In the fishing world, there’s only one man known by three initials. And it’s KVD.
If you’re reading this, you probably know all about the records he holds, the wins he’s posted, the Bassmaster Classic championships and the Angler of the Year titles. But I want to tell you a little about the guy.
When new partners ask me what makes a good relationship between a brand and a professional angler, KVD always tops the list of who I talk about. He’s the complete package….phenomenal fisherman, great marketer, uber conscientious colleague and most importantly, a fine man with a fine family.
His fishing skills are legendary. He fishes fast. Really fast. Back in the 2000’s when I was still working in TV production, I remember we counted his casts one time when he was fishing an Elite event. VanDam averaged a cast every 10 seconds, which translates into 360 casts per hour, or more than 2,500 casts a day. That’s a whole lot of chunking and winding.
He’s such a legendary angler that in the 2000’s he helped develop the Sexy Shad and set off a color craze that’s still going strong today.
As a marketer, he knows how to talk about product features naturally and you never, ever feel like he’s trying to sell you on something. He just knows his equipment so well. He knows what the average angler is concerned about and can talk to that guy in a way that makes him want to rush out to Bass Pro Shops and run up his credit card.
As big a star as he is in the sport of bass fishing, he is humble and considerate. We always know if we need to a good sound byte we can ask Kevin. He’s never bothered by the request, no matter how busy he is. He will arrive early or stay late to accommodate people who need him. There have been many times that I have asked him for a donation of some kind for a fund-raiser, and he has never hesitated.
Part of the reason he can keep all of these high-level qualities is because of his wife, Sherry. She manages his life, his career and his lunch box. Like so many BASS wives, she is the secret sauce to his success. She’s a great businesswoman, but also a caring friend. She has a knack for remembering what’s important to people and always finds a way to ask about the things they care about. She makes you feel special. They both do actually.
The VanDams are the kind of people that its hard not to envy. I’ve been to Christmas parties at their home in Kalamazoo and seen their whole family when there was no else looking. With this fam, what you see is what you get. There is no difference from the media persona and real life.
The Strike King Sexy Shad
When I asked Kevin to collaborate with me on my lure painting series, there was no hesitation in his answer. As busy as they are, both he and Sherry took the time to make sure I had what I needed. And it seemed important to Kevin to take that time. He just doesn’t half-do anything. He’s always 200%.
So most anglers and fishing fans hear that name, those three initials… and think of all the fishing accomplishments. But what I think of when I hear “KVD” is his amazing family. What an incredible, close group of superior human beings.
And also Kevin’s true passion for the sport of fishing that I can’t imagine will ever end.
I met Randy and Robin Howell over 2 decades ago and they have felt like family ever since. Watching them create a family and raise their two boys on the road has been a pure joy. They are the salt of the earth kind of people that are inspiring to see grow and achieve their dreams.
Randy Howell won the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersvlle with a Livingston Howeller crankbait.
Their kids are smart, respectful and funny. Once when their oldest son, Laker, was about 5 years old, I had to go to a tournament with a patch on my eye because of an injury. When Laker saw me his eyes got big and he stared for a minute then said, “Miss Angie, did you run with a stick?!”
The Howell’s are emblematic of a fishing family. Robin fished on a ladies tour before she had kids. Their son Laker fishes on the Guntersville High School fishing team and I bet his brother Laker will too in a few years.
Robin Howell might be the best bass angler in the Howell family!
The Howells and I share a love for Alabama. I grew up there and the Howells moved there from North Carolina when they were in their 20’s and have called it home ever since. When Randy won the Bassmaster Classic in 2014 it was extra sweet that he won on Lake Guntersville in Alabama.
When I asked Randy what his favorite fishing lure was, he didn’t hesitate. There was only one choice for him, and within minutes he was sending me pictures of this crankbait from his phone. All he had to do was walk out to the man cave and pick on up.
“This realistic Guntersville Craw Livingston crankbait was the first of its kind to have the biological crawfish sound to match the color. This bait helped me accomplish my dream of winning the Bassmaster Classic in 2014, and helped introduce the future of technology into fishing lures. I’m proud to represent Livingston with The Howeller Dream Master Classic series.”
Video is the way for me to tell this story because it is pretty personal to me, and I think I am better off telling it, than trying to write it. If you have been connected to me through social media over the past five or six years, you know that I was incredibly close to my father, Bryan
“Pete” Thompson….better known as CoolPop.
CoolPop is the reason I’m painting. And here’s why.
He’s a Jersey boy so maybe it comes with the territory? Or maybe it’s just another way to express himself, although Ike rarely has a problem expressing himself. Anyone who knows of Ike knows he has caused some kerfuffles in his career.
But unless you actually know him, as opposed to knowing OF him, you may not understand what a passionate guy he is. Or what a great husband and father he is. Or how kind he is. Or how when he talks to you he is focused only on you and what you are saying. Or how devoted he is to kids fishing. So devoted that he and his wife, Becky, started and fund a foundation dedicated to putting rods and reels into the hands of underserved youth.
I’ve seen Iaconelli stand in the rain to sign autographs for kids long after everyone else had left the venue to get out of the weather. And he always has a long line of kids waiting for him at every event.
I sat in the boat with him last summer at the St Lawrence River event where he hadn’t performed well. He told me when I first approached him, “I’m not in a good place Angie. Not in a chatty mood.” But then a group from a high school fishing club came following me down the dock and his face transformed into bright light and he joked and clowned around for photos and autographs.
But those tattoos though!
It stands to reason that Mike would design a series of lures for Rapala called Ike’s Custom Inks. He says they are designed to catch ’em when the fishing’s tough. Because Ike’s tough, in my opinion. He’s weathered a lot of storms in his career but it hasn’t affected his ability to be kind.
“I’m addicted to crankbaits. I can’t get enough of them; they are all over my boat and my truck; in storage bins and boxes. New ones, old ones, factory finished and custom painted models; I love cranks. Making these baits in my Ike’s Custom Ink custom colors was a great experience. Every tattoo tells a story. These baits are no different and are individual works of art to me.” -Michael Iaconelli
2003 Bassmaster Classic Champion
5 Time Bassmaster Winner
Steve Kenned’s Huddleston swimbait has a place of honor in his home. It even has a special display case it lives in. But he took it out and took a picture of it to send to me so I could paint it.
It’s his favorite bait and has been officially retired. It’s been nibbled on quite a bit and here’s why it lives in that display case.
It’s a record setter. And Steve Kennedy will never forget when he discovered swimbaits in California.
I remember this West Coast swing of the Bassmaster Elite Series when Steve discovered swimbaits. Steve was the talk of the tour because he was cruising around the west, stopping in tackle shops and buying up all the good swim baits. All the pros kept saying they would try to buy a certain swimbait, but every shop was sold out.
The story goes that Fred Roumbanis, a California native who was a swimbait expert, showed some guys his baits at the very first Elite Series event at Lake Amistad in 2006. Freddy finished second in that event to Ish Monroe. Both anglers caught over 100 lbs in that tournament. He was using a discontinued Bass Pro Shops XPS 6-inch soft plastic swimbait that Kennedy’s dad, Van, later found in a bargain bin at Bass Pro Shops in Macon, GA for $1.99. Kennedy bought 300 of them.
Suddenly, a little niche technique that only a handful of people knew about got hot.
The painting process
Painting this lure was tricky because Steve is a very particular guy. As I painted, I sent photos to his wife, and my very good friend, Julia. At the time the Kennedy’s were on a family vacation, snow skiing in Colorado. Steve would send back very detailed notes by text through Julia.
“The split ring is supposed to lay more flat and partially pushed up into the body.”
“The hook doesn’t look silver enough.”
I appreciated the attention to detail. I really wanted to get this right because I knew it meant a lot to Steve. And he’s one of my favorites.
He’s a fellow alumni of Auburn University (War Eagle) and as good as the day is long. I really love his parents and I absolutely adore his wife. His kids some of the coolest kids I know. I can’t wait to see how their journey unfolds. They are bound to be extremely interesting adults with the parents they have and the travels they have been on. This is one adventurous family.
I’ve made prints of this painting and they’re in my shop.
“122 – 14 will always be a special number for me. Heaviest winning weight 122-14. Biggest single bag I’ve ever caught, 40-7. Biggest single bass I’ve ever caught 10-6.
What else needs to be said? And a pivotal moment in my approach to tournaments. Swimbaits rule!”
-Steve Kennedy 2007 B.A.S.S. 4 Day Weight Record 8 Time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier 3 Time Bassmaster Elite Series Winner