouth.”
14th Place: Skeet Reese
“I just went the wrong way and wasn’t around the winning fish. I ran 1,000 miles round trip this week and probably burned close to $1,000.00 in fuel. That beings said, I really don’t have any regrets. For those guys to wail on them like the did, I really just didn’t think that it could be done.
“I gambled that they couldn’t keep it up for three days. Every single fish that I caught this week was caught flipping the new Berkley Havoc Pit Boss. I expected a few big fish to be caught, but I don’t think any of us knew that there were that many big fish living in the area where those guys were fishing.”
15th Place: Dale Hightower
“I had a great day today. I knew that I could catch them if I had a little more time. It started out kind of slow and I had to change a little and move to another area to find them.
“Overall, I had a wonderful time. I put all my eggs in one basket down in Venice. That’s the gamble that I took at the beginning of the week. Looking back, I feel like it was a great experience. I went through a lot of adversity with the fog and making a long run like that is incredible. Had the tournament been won in Venice, I might be a little more upset.”
|Pl.||Name||DAY 1||DAY 2||DAY 3||TOTAL|
|1||Kevin VanDam||5||19- 3||5||22- 8||5||28- 0||15||69-11|
|2||Aaron Martens||5||20- 7||5||12-11||5||25-14||15||59- 0|
|3||Derek Remitz||5||12-15||5||17- 4||5||26- 5||15||56- 8|
|4||Brandon Palaniuk||5||14-10||5||17-14||5||22-15||15||55- 7|
|5||Brent Chapman||5||18- 0||5||20- 1||5||16- 7||15||54- 8|
|6||Boyd Duckett||5||13-12||4||10- 9||5||28-13||14||53- 2|
|7||Scott Rook||5||19- 6||5||12- 5||5||17- 4||15||48-15|
|8||Todd Faircloth||5||15- 2||5||13-14||5||18- 3||15||47- 3|
|9||Bobby Lane||5||16-12||5||10-11||5||18- 2||15||45- 9|
|10||Gary Klein||5||12- 7||5||17- 0||5||15-15||15||45- 6|
|11||Michael Iaconelli||5||13- 1||5||11- 9||5||18- 9||15||43- 3|
|12||Cliff Pace||5||15- 7||5||11-10||5||16- 2||15||43- 3|
|13||Dean Rojas||2||4- 4||5||20- 3||5||18- 5||12||42-12|
|14||Skeet Reese||5||15- 1||5||13-10||5||13- 8||15||42- 3|
|15||Dale Hightower||5||15- 9||5||11- 5||5||15- 0||15||41-14|
|16||Terry Scroggins||5||9-11||5||13- 2||5||18- 3||15||41- 0|
|17||John Crews||5||13-14||5||11- 7||5||13- 3||15||38- 8|
|18||Kevin Wirth||5||14- 2||5||13- 1||5||11- 0||15||38- 3|
|19||Tommy Biffle||5||13- 5||4||12-13||5||11- 9||14||37-11|
|20||Shaw E Grigsby||5||9- 3||5||14- 7||5||13- 7||15||37- 1|
|21||Jeff Kriet||5||11- 1||4||10- 0||5||15-15||14||37- 0|
|22||Keith Combs||5||13- 2||5||8- 8||5||15- 2||15||36-12|
|23||Morizo Shimizu||5||10- 0||5||12-13||5||12-12||15||35- 9|
|24||Greg Vinson||5||14- 3||4||7- 3||5||9- 8||14||30-14|
|25||Paul Elias||5||14-13||5||11- 6||2||3- 0||12||29- 3|
|27||Mark Davis||5||7- 0||5||13- 9||10||20- 9|
|28||Edwin Evers||5||14- 2||3||6- 7||8||20- 9|
|29||Dave Wolak||5||13- 2||5||7- 4||10||20- 6|
|30||Brian Snowden||5||10- 8||5||9- 6||10||19-14|
|31||Gerald Swindle||5||10-10||5||9- 3||10||19-13|
|32||George Crain||2||3-12||5||15- 9||7||19- 5|
|33||Terry Butcher||5||9- 9||5||9- 8||10||19- 1|
|34||Mike McClelland||4||9- 5||5||9- 6||9||18-11|
|35||Randall Tharp||5||11-12||3||6-12||8||18- 8|
|36||Andy Montgomery||4||9- 2||5||9- 4||9||18- 6|
|37||Kelly Jordon||5||14- 3||2||2-15||7||17- 2|
|38||Brian La Clair||5||10- 3||3||6- 2||8||16- 5|
|39||Bill Lowen||5||7-11||5||8- 5||10||16- 0|
|40||Ryan Said||3||4-15||5||10- 9||8||15- 8|
|41||Dave Watson||5||11- 4||2||4- 1||7||15- 5|
|42||Greg Hackney||3||4- 3||5||10-14||8||15- 1|
|43||Ryan Mcmurtury||5||10- 9||5||4- 5||10||14-14|
|44||Sean Alvarez||5||8- 0||3||6-14||8||14-14|
|45||Russ Lane||0||0- 0||5||14-14||5||14-14|
|46||Stephen Browning||5||8-12||2||5- 6||7||14- 2|
|47||Jason Williamson||5||7- 1||3||6- 9||8||13-10|
|48||Steve Kennedy||2||2- 6||1||4- 4||3||6-10|
|49||Tracy Adams||2||5- 2||0||0- 0||2||5- 2|
|50||Clark Reehm||0||0- 0||4||0-11||4||0-11|