February 13, 2023
By Lynn Burkhead
Kevin VanDam, arguably the greatest bass-fishing professional of all-time, made a stunning announcement via social media on Monday morning after Super Bowl LVII. Just like the NFL’s GOAT (greatest of all-time) Tom Brady did a few days ago in announcing his retirement from professional football, fishing’s GOAT did much the same, announcing that the 2023 Bass Pro Tour season would be his final year of competition in a sport that he had dominated since the 1990s.
While he later noted that he is not retiring per se, KVD made the announcement concerning the conclusion of his competitive career early on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023, as his fishing brand's social-media accounts released a nearly three-minute video as he sat in front of the fireplace in his Kalamazoo, Mich., home. As he took a seat and faced the cameras, VanDam was surrounded by the trophies and accolades that have propelled him to a Bass Fishing Hall of Fame career that may never be equaled.
The announcement came as VanDam prepares to begin the 2023 BPT season this week at the Bass Pro Tour Stage One event on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes near Orlando, Fla, "It’s 2023 and I'm just about to start my 33rd season as a touring bass professional," said VanDam with a wry smile. "And, man, what a ride it's been. But I'm here today to announce that this is going to be my last season fishing professionally on tour."
VanDam quickly pointed out the support and sacrifices made down through the years by his wife, Sherry VanDam, who is the business affairs manager of Kevin VanDam Outdoors, and his twin sons. "Family has supported me through it all," he said. "My wife, Jackson and Nicholas; being on tour is tough. Spending so much time on the road, it's hard on your family. And I've done it for a really long time and I've had so many great memories."
VanDam then started a walk down memory lane, pointing out some of the high spots in his legendary career. "I started my career with B.A.S.S. and fished the Bassmaster tournament trail for 28 years," he said. "And you know, along the way, I made a lot of friends. I'm so thankful for Ray Scott for founding B.A.S.S. and starting this whole dream of fishing tournaments that so many of us follow to this day."
VanDam then reflected on his career with B.A.S.S., where he rose from a talented young Michigan angler in the 1990s to the sport's Tiger Woods early in the 21st Century. "Over the years, during my time at B.A.S.S., I made a lot of friends, so many great memories, accomplished a lot, won a lot of titles and championships along the way," he said. "And tried to be a great ambassador to grow the sport and pave the way for the next generation that is coming along."
During VanDam's storied career with B.A.S.S., he fished in 314 tournaments, finished in the money 253 times, won 25 events, finished runner-up 16 times, finished in third place another 18 times, and had 112 "Top 10" appearances. VanDam was one of the sport's most consistent threats to win every time he launched his Nitro bass rig, finishing with a total of 177 "Top 20" finishes and 220 "Top 30" finishes.
His first career win on the B.A.S.S. circuits came in 1991 at the Georgia Bassmaster Top 100, while his last win on the Bassmaster Tournament trail came at the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Oklahoma's Grand Lake. In pocketing more than $6.4 million in career B.A.S.S. earnings over the years, VanDam also won the tour's coveted Angler of the Year title seven times, a mark that only Hall of Famer Roland Martin exceeded with nine AOY titles.
VanDam's career may be most remembered for his record at the Bassmaster Classic, the so-called Super Bowl of Bass Fishing. In addition to his 28 Classic appearances (third most in history behind Rick Clunn’s 32 and Gary Klein’s 30), VanDam qualified for the Classic a total of 24 consecutive years, behind only Clunn’s record 28 in a row. VanDam also tied Clunn with a record four Bassmaster Classic championships, including the 2001 Classic on the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans. In capturing that first Classic title at the Louisiana Superdome, KVD endured an approaching tropical storm and mid-summer's searing Gulf Coast heat to shed the title of "Most Talented Angler Never to Win a Classic."
In addition to the 2001 Classic title in the Big Easy, KVD would also win the 2005 Classic title at Three Rivers near Pittsburgh, Pa. A few years later, he would finish his Classic run with back-to-back titles in 2010 on Alabama's Lay Lake and in 2011 in a return visit to the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans.
Almost 12,000 Pounds of Bass
As one of only three anglers to ever win back-to-back Classic titles—Rick Clunn did so in 1976-77 along with Jordan Lee in 2017-18—VanDam also set a number of Classic records that stand to this day. That includes the heaviest winning catch of five bass in 2011 with 69 pounds, 11 ounces and the lightest winning catch of 12 pounds, 15 ounces in 2005. In total, VanDam caught a cumulative career weight of bass on the Bassmaster Tournament trail weighing in at 11,827 pounds, 9 ounces, second only to Clunn's 12,843 pounds, 1 ounce. It's worth noting that while VanDam’s Bassmaster career may be through, Clunn continues to compete and win on the that tournament trail to this very day.
After VanDam’s stellar run on the Bassmaster tournament trail, a shift began for KVD about a decade ago with the creation of Major League Fishing. "In 2011, I fished the first Major League Fishing Cup event at Lake Amistad," noted KVD in his announcement on Monday. "And I'm still fishing on the Bass Pro Tour [which was announced in the fall of 2018 and began competing in 2019] today."
VanDam excelled at the Major League Fishing game, too, liking the format, fishing in the very first event's championship round (won by Brent Ehrler), and capturing more tournament titles along the way as his fishing focus switched gears to the MLF format. The latter includes KVD's win at the 2021 Bass Pro Tour Stage Four championship on Lake Chickamauga in Dayton, Tenn., bringing his total number of official tour victories to 26 and his career earnings to more than $7 million.
Add in his 2001 FLW Tour Angler of the Year title and his three MLF Cup victories in the made-for-television competitions on Outdoor Channel, and it goes without saying that for the better part of 30 years, VanDam—a prolific television show host and primary spokesman for Bass Pro Shops, Strike King Lures, Nitro boats, Lew’s rods and reels, and plenty more—has been the face of the sport in a way that may never be equaled.
And he's not done just yet, with a full season of Major League Fishing competition yet to come throughout 2023, including this week in the shadow of Disney's Magic Kingdom just outside of Orlando, where the Florida bass spawn and waters full of lunker bass are waiting to be caught by KVD and his fellow BPT competitors. And in just a few weeks, there's BPT's REDCREST IV championship event, a North Carolina derby that he will be among the favorites to win.
"Over my whole career, I've tried to grow the sport and be a great ambassador for fishing, conservation, and the outdoors," said VanDam, inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2018 and an enthusiastic deer hunter and turkey hunter under the Mossy Oak brand of camouflage that he endorses.
VanDam will be walking away from competitive angling near the top of the game, not far from the zenith of a career that will be talked about for generations to come. He paid tribute to his career longevity in his Monday announcement by thanking his many sponsors for their support down through the years. "One of the things that I'm really proud of is the long-term relationships that I've had over these years, the friendships that I've made, and the partnerships that I've had," said VanDam. "And that's something that I really look forward to, continuing on in the future."
As the likable and friendly VanDam transitions from the game's most feared competitor to its biggest ambassador, he will likely continue his prolific video schedule, massive social-media presence, and status as a fan favorite, something that he gave a final nod to on Monday as he paid tribute to the legion of KVD fans out there.
"Another big part in the success of my career has been all of the support I've had from fans over the years," said KVD, a perennial crowd favorite at tournament weigh-ins, expos, and the annual ICAST show, all places where he has signed countless autographs and posed for an incalculable number of photos through the years.
"I can't overstate enough just what that means to me," he said. "You know, I love this sport, I love sharing it with other people that are passionate just like me, and that's what it's all about. Without the fans, we have no sport. So this year, I'm really looking forward to a lot of fan interactions, a lot of special things that we're going to be doing, so stay tuned. You're going to see a lot more info on special things for all of our fans, not just my fans, but fans of the sport."
VanDam did make one important clarification to fans who might be saddened by his announcement. "So, in closing, I AM NOT retiring," he said with a smile. "I still have as much drive and passion for this sport as I've ever had. I look forward to being a great voice for fishing, the outdoors, and conservation long into the future. And I'm just looking forward to what the next chapter of my career is going to be."
In the meantime, in a year destined to bring change to the sport as its biggest competitor says his tournament good-byes, VanDam said he is looking forward to getting back on the road, meeting fans and his fellow competitors, and seeing if there's one or more trophies still destined for his burgeoning trophy case.
At the end of the day, VanDam noted that he is still looking for a little more fun in the sport that he has helped shape and define like few others have. "We'll see you out on the water," smiled VanDam.
Lynn Burkhead is a Senior Digital Editor with Outdoors Sportsman Group.