On the St. Lawrence in August, Mr. VanDam’s blue eyes darted between a fish finder mounted in his console and the waves on the river. Having zoomed along for 40 minutes after launch, he reached a spot he deemed promising.
He cut the outboard engine, threw off his life jacket, leapt to the front of his boat, lowered his trolling motor and pitched out his first cast, all within a matter of seconds. Fishing as a cardio workout might sound laughable, but research published in 2008 found that professional anglers burn up to 4,300 calories during tournament days.
Mr. VanDam is tall, with cherubic cheeks and a tendency toward zealous winking. To ward off the morning chill, he wore rain pants and a raincoat embroidered with the logos for Nitro, the company that made his boat, and Bass Pro Shops. On his feet he sported timeworn flip-flops that revealed the edges of an intense sandal tan.
Most BASS tournaments are held in lakes and rivers dominated by largemouth bass — recognizable by mouths that extend beyond their eyes. In Waddington, however, Mr. VanDam was targeting smallmouth bass, which tend to fight fiercely once hooked.
Within minutes he had his first bite. “It’s a nice one,” he said, letting out a bit of line. When the fish had tired itself out, Mr. VanDam reeled it in, tipping his rod down close enough to the water that he could scoop the bass up in a sun-tanned hand.
It was about the size of a squished bread loaf, with a razor-sharp front dorsal fin and dark, tigrine stripes covering its shimmering bronze body. As Mr. VanDam transferred the creature to his livewell — a compartment behind the boat’s seats that acts as an aerated swimming pool for captured fish — the smallmouth relieved itself on his foot.
His day got worse from there. At one point, Mr. VanDam hooked a mammoth smallmouth only for it to break off. “Dang it!” Mr. VanDam exclaimed, with the most bile his Midwestern manners would allow.