Victory from Defeat with Kevin VanDam on Lake Dardanelle
What I Learned in Practice
Editor’s Note: If we learn how tournament fishermen achieve success consistently, we’ll be able to take those lessons and use them to reach success in our family and work lives every day. At the 2009 BASS Elite Series tournament held on Lake Dardanelle in Russellville, Arkansas, March 26-29, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, demonstrated how to deal with adversity, what to do when you’re in the middle of a crisis, and how never giving up can lead to victory. We’ll learn how VanDam has become one of the most-successful bass fishermen, as well as an accomplished businessman and family man. We all experience struggles, but how we deal with them dramatically impacts our success.
Question: Kevin, you finished second in the Bassmaster Elite Series on Lake Dardanelle in Arkansas, held March 26-29. Tell me how you thought you could win this tournament during the practice days.
VanDam: During the practice days, the weather was fairly warm, and the water temperature in some of the backwater areas in this river system was in the low 60s. Even though the tournament was held in late March, some of the bass were starting to spawn. The water was extremely low in the river, which was controlled by a lock-and-dam system, so I found an extremely-shallow area. Even though the water had been pulled- down, the bass still were holding on those shallow-water beds. I knew colder weather was predicted during the tournament; however, I felt I could go into this shallow-water area during the first of the tournament and catch a good number of big spawning bass. Once I found this location, I searched for other similar spots. I found one other place with shallow water and bedding bass. Then I spent the rest of my practice time looking for deeper water to fish, if and when a cold front hit. When I practice at a lake, I always plan on the effects the weather will have on the tournament, and where the bass will be positioned. I want to make sure that if the weather changes drastically, I can fish a region that holds bass, depending on the weather change. Even though warm weather was expected at the first of this tournament, cold weather was predicted for the last day or two of the tournament. So, I started searching for a deep-water pattern after I located two sites where I could catch shallow-water bass. I was able to find some isolated stumps and logs in deep water holding bass.
Question: How did you plan to catch your shallow-water bass?
VanDam: The site I found was a fairly-clear backwater place with lily-pad stems. I learned I could catch bass using a Strike King KVD swim jig. But I also knew I might have to flip or pitch some soft-plastic lures, like a Strike King Ocho or a Caffeine Shad, a soft-plastic jerkbait, to get those bedding bass to bite. During practice, I could get the bass to bite the swim jig by reeling it in really fast and using a Rage Craw as a trailer. That bait combination seemed to be magic to entice those big bass to bite.
Question: What color swim jig did you use?
VanDam: I fished with the bluegill-colored swim jig and a green-pumpkin-colored Rage Craw as a trailer.
Question: What line, rod and reel did you use?
VanDam: I used 50-pound-test Offshore Angler Magibraid line on a 6-foot, 10-inch Quantum Tour Edition PT Kevin VanDam Signature Series rod with a 7.0:1 gear ratio Quantum Tour Edition PT Burner Reel. I really prefer to use this rod-and-reel combination when I’m fishing the swim jig.
Question: What was the back-up pattern you found during practice?
VanDam: I went looking for isolated wood cover like stumps, timber, blowdowns, washed-out laydowns and logs that had blown into an area. I wanted to find that wood close to or in spawning flats or pockets that also were close to deep water. I knew if I could find a stump in 2 feet of water, and my boat was sitting in 4 feet of water, even during a cold front, those bass would move into those stumps and hold there. I always try to watch the long-term weather forecast and locate areas where the bass will hold, if that cold weather moves into where I’m fishing. Sometimes you can’t find these types of places in practice, but I always try to have at least one back-up pattern.
Question: Did you feel that you had a chance to do well the day before the tournament?
VanDam: Yes, with the bass I found and the weather conditions that were expected, I felt really confident I could perform well in this tournament.
Question: What lures and tactics did you use to find those bass in your back-up regions?
VanDam: I was flipping a Rodent to that wood cover.
Question: The Rodent has gotten a lot of positive publicity since it was first introduced and because numbers of big fish have been caught on it. Why has that lure become so hot?
VanDam: The Rodent is a really-unique lure. It’s constructed with Strike King’s Perfect Plastic, and it’s more soft than most other soft-plastic flipping baits. The Rodent has a lot of salt in it, as well as coffee flavor. Too, it looks different from other lures on the market. It’s compact, and I really like it. During the spawn, I prefer to fish a more-compact bait than I do at other times of the year. Because bass often bite funny when they’re spawning, I prefer a compact lure like the Rodent, so when a bass decides to eat the bait, it can get the entire lure in its mouth.
Question: How important is it to have salt and coffee in the lures you fish?
VanDam: Salt is a big deal to me. I prefer to have a lot of salt in the plastic baits I fish. Salt is a major component in blood, so when a bass bites down on a crawfish, a bluegill or a shad, salt is the first thing it tastes. I also spend a lot of time practicing with coffee-flavored lures. In practice, when I want bass to take the bait so that I’ll know bass are concentrated in a particular area, but I want to shake off the bass, not hook it and possibly catch it during the tournament, you can’t beat those coffee-tasting baits. Since the bass like baits with a lot of coffee taste and salt in them, I like to use the Strike King soft-plastic baits.
Question: So, you felt you had two really-good patterns to use in this tournament after the practice days, right?
VanDam: Yes, I felt really good from what I’d learned in practice, and I thought I had a game plan that would help me have a really-good tournament.
Tomorrow: The First Day of Competition