He outfished Aaron Martens by six ounces.
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Kevin VanDam rocked Mellon Arena with a limit of scrappy smallmouth bass from Pittsburgh's three rivers Sunday and won the 35th CITGO Bassmasters Classic by 6 ounces over Aaron Martens.
Competing on waters that are familiar to Youngstown-area bass anglers, VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Mich., claimed his second Classic title and the $200,000 first prize, and etched his name among the all-time elite in the world of professional fishing.
And, like those who fish the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers routinely, he and the 46 other Classic contenders found the angling to be challenging.
VanDam sacked a total of 12 pounds, 15 ounces over the three days of Classic action, setting the record for lowest winning weight in the tournament's 35 years.
Anglers blamed the tough fishing on a lack of current, which kept the three rivers' bass relatively inactive during the event. But they also said they see great potential in the area as a burgeoning bass factory.
VanDam limited his fishing to the immediate downtown area of the Mon River, and concentrated on the top of the water column with a Smithwick Rogue jerkbait more than 20 years old. He said he used the bait while growing up.
Martens finished second for the third time in four years.
"I'm getting sick of second," he said. "The monkey gets on your back and I felt it today. But that's why it's fishing and not catching."
Martens lost several good smallmouth Sunday, more than enough to push his weight beyond the 12 pounds 9 ounces he weighed.
He also said he enjoyed the opportunity to fish the three rivers.
"It was exciting fishing," he said in reference to closeness of the finish and the large numbers of fish -- most of which were below the 12-inch keeper size. "It's good to do something different once in a while."
Martens, the 2005 BASS Angler of the Year, said he wants a Classic victory more than anything, but he figures his time will come.
"I'm 32 and have a lot of fishing ahead of me, but this one was the toughest tournament," he said.
Third place went to Gerald Swindle of Alabama, who credited his success to a lucky rock and knowledge about how barge traffic positions river fish. His total weight was 11 pounds, 13 ounces.
Over three days, he had 14 keeper bites from the one rock. At one point while a barge passed, Swindle had six bites in 10 minutes.
"This was probably the best Classic we've ever had," he said. "I threw a popper for suspended fish and when the current was strong, he tossed a crankbait."
VanDam and other contenders in this year's Classic said the low weights at this year's tournament are not a good indicator of the three rivers' potential. The sheer number of fish they caught is a great sign for the future.
"I saw gillions of 21/2-inch bass all over the place," VanDam said. "It's really encouraging for this place."
Pittsburgh's rivers yielded more than 700 bass to the 47 anglers over the three-day Classic, but keepers measuring longer than 12 inches were tough to find.
The former record for lowest winning weight was set by George Cochran in 1987 on the Ohio River when he sacked 15 pounds, 5 ounces.
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