Kevin VanDam is sort of the Roger Federer of bass fishing. He’s the sport’s all-time breadwinner and is widely considered the greatest angler of all time. Of course, no one magically lands at the top without passion, effort and dedication, and VanDam’s path to being the best started when he was a kid growing up in Kalamzoo, Michigan.
The family that fishes together
VanDam has four brothers and sisters, and his dad introduced all of them to fishing. Family trips instilled a passion for fishing in VanDam and his other siblings, one of whom now owns an outdoor retail store in Kalamazoo. “It was something we did as a family, and my dad was pretty darn patient to get us all out there,” VanDam says. “We were definitely an outdoors family.”
Many kids grow up never make the leap from hobbyist to professional, but VanDam became competitive as a teenager when he followed his older brother’s footsteps and joinined a bass club. It was his first taste of competitive fishing, and he didn’t stop there, going pro at age 22: “Fishing is similar to other individual sports like tennis, because you start locally and work your way up regionally and eventually compete in bigger events.”
The impact of technology over the course of any 27-year career is bound to be enormous, and it has made a huge difference in fishing with new resources like satellite mapping, online technique videos and electronic fish finders. VanDam says when you combine improved equipment — like motors, rods, reels and lures — with online tools and imaging that allow fishermen to see what’s under the water, “pretty much everything about fishing is better and more specialized than it used to be.“
One effect of improved technology is an increasing number of fishermen, but VanDam says resources aren’t being taxed. “I’ve been fishing for 40+ years, and bass fishing has never been better thanks to angler awareness, catch and release, and state fisheries and biologists managing the fisheries,” VanDam says.
Just get out there
For the average family who dreams of fishing on the banks of a nearby pond or stream, VanDam says you really don’t need much to get started other than a short rod and bait that works well on a lush bank. Finding the fish to begin with is the larger challenge, VanDam says: “Bass fishing is a science that is far from exact because fish are controlled by their environment and their actions and movement are dictated by mother nature.”
As a result, he recommends tapping into online resources as well as local fishing experts like those down at the local tackle shop. Most of all, he says, there’s no substitution for spending time on the water. “I still learn something on every single trip,” VanDam says. “There’s always more to learn and perfect.”