Kevin VanDam Wins Fishing Tournaments by Letting Bass Tell Him What They Want
Day 1: What Lure to Fish When You Can’t See the Bass Going to the Bed with Kevin VanDam
Editor’s Note: In the world of bass fishing, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, has set the bass-fishing world ablaze with his winning efforts. He was crowned the 2010 BASS Angler of the Year and the winner of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic, besides finishing in the top-12 cuts in a couple of BASS Elite tournaments, in this spring of 2011. But until he fished the BASS Elite Series Tournament on the St. Johns River in March, 2011, his three primary baits since the summer of 2011 had been the Strike King KVD 1.5 and 2.5 and the Strike King Premier Pro-Model spinner bait. However, at this tournament, VanDam’s best efforts came by fishing the Strike King Perfect Plastic lures. VanDam has learned over the years not to argue with the bass. He feeds the bass the lures they’ll eat, not just the lures he thinks they should eat, which is a critical element to his success.
Question: Kevin, when you look-up the words, “sight-fishing for bass,” the pros’ names who come to the top first may include Shaw Grigsby, Boyd Duckett and some of the other better-known sight-fishermen. But on the St. Johns River, you competed primarily as a sight-fisherman. Why?
VanDam: I never have a pre-conceived idea on how I’ll fish any day I go on the water. I let the water, the wind and the fishing conditions dictate how I’ll try to catch the bass. I spent the entire tournament on the St. Johns River sight-fishing, and here’s why. For the first 3 days of the tournament, we had high skies with a lot of sun, no wind or very-little wind and clear water in Lake George, where I was fishing. So, I looked for bass holding on the bed and decided to target those bedding bass. I went around the bank searching for bass. I’d cast the Strike King Ocho into the holes where the bass were making a bed, or I’d just blind-cast that lure around the bedding area, without using any weight. I caught a really-big bass on the first day blind-casting the Ocho. I caught two to three more bass that day using the same technique I used when I searched for the spawning bass. I learned that when you fished lakes where the water wasn’t clear enough to see the bass on the bed, but you knew the bass were bedding, fishing an Ocho without weight, either Texas-rigged or wacky-rigged, was a good way to find and catch the bass. I fished a lot of eel grass and dollar pads, so I had to rig the bait weedless. I rigged the Ocho Texas-style to make it more weedless and let it fall all the way to the bottom. Then I’d move it 3 to 4 feet up off the bottom, let it sink again, reel it in and make another cast.
Question: So, you only fished the Ocho on the fall. Why?
VanDam: The Ocho has a very-subtle fall. The female bass were cruising-around, looking for a place to bed in the eel grass, the dollar pads and any other type of spawning area. They also were searching for a male bass with which to pair-up. If you drop that Ocho anywhere around the bass, it presents a big meal that they don’t have to expend a lot of energy to reach. All they have to do is suck-in the bait.
Question: Which size Ocho did you fish?
VanDam: I fished the 7-inch Ocho, a big bait with a big profile. I knew there were 10-pound bass swimming in the areas where I was fishing, and I wanted to give them big meals. Every day of the St. Johns tournament, my game plan was to start with the Ocho. I’d cast the bait in areas where I knew the bass were bedding, let it fall to the bottom, jerk it up off the bottom and allow it to fall back again. If I didn’t get a strike, I’d reel-in the Ocho and make another cast. This tactic proved very productive when I was in a spawning area and couldn’t spot a bass.
Question: What color Ocho and what pound-test line did you use?
VanDam: I used 14-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon line. With that 14-pound-test line, the Ocho fell somewhat faster than if I used heavier line. I wanted it to reach the bottom quickly, so I could cover a lot of water quickly. I used a No. 5/0 hook and fished a watermelon-red-and-black Ocho. I’ve learned that anytime I’m fishing clear water, a lure with some red or red flake in it seems to always produce the most bass. That’s the reason I always throw watermelon-red or the double-header-red color in a situation like we had in Florida on the St. Johns River. Those two colors are very similar, but the bass seem to react well to them under those weather and water conditions.
Question: When you get a big bass on the Ocho with only 14-pound-test line, how do you get the bass out of that eel grass and those dollar pads?
VanDam: Dollar pads and eel grass aren’t very-tough weeds. That 14-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon line is really strong. It will cut the grass as the bass go through it. If I’d had heavy lily pads, thick hydrilla or heavier grass than what we were fishing, I would have changed to 17- or 20-pound-test line. But I’ve found that I get more action out of the Ocho as it falls with the 14-pound-test line than I do with bigger lines. So, I gamble on possibly getting two more bites, because I’ve got 14-pound-test line than maybe losing a big bass by using heavier line. But where we were fishing, I wasn’t too concerned with heavier line, and I didn’t lose a single bass using the 14-pound-test line.