Todd Faircloth of Texas was close behind with 18-2, and it took almost 15 ½ pounds to make the top five.
"You can't win the Bassmaster Classic on the first day, but you sure can lose it," VanDam said. "The bass were doing what I thought they'd be doing.
He said he has a couple of things going for him going into Day 2.
"I've had several patterns working for me today," VanDam said. "The bass aren't really shallow, nor are they very deep."
And it doesn't hurt that his bass aren't being pressured by other competitors.
"No one else is fishing my area, and that's a good thing," he said. "So, I've pretty much got that region to myself.
"I really feel good about tomorrow; however, I don't know if I can catch that many pounds of bass tomorrow."
He was mum on how he built his limit, saying only he was using a newly designed bait.
In a heart-break, local favorite Boyd Duckett was able to boat only a 1-pound, 12-ounce bass after blowing his outboard at 10 a.m. Duckett won his one Classic title the last time the event was held in Lay Lake in 2007.
Tournament officials allowed him to switch to his brother's boat, but the boat had no electronics or water-temperature gauges – and none of his tackle.
Here is what other pros said about their first day:
James Niggemeyer of Texas (10th, 13-3)
"I feel like I had a good day of fishing after fighting walking pneumonia for two days. I struggled going into practice and also missed two days of practice. So, going out this morning, I didn't know what to expect. I actually culled twice today. I'm pretty happy with the way my day turned-out. I was catching most of my bass flipping with a Strike King Rodent. My two biggest fish came on the Rodent. I had a mixed bag of spotted bass and largemouths. My plan was to catch a limit of spotted bass, and then go out and fish for largemouths. I'll probably fish the same way tomorrow on Day 2 that I did today. If the weather stays like it was today, I can't see why the fishing won't get better. But I also plan to move into some new areas and some new water. I was running and gunning today, and I want to show my baits to some different bass tomorrow."
Mark Menendez of Kentucky (26th, 7-9)
"I got five bass today – about 7 pounds. I had five fish by 8 a.m., but I didn't get a bite after then. I don't know why the bass where I was shut down. But all of the ones I caught, I caught on a jerkbait, the Strike King Wild Shiner."
Shaw Grigsby of Florida (29th, 6-15)
"I caught some fish! I pulled up on this little spot I'd found, and the very first bass I hooked was a 3-pounder, but I lost it. Next I caught a keeper. Then I caught a dose of insanity. I've got a hot boat – the Triton SS – with a big Mercury motor on the back. When you've got a boat like that, you just feel like you need to run it up and down the lake. So, I ran all the way down to the dam, fished a little there, and then ran all the way back to my starting spot. I caught three more bass where I had started but lost another bass. I was throwing a Strike King Red Eye Shad, and that's what I'm planning to do tomorrow, but I'll catch me a limit of bass tomorrow. This time I'm not going to leave my fish and run up and down the lake."
Greg Hackney of Louisiana (40th, 3-5)
"I had a long day of fishing. I got one bass. I don't know what happened today, except that the water conditions changed. I had been catching some bass on a jig out in front of some grass. But I threw my Hack Attack jig in the black-and-blue color all day today, and just had one bite and caught one fish. I really think the bass were there where I was fishing. However, for some reason they just didn't want to bite. I don't think the bass had moved, because the weather had been so cold. But on the days when I was catching the bass, the skies were cloudy and the wind was blowing. Today the weather was sunny, and the water was slick, which caused the water to warm-up better. So, I think the bass may have suspended."
Denny Brauer of Missouri (49th, 0)
"I think too many of us keyed on the same bass in the same area. Something must have happened in the fish's environment that we didn't understand that caused them to act like they did. Today we all guessed wrong. I really believe that the opportunity to catch a good stringer is in the region where I'm fishing if the bass will just set back up on that spot the way they have been in practice. There's a small window of opportunity to catch these bass. They had been biting previously between 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm. But that didn't happen today.
"What I do tomorrow doesn't really matter, since I didn't catch any bass today. I'd like to do anything tomorrow other than go bass fishing on Lay Lake. I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow. I really had a lot of confidence in what I did today. There are some big bass to be caught on this spot, but I really don't know what I'll do tomorrow. I'm going to try to regroup attitude-wise and bait-wise and come up with a better plan for tomorrow."