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.”
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
I first met David Walker back in the 90’s when JM Associates was producing the FLW Tour series for ESPN. Walker was new in professional fishing and quickly making a name for himself.
We started the FLW Tour when ESPN launched ESPN2 and wanted a competition series within the outdoor category for the new network. They came to us and asked if we could figure out how to cover fishing tournaments, with hundreds of competitors, and make the programming compelling for a sports network.
One of the biggest challenges in covering tournaments was that it was a crap shoot when it came to getting the winner on camera. Bass tournaments are multi-day competitions and with so many people competing, it was hard to guess who would win in order to put a camera boat with them.
So we decided to create a new series, along with our friends at Ranger Boats, and design the competition format in a way that would guarantee we had the winner on camera. And that format included cutting the field of competitors after day 2 and again after day 3, so that on the final day we only had 12 boats to cover.
It worked out pretty well for us and now it’s the standard for tournament coverage on TV. Back in those days, we would ask competitors who had been cut from the competition to act as camera boats for our videographers, and that’s how we all go tto know David Walker.
Walker always raised his hand to work with the TV crew when he had been cut. I think he was smart to realize that instead of running home after he had been cut, if he stayed and worked as a camera boat, he would get to see the top guys finish the last few days of the competition and learn a whole bunch while he was doing that.
It wasn’t long before Walker was one of the top pros in the country. I’ll never forget the 2001 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans when he was leading the Classic on the final day. He was on stage and in the hot seat when Kevin VanDam came in with a big bag. Everyone knew it was going to be extremely close.
I was the red hat at that Classic, which meant I was the intermediary between the tournament officials and the TV crew. I had a headset on and was talking tot he TV truck to convey anything they needed to tell the stage crew and officials and vice versa.
I was standing at the edge of the stage watching the final weigh-in and the emcee was drawing out the moment to weigh KVD’s fish.
Walker was so nervous and absolutely squirming with the pressure. At one point he caught my eye there at the bottom of the stage and mouthed to me, “Is he going to win?”
Man, I felt terrible that I couldn’t reveal to him that KVD had the weigh to beat him. It would have ruined a great, suspenseful moment on TV. I’ve always felt bad about that moment, because Walker just wanted to know the outcome SO BAD.
Walker has had his own winning moments since then, and like I said, he’s one of the best pros in the world, but also a great friend to me and everyone else in the BASS family.
He’s known as a killer jig fisherman and is so well respected his sponsors ask him to design products for him. He has a long affiliation with Z-man, for whom he designed the Crosseyez Jig.
It has all the little tweaks and details that Walker wanted to see in a jig.
“I’ve fished professionally for almost 20 years and I think a jig is probably the most versatile lure; you can fish it shallow or deep, in cover or open water. I rarely go fishing without one tied on whether I’m fishing a tournament or fun fishing. I helped design this one with the help of my partners at Z-Man and it has all of the little tweaks that are important to me. It has been very gratifying to catch fish on the perfect jig for me.” -David Walker
11 Time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier
2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Winner
This painting started my current obsession with painting lures. I got to wondering how it got it’s name – Zara Spook.
I knew it was developed by Heddon back in the 50’s in Dowagiac, Michigan. Ive always loved the lure for its colors and of course, the thrill of a topwater explosion. And the name has always amused me. As a Southerner I believe a good nickname is highly valued. A little research revealed that this lure actually has southern roots.
When the Heddon company began using plastics in their lures they called them “spooks” because they were transparent…like a ghost. But what about the Zara part? Sounds exotic doesn’t it?
Turns out, if you can believe Mr Ray Sasser, esteemed outdoor writer for the Dallas Morning News, the lure was developed in Pensacola, Florida. Which might as well be part of my home state of Alabama as far as I’m concerned.
Evidently the lure was carved by a local and was really effective at catching speckled trout. Biggs Sporting Goods, which opened in Pensacola in 1917 and is now, unfortunately, a parking lot, was the place to go if you were a fisherman in Pensacola in the first half of the last century. Just a few blocks away was The red light district, such as it was in this port city, down on Zaragoza Street.
Well the hand carved lure got around for its ability to entice speckled trout to the surface for a snack leading a customer, after a particularly successful day, to proclaim, “That minnow, it do the hoochie coochie, just like the girls on Zaragoza Street.”
And the Zaragoza Minnow was born. Later on, a traveling rep for the Heddon Company visited Biggs Sporting Goods and brought the lure back to Michigan where it became the Zara Spook.
Thank you Mr Sasser for that story. It explains a lot as to why I’ve always loved this lure.