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MLF’s VanDam enjoys fishing Alpena

ALPENA — When Kevin VanDam won the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing 2014 General Tire Summit Cup in Alpena in 2014 he set the standard for bass fishing in Michigan.

By catching and releasing 39 bass weighing nearly 82 pounds on Grand Lake VanDam set the MLF single day record series and a goal for professional and amateur fisherman to chase. He is in Alpena with MLF this week looking to replicate that success.

VanDam is one of the most decorated bass fisherman in history and the list of his accomplishments is long. Although he has enjoyed success all over the nation, when he gets the opportunity to compete in his home state of Michigan it is always special.

VanDam was raised in Kalamazoo and was introduced to angling when his father took him ice fishing when he was three years old. He said his family enjoyed the sport and learned how to fish for salmon, walleye, pike and many other species. He said one day on a trip with his father he caught his first small mouth bass and the fight of the fish left a large impression on him and shortly after began competing with people much older. Soon, he began to have success and move up in the bass fishing ranks.

“I entered my first tournament when I was 14 and later started to climb the ladder and fishing in bigger ones,” VanDam said. “I never really thought it would become a career, I just like the competition in it.”

VanDam is the all-time money winner in pro bass fishing history and has amassed 24 B.A.S.S wins, which is tied for the most all-time. He has won four B.A.S.S Masters Classics which is tied for most all time with Rick Clunn. VanDam was also named Angler of the Year seven times, and is the youngest recipient of the award when he won it in 1992 at the age of 23. He also won an ESPY from ESPN for Outdoorsman of the Year.

VanDam said he had fished in the Alpena area before when he was younger and has always thought the fishing was good. He said when he won the MLF Championship Cup in 2014, things went right for him right from the start in Alpena and he was able to hold off the other professionals.

“It was one of those weeks where everything fell into place for me,” he said. “These guys in Major League Fishing are the best of the best in it and these guys can figure out how to catch fish quickly. To be able to win felt good, but it wasn’t easy.”

As the MLF events were being planned, VanDam said he knew there was a chance an event could be held in Michigan because there was a Bass Masters tournament taking place down state. He said there was a possibility the MLF event could have been held in neighboring states, but when he found out the series was returning to Alpena, he was thrilled and excited.

“I was surprised and glad,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence coming back to this area.”

VanDam said he enjoys Alpena, because it isn’t as hectic as other cities on the other part of the state and the fishing is top-noch.

“It is really peaceful here and there are a lot options for fishing. It is very fisherman friendly,” he said.

Many of the pros in MLF work with kids and share tips with them. Like VanDam some of those could choose to compete and one day become a professional as well. He offered some advice to them.

First he said having patience is key, because there are times when the fish aren’t going to cooperate and will be difficult to catch. He said young fishermen also have to be dedicated and focused.

“Spend as much time on the water to gain experience and be fully committed to it,” he said. “There are a lot of tools out there to help you. Use things like YouTube, magazines articles to learn the techniques and tricks.”

Just as importantly as knowing how to catch fish is knowing how to operate a business and market yourself, VanDam said. He said a business and marketing degree is good to have in your back pocket if you decide to turn pro. He said working with and keeping sponsors can be difficult and they are needed because the travel and equipment for pro fishing is expensive.

“You can be a great fisherman, but if you don’t understand the business side it will be hard for you,” he said. “It is hard to become and stay a pro in any sport.”

Major League Fishing will be in Alpena through the end of the week filming and the television episodes are expected to air on Outdoor Channel in February. The series will also be on Discovery Channel, but no dates or times have been announced.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews.

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