BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Jeff Kriet heard voices all day on Sunday and he didn't necessarily like what they told him.
He'd entered the final day of competition at the 2010 Bassmaster Classic with the narrowest of leads -- 2 ounces over all-world superstar Kevin VanDam and 3 ounces over Texan Todd Faircloth. Those two anglers fished primarily in Beeswax Creek, where Kriet camped during the tournament, as did VanDam, who went on to claim his third Classic title. Every time any of them caught a fish, the galleries of spectators whooped and hollered and it started to wear him down after a while.
"If this happens again I'm going to have to fish with ear plugs," Kriet said.
He doesn't want Kevin VanDam to go away. Nor does he want him to ratchet the pressure down at all. He just wants to be at the top of his game one time when VanDam falters. Kriet has yet to win at the tour level, but when he does, he hopes to vanquish the dragon known by the initials KVD.
"I want him there," Kriet said. "I want to win when he's there. I couldn't have written it any better this week, with us one and two going into the last day, but it bothers me to get beat by any one person." Kriet also finished second to VanDam at an Elite Series tournament on Grand Lake in 2007. "This is two times that I've been leading and he's beaten me."
In addition to the haunting cheers aimed at other anglers' catches, Kriet was also misled by the visions that came to him during Classic week. He stayed up late on Saturday night watching footage of the day's action and noticed that Mike Iaconelli, who was fishing within sight of him, if not closer, was throwing what appeared to be a small swimming grub.
At 2 a.m. Kriet bolted upright in bed as the result of a vision that he needed to throw some sort of paddletail worm or small soft plastic in addition to the rattling lipless crankbait that had carried them that far. It was too late to run to the store to buy the lures he envisioned, but mid-day Sunday he tied on the closest facsimile in his boat, a small swimbait, and on the third cast a fish bit but did not get hooked. He spent a substantial amount of time thereafter fruitlessly trying to generate bites that way.
Another vision that did not prove accurate for Kriet was his pre-tournament belief that he'd have to fish deep with light line tactics in order to have a chance to win.
"I fully intended to come up here and fish deep," he said. "I really like to shake a worm. It probably worked out better that the water was muddy and I couldn't finesse them."
He caught the majority of his fish on a Yo-Zuri lipless crankbait hand-painted in a "Rayburn Red" color.
"I've probably weighed in 300 pounds of bass in Bassmaster tournaments on that lure," he said.
The noisy Yo-Zuri was dynamite on Friday, but when the bite toughened on Saturday he picked up various Sebile Flatt Shad lipless cranks, which have a more subtle sound. By Sunday he had to diversify his arsenal even further. He said that when the tournament was over, he'd probably tried a grand total of 30 different lipless crankbaits, including the Yo-Zuri and Sebiles as well as Strike King Red Eye Shads.
"I would cast it out and let it sink to the bottom," he said. "I was reeling them real slow, working it like a jig."
He also caught one fish Sunday on a Jewel football jig.
Kriet focused on one stretch of grass less than 100 yards long almost the entire tournament and the gas he used all three days could probably be measured in ounces. But he couldn't approach the offshore coontail haphazardly. He took a scientific approach to dissecting the grass bed.
"Angles were everything," he said. "Most of the fish were on the sides of the grass."
Local expert and fourth place finisher Russ Lane expressed surprise that Kriet didn't win: "I definitely thought he had the money spot because he had the deepest, thickest coontail," Lane said. "I'm shocked at where Kevin caught them."
Kriet has no regrets about his execution in this particular tournament.
"I fished as clean a tournament as I've ever fished," he said, noting that he did lose one large fish that he had foul-hooked in the back but even with what many considered the best stretch of bank in the lake, he's sorry that he didn't have another less-pressured area to supplement it.
"I laid claim to what I felt like was the best stretch in there," he said. "By establishing myself in that area I sacrificed four or five other areas. If I had even one other stretch "
After VanDam made a slight stumble on Saturday, Kriet allowed himself to believe that the tournament was his for the taking, a feeling he'd had before.
"When this schedule came out I told my wife I'm going to win Lay Lake," he said. "I'm eventually going to win one of them. I have to."
Bassmaster Classic history is littered with broken heroes who've come close but never won, including legends like Gary Klein and Tommy Biffle. Some have been close enough to taste victory multiple times but have consistently come up empty, like three-time runner-up Aaron Martens.
Kriet, with six Classic appearances now under his belt, has now tasted top ten glory twice, but the rarified air of the winner's circle has evaded him for at least one more year.