Kevin Vandam Wins Bassmaster Classic Bracket, Pending Protest By Brett Hite

Kevin VanDam is riding high after posting his 23rd career Bassmaster win – pending Brett Hite’s protest. photo by Steve Bowman

After 4 days, 8 anglers have gone head-to-head in bracket style competition at the Bassmaster Classic Bracket. Finally, we have a winner.


When the seconds had ticked off the clock in today’s championship round, Kevin VanDam had 20 pounds, 3 ounces on the scoreboard. Brett Hite had 13-9.

But VanDam caught a fish weighing better than 2 pounds just beyond the boundary of this week’s playing field.

Tournament Rule C1 covers this situation and it states that an angler may forfeit the lone fish that is in question of violation and that the angler’s entire catch is not in jeopardy.

Hite, however, compares VanDam’s blunder with that made by Greg Hackney at a recent Elite Series tournament – a mistake that disqualified Hackney’s entire day’s catch and basically knocked him out of the Angler of the Year race which he had led coming into that tournament day.

“Kevin is a friend of mine, but if a rule is broken, a rule is broken,” concluded Hite.

A review of the rules would indicate that VanDam’s win will be upheld. Formalities aside, here’s how the action unfolded.

Smallmouth specialists know these fish like bright skies and calm conditions that play to their strengths as sight feeders. Mother Nature tested the top two anglers today. Gone was the sunshine that lit up VanDam’s weed-lined flat so he could see to target his fish. The same sun had helped position Hite’s fish beneath the I-190 Bridge all week. Today’s weather was cloudy and breezy, a major reason for the slow start by both pros.

In the first 15 minutes VanDam cycled through at least 3 different techniques and had one missed strike to show for it.

He rolled up over the flat as if to do a post-mortem exam. “They are not positioned up here like I thought they would be,” declared VanDam, “not the big ones. Maybe they come in the afternoon.”

At 10:15 Hite struck first. “It’s like wrestling a tiger in 3 mile an hour current and wind,” said Hite as he spent a couple of minutes easing the fish ever closer until he could grasp the mellowed-out smallmouth. It weighed 1 pound, 15 ounces – a key number during VanDam’s win yesterday.

Eight minutes later VanDam answered. He had abandoned the flat that produced just enough for him yesterday and returned to his Day 1 hot spot at Strawberry Island. The fish weighed little more than a pound, but it brought with it the hope that the sleepy Niagra River fishery had woken up.

When VanDam landed a 2-pound, 4-ounce largemouth minutes later, it confirmed that the bass were awake and eating. A hook mark on the fish’s lip convinced VanDam that this was the same largemouth he caught, weighed and released on Tuesday in the same spot and on the same tube lure. The recycled fish gave him the lead.

As VanDam unhooked a 2-11 smallmouth 15 minutes later, he noted that color made a big difference and that he was alternating between KVD Magic and Edge, the color he used to catch this, his biggest bass.

Five minutes later Hite hooked up again, took a couple of minutes to play a fish and it, again, weighed 1-15.

VanDam answered with the jerkbait, and a 15-ouncer.

Just after 11AM Hite put a 1-11 in the boat.

VanDam immediately hit back with a 2-6 smallmouth.

Then, like a summer rain storm, as quickly as it had started the slugfest ground to a halt. The action assumed the pace that prompts commentators to pronounce random facts about the host location and to make predictions about the day’s weights.

By noon the bass were back at it. VanDam built a sizeable lead, in part by finding a bridge of his own. The railroad bridge featured fast current close to the shore. There VanDam ran his weight to 13-10. Hite trailed with 5-9.

Around noon, an hour after his last catch, Hite caught 2-1 smallmouth and threw out a quote from Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore movie: “Uh oh, Happy learned how to put!”

If Hite was putting, KVD was crushing it off the tee. He had 16 pounds by 12:30.

Unlike previous rounds this week, today was a “Weigh ‘Em All” format wherein there was no 5-fish limit. Every legal bass counted toward each angler’s total.

Through his involvement with Major League Fishing, VanDam has a lot of experience with match play, including the “Weigh ‘Em All” format.

On a final day when there’s no need to save fish, it makes sense to turn the boys loose and see who can wring the water out for all it’s worth.

With 4 minutes, 34 seconds left to fish, Hite lifted a 3 pound, 3 ounce smallmouth over the gunnel. It was a valiant last effort but it left him lagging far behind with 13 pounds, 9 ounces to VanDam’s 20-3.

It was a fascinating week of firsts but one thing not new to the sport was Kevin VanDam taking a title. This was his 23rd career Bassmaster victory, his 3rd this year alone – pending Hite’s protest. will let you know when we learn more.