VANDAM ON 2012
Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush
Moore, OK – The moment that Brent Chapman hoisted the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year trophy following the third day of competition at the final Elite Series tournament of the 2012 season, it was the first time since 2007 that an Elite Series angler not named Kevin VanDam had earned the coveted hardware.
While VanDam won the AOY title in 1992, 1996, and 1999, it was impossible to predict that when he lifted the trophy over his head for the fourth time in his career on August 9th, 2008 on the shores of Oneida Lake, he wouldn’t relinquish his death grip on what is arguably the most coveted achievement in professional bass fishing until August 25th, 2012.
That’s just over four years as the reigning Angler Of the Year – nearly half a decade. Prior to VanDam’s four-peat, the last angler to win the AOY title in back-to-back seasons was Guido Hibdon, and that happened back in 1990 and 1991.
The last time that Kevin VanDam WASN’T the Angler Of the Year (2007) – George W. Bush was residing in the White House, the US average price for a gallon of gas was $2.70, Tim Tebow was the Heisman Trophy winner, and the bass fishing world was being introduced to a mysterious new crankbait color known as “Sexy Shad.”
So it was a strange scene when VanDam walked off stage following the day three weigh-in at Oneida Lake to end his 2012 Elite Series season. It was the first time in four years that he wasn’t immediately mobbed by media and photographers. It was the first time in four years that he wasn’t looking for a place to set down the heavy AOY trophy while he answered questions about his dominance. It was the first time in four years that he wasn’t at the very top.
“After the first day, I knew that it wasn’t going to happen,” said VanDam, referring to the slight possibility that he had to mount a comeback effort at Oneida to claim his eight TTAOY title. “In my mind, especially with the way that practice went at Oneida, I thought that there was as slim chance that all six guys ahead of me in the standings might have missed the bite. When Brent Chapman was in 2nd place after the first day, I knew that there was no way that it was going to happen because all the other guys ahead of me in the AOY standings also caught them pretty well.”
The impressive fact is that VanDam was even in the hunt at all for the AOY heading into the final tournament of the year. He notched just one Top 12 finish during the 2012 season, finishing in 8th place on Lake Okeechobee back in March. He kept his streak of consecutive made cuts alive, recording four finishes between 24th and 45th place and four finishes between 8th and 19th place. 2012 also marked the first time since 2006 that VanDam didn’t record either an Elite Series or Bassmaster Classic victory.
“I had a decent year as far as the standings go, but that’s not really how I judge myself,” VanDam explained. “I want to be in contention to win. I just wasn’t able to do that this year, and that goes to show how strong the competition really is out here.
“For me, this is probably one of the worst years that I’ve had in my career,” he continued. “In my mind, it was just one of those years where I didn’t get things put together. Some of my tougher tournaments this year were actually tournaments where I made good decisions.
“I had a good start, but I missed some opportunities at a few events that really cost me this year. I had chances to make a Top 12 in three or four other events, and I wasn’t able to make it happen. You have to capitalize on every opportunity. I didn’t make many mistakes, but I just didn’t have things go my way like you have to have when you win the AOY. You make your own luck, but you also have to be a little bit fortunate.”
While clearly disappointed but accepting of the fact that his reign as the Angler Of the Year had come to an end, VanDam said that he was even more frustrated about the fact that he never really contended for a “W” during the 2012 season.
“The tough deal for me is that I want to be in contention to win tournaments. To be totally honest, I was never in contention to win a tournament all year long, and that was really disappointing,” he admitted. “I don’t like it much at all. My goal every year is to win Angler Of the Year, and in so many of our tournaments, a pound or two equates to a bunch of places in the standings.
“Each year has been a little bit different,” said VanDam, thinking back to his past AOY championship runs. “From the start of my career, I’ve fished under a lot of different AOY formats that include total pounds, points, 11 tournament seasons, eight tournament seasons, and post-seasons. I’ve pretty much accomplished my goal regardless of what they’ve thrown at us, and that goal is to win the Angler Of the Year title.”
VanDam was quick to give credit to Brent Chapman and the other contenders in the 2012 AOY race. “The Angler Of the Year comes down to thinking on your feet and figuring things out quickly,” he said. “It’s all about consistency, and there’s no consistency in luck. If you look at the guys like Brent Chapman, Ott DeFoe, Todd Faircloth, and even Big Show (Terry Scroggins), this isn’t a one year deal – those guys are consistently up there each year.”
Even though the season just ended, VanDam said that he is already looking ahead to the 2013 campaign. “I’ll think about this past year a lot during the offseason but we also have a very interesting schedule next year that includes places where I’ve never fished before.
“I like new challenges,” he concluded.