OTSEGO, Mich. — Otsego native Kevin VanDam has made a career out of his favorite hobby.
"It's just something that's in my blood, it's my family's thing."
VanDam has been on the water fishing ever since he can remember, starting with ice fishing at the age of three with his dad.
"I started in the Kal-Valley bass club, fished my first tournament when I was 14 right here on Pine Lake," VanDam recalled, "gosh, we finished second and that hooked me then for sure."
Now at 53-years-old, VanDam is one of the veterans on Major League Fishing's Bass Pro Tour.
VanDam won his recent Bass Pro Tour event in early June, on Lake Chickamauga in Dayton, Tennessee.
"I'm 31 years into fishing on the professional level, I just won the last event we had at Lake Chickamauga on the Bass Pro Tour, I've had a lot of success over the years and I love it, I love the competition," he added.
A lot of success might be underselling it a bit. VanDam is a seven-time Bass Angler of the Year and was inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2018.
Despite being one of the best fishermen of all time, he isn't big on accolades.
"I've never done it for the money or accolades or trying to break records or anything like that."
The past 31 years on the pro tour have meant a lot of adjustments for VanDam, especially adapting to the technology.
"Just like this rig right here," he said looking at his fishing boat, "I've got four Humminbird HELIX graphs on there, I've got a GPS, a MEGA 360 that's forward-facing sonar. They just introduced a new live sonar where you can actually see the fish move around the boat and react to your bait. The technology has been incredible to watch in my progression throughout my career, you have to embrace it."
With the most recent win in early June, VanDam has now racked up nearly $7 million in career winnings at this point of his career. Yet again, he says that's not his incentive to keep competing.
Nearly ten years ago, 'KVD' as he's known on the tour and his wife, Sherry, began the Kevin VanDam Foundation to help youth in West Michigan and around the country with everything from fishing to hospital bills.
"It's our way to really give back," he said, "my wife and I had twin boys that were premature and we went through the NICU, we do a lot with the Children's Hospital and March of Dimes."
VanDam says his legacy will take care of itself while he continues to put future fishermen and kids first.
"I get a lot of letters and notes and requests from fans and most of them are kids from around the country, I love sending them autographs and pictures. It's humbling and flattering that people look up to somebody, but I fish for a living, it's not rocket science. The history and the stats will take care of themselves on the other side of it."
He has seen the competition on the tour getting younger and better but KVD says he's not hanging up the fishing poles any time soon.
"I'm getting ready for another tournament as we speak and I don't see myself quitting any day soon," he smiled.
VanDam and the Bass Pro Tour will be fishing the St. Lawrence River in New York later this week.