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Bass Tournaments How to Win Them with Bass Angler Kevin VanDam

How Kevin VanDam Makes the Mental Decision to Go for the Win – The Man He Learned From

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: One of the most-successful bass fishermen of our era is Kalamazoo, Michigan’s Kevin VanDam, who has won more than 100-bass tournaments in his career and the Bassmaster Classic twice and has earned the title of BASS Angler of the Year five times, including the 2009 title. VanDam will be competing for his third Bassmaster Classic win in February, 2010, on Lay Lake near Birmingham, Alabama. This week, VanDam will give us his five secrets for winning a bass tournament.Click to enlarge

Question: Kevin, what’s another critical step in your tournament preparation?
VanDam: This is probably the most-tough ingredient in tournament preparation. I can’t really tell you to do this, but you have to know deep within your heart and soul that you can win this tournament. A classic example was the 2009 Angler-of-the-Year tournament. I competed against 11 of the best bass fishermen in the world. To win, I’d have to fish flawless, because the other competitors would also be trying to fish flawless. But on the first day of this 4-day tournament, I had a terrible day. I was behind and realized that during the second half of the tournament, when we went to the Alabama River, to have a chance to win the title of BASS 2009 Angler of the Year, I had to win this half of the tournament. Even if I won the event, I knew that Skeet Reese, who won the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, would have to stumble because he was in the lead. In my mind, I decided to practice to catch the biggest limits of bass I possibly could to win the second half of this two-tournament series. To win the tournament on the Alabama River, the title of Angler of the Year would be up to Skeet Reese to win or lose, because I would have done everything I could to win; not to place, look good or earn a check. I knew I had to win. I’d never been in this position before in my entire fishing career. Knowing what I had to do to win drastically changed the way I practiced before the tournament. Click to enlarge

Several times during practice, I found little sandbars that homed 12- to Click to enlarge14-inch bass that would allow me to catch a five-fish limit. I knew a five-fish limit wouldn’t win this tournament, so I left those sandbars and never even considered fishing them again. I knew I had to find quality bass to have a chance to win. So, I wasn’t fishing a drop-shot worm or a shaky-head worm. I was fishing Strike King baits that would catch big bass. To make that type of decision requires a big commitment on the part of the angler. You have to decide if you want to make sure you have a five-fish limit, or if you want to risk the possibility of coming in with no fish or winning the tournament. None of us like to show-up at the weigh-in with an empty bag. A five-fish limit shows that you can catch bass, even if you can’t catch bass big enough to win. That’s the choice most-often taken by most tournament fishermen. The second choice most people make in any tournament is to catch bass big enough to get a paycheck and/or move-up in the points standings for the end-of-the-year championship. However, if you fish a number of tournaments, you know that you only have a few opportunities to win, so the next question you have to ask is if you’re willing to gamble it all for the win. Maybe you’ve come-in with an empty bag before and been embarrassed and decided you didn’t want to go through it again. But anytime I have a chance to win or fail miserably, I choose to go for the win.

The mental side of our sport is the hardest part of the sport of bass fishing to understand. At least, it is for me. The mental aspect of bass fishing is probably the most-misunderstood element in a tournament fisherman’s preparation and execution before and during a tournament. Every one who goes to a bass tournament wants to win. However, few actually will go out on tournament day and take the chances required to win. Early in my career, I didn’t do a good job of making these types of decisions. I learned how to make these choices from one of the best bass fishermen in the nation – Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Missouri. The first 10 or 15 years of my career, I saw that there wasn’t a better closer in the sport of tournament fishing than Denny. I watched Denny and learned that after the first day of competition, he’d come in and assess where he was in the standings, as compared to the rest of the fishermen in the tournament. If Denny only had 14 pounds at the end of the first day and knew he needed 22 pounds to take the lead on the next day, he’d swing for the fence. Many times he’d fail and come-up short, but I’ve seen Denny knock the ball out of the park and win tournament events because he took chances. He’d do whatever was required to give himself the opportunity to win. He abandoned the idea of just making a check or getting points that would put him in the Bassmaster Classic. This lesson is a hard one to learn in the sport of bass fishing. However, when you have multiple-day events, you have the ability to identify the adjustments you need to make to give yourself an opportunity to catch-up and possibly win. To win, make the mental decision to go for the win. In your mind, decide that there is no second place. You either will win or lose. And, this is a tough call to make.

Tomorrow: How to Make Sure You Can Win by Capitalizing on Opportunities with Kevin VanDam

Check back each day this week for more about "Bass Tournaments How to Win Them with Bass Angler Kevin VanDam"

Day 1: Win a Bass Tournament Before You Leave the House with Kevin VanDam
Day 2: Getting Your Stuff Together and Keeping It Together to Win with Kevin VanDam
Day 3: You Can Convince Yourself to Lose, Even Though You Practice to Win with Kevin VanDam
Day 4: How Kevin VanDam Makes the Mental Decision to Go for the Win – The Man He Learned From
Day 5: How to Make Sure You Can Win by Capitalizing On Opportunities with Kevin VanDam


Entry 534, Day 4