But VanDam is undoubtedly on top of his game, and Saturday he laid waste to rumors of a struggle, with a 92-pound, 5-ounce victory during the circuit's Tennessee Triumph stop at Kentucky Lake.
VanDam's 17th win, which inches him closer to the BASS all-time mark of 19, was accomplished in wire-to-wire fashion. The 20-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier was locked in from the first day of practice.
Most importantly, VanDam accumulated a stout number of Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points and bumped to eighth in the standings, which puts him safely in the cutline for the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason with one qualifying event remaining.
Gonzales' Greg Hackney was the highest-finishing Louisiana pro, closing out the event in 37th with 46-3 and holding onto 10th-place ranking in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race. With only a single regular-season tournament remaining, Hackney is in good shape to make the post-season that is reserved for the top 12 pros in the AOY rankings.
Bentley's Jeff Connella finished 43rd with 43-3, while Cliff Crochet of Pierre Part wrapped up the event in 57th with 27-1 and maintained a healthy lead in the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race. Roanoke's Dennis Tietje placed 90th with 13-2.
Full standings can be found here.
While VanDam's weight steadily decreased each day of competition, he earned the $100,000 top prize by bringing in four consecutive limits that weighed more than 20 pounds. His Kentucky Lake ledger includes two firsts, a second and a third-place finish in the previous four times the Elite Series has visited the fishery.
KVD primarily worked two Strike King crankbaits, a Series 6 XD and a chartreause sexy shad Silent Stalker that boated the majority of his weighed bass.
"I kept hearing people say, 'Is there something wrong with VanDam?' and it kind of made me laugh," said VanDam, a five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. "I mean, I had a pretty good start to the year winning the Classic. There have been a few scenarios this year where key bites just didn't go my way and that happens. Sometimes you are on a roll and sometimes you aren't.
"This lake is so special to me, and I knew I had a good shot here. It really suits my style. It just feels great."
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Tennessee Triumph on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, July 4, at 9 a.m. on ESPN2.
It was a typical VanDam setup that propelled him to victory. While mixing in other lures during the event, the crankbaits were his main weapons of choice.
But it was a new toy that VanDam labeled as key.
VanDam's side-imaging unit — he recently inked a deal with Humminbird — gave him the ability to expand on his areas and locate the sweet spots where the bass were holding. In fact, his three best spots were found using the equipment.
Once he found the schools of bass, it was a matter of long, precise casts that were able to hit bottom. If his cast was right, VanDam said, the bass were so wadded up in the defined areas, that he couldn't work his lure without bumping a bass.
"The technology that is available to us nowadays, it's almost like magic," said VanDam, a three-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "You can see the schools of bass and I'm not sure why they were relating to the areas they were in, but they were certainly there."
While VanDam hasn't struggled by any stretch of the imagination — he will have won more than $600,000 this year with plenty to remain — he has been disappointed. In particular, the previous Elite event on Clarks Hill Lake was the first time VanDam felt he left something on the table. Apparently, he does his best when he's angry.
"I was really disappointed after the last event," said VanDam, 42. "So I wanted to come in here and do everything I could to have a shot at the Angler of the Year. That has been my goal when I started the season and it will still be my goal when it ends."
In a distant second was Edwin Evers. Evers totaled 85-12 – nearly 7 pounds off of VanDam's torrid pace. While Evers lamented some of the bites he failed to put in the boat, the five-time Bassmaster winner took solace in his second-place position in the Angler of the Year standings.
"It's an eight-event season and you have to perform throughout," said Evers. "I like where I'm at, and I can't wait to get back to fishing next week."
Right behind Evers was his brother-in-law Terry Butcher. Butcher amassed 80-4, and moved up to sixth in the Angler of the Year standings with the stellar performance. Sticking to fourth was Jason Quinn with 78-15 while Derek Remitz snagged fifth with 78-9. Remitz moved up to third in the AOY standings.
Up next for the Elite Series is the regular-season finale, the June 17-20 Sooner Run on the Arkansas River out of Muskogee, Okla. There, much will be at stake as qualifying positions in the postseason (top 12), the Bassmaster Classic (top 37) and next year's Elite Series will be determined.
Go to Bassmaster.com for full Elite Series and Bassmaster Open coverage.