Kevin VanDam's $200,000 Strike King Lure
Look For the Hidden Spot
Editor’s Note: On June 24, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, won his second Bassmaster’s Elite Series event of the year at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. VanDam finished with a four-day tournament total of 78 pounds, 12 ounces, beating out Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Oklahoma, by almost 4 pounds. This victory, VanDam’s 12th, adds another $100,000 to his career earnings of nearly $2.5 million, making him the B.A.S.S. all-time money leader. The victory also propelled VanDam to the top of the standings for the title of Bassmaster Angler-of-the-Year. The same lure VanDam used to win the Elite Series tournament on Lake Guntersville produced another win for him at Grand Lake. The new crankbait VanDam designed, Strike King’s Sexy Shad, is a prototype, but should be in dealer’s stores by fall. Because of the publicity this lure already has and will receive, many dealers have a waiting list of fishermen who want to buy the lure as soon as it arrives in stores. This week, we’ll look at how VanDam won another $100,000 tournament.
Question: Kevin, what did you think you’d have to do to win this tournament?
VanDam: I knew the lake was high and flooded, and that there were numbers of willow trees on the lake. I knew most of the competitors would be fishing the obvious pattern of flipping the willow trees. I’d fished this lake in 2006, a week or two earlier than we fished the tournament this year. The bass still were holding offshore then. I’d found numbers of fish in deep water during the 2006 tournament, when the lake was at normal pool. But I’ve learned over the years that just because the water comes up in the lake, and there’s a lot of cover on the shoreline, not all the bass move up shallow when the lake rises. And, just because there’s flooded cover, not all the bass in the lake will go to that flooded cover.
The first morning of practice, I spent 1 to 1-1/2-hours flipping. I didn’t feel this tactic would win the tournament, so I decided to go out to deep water and look for bass holding on deep structure. I felt the bass would be holding in deep water because the power company was generating electricity 24 hours a day, producing current through the lake. Also, there was so much water in the lake that there were a couple of floodgates open, creating even more current. The Water Authority was trying to drop the lake level fast. When there’s that much current running through a lake, the bass will stack-up on points and wait for shad to come by so they can feed on them. When I went to the points and started fishing them, I caught some quality bass on the crankbait. I decided the crankbait probably was better to use than a jig or a Carolina-rigged finesse worm. In dirty water, crankbaits create vibrations, making the lures easier for bass to find.
Question: The obvious pattern for this tournament was flipping the willows. In most tournaments, you usually determine the obvious pattern and then find a different pattern to fish that the other anglers aren’t fishing, right?
VanDam: Yes, that’s true.
Question: What did you learn during practice?
VanDam: I learned that there was a large number of bass holding offshore, so most competitors would fish the shoreline. I also learned that I could catch those bass using the Strike King Sexy Shad crankbait, which I designed in a color pattern I developed for Strike King. It’s a lure I have a great deal of confidence in, especially after winning $100,000 at Lake Guntersville with it in the spring of 2007.
On the first day of practice, I found a simple-looking point out on the main lake. I caught a 7 pounder off that point on my first cast and a 3-1/2-pounder on my second cast. As I was reeling in the second bass, another fish hit the bait. I knew there was a school of quality bass holding on that point. I was surprised at the numbers of fish holding there. I knew that if there was a school of bass holding on an ugly point like that, if I could find more of these ugly points, I could expect to find more bass schooled-up on these same types of points. I spent the rest of my practice days looking at subtle points where bass would pull-up, feed and chase shad. Throughout practice, I caught numbers of keeper fish on these little points, and each day, I got at least one or two quality bites. As good as Grand Lake had been to me the year before, if I had a chance to catch a good limit of bass every day, I’d start and finish that tournament with a crankbait, and I wouldn’t yield to the temptation of going to the flooded willows and fishing the obvious pattern. I decided to live or die on the little ugly points.
Question: What made this an ugly point that most people wouldn’t fish?
VanDam: The point was a very simple-looking gravel point just off the main lake. From the surface, I barely could tell there was a point at this spot, but I could see a little bit of the point running away from the bank toward the river channel. The point was special because it had a flat spot before dropping off into deep water, much like a bench on the side of a mountain. Although there was gravel on the portion of the point that was out of the water, there were some bigger rocks underwater. Another reason I liked the first point I found was that everyone else was driving past it. I didn’t see another fisherman fishing that point during the entire three days of practice. I found 30-different ugly points like this throughout the lake and set up a milk run to fish all of them each day of the tournament.
Question: What crankbait did you decide to use in practice, and why?
VanDam: I decided to use the Strike King Series 5 crankbait. With the water being stained, I didn’t think the bass would be right on the bottom, so I needed a crankbait I could fish in water 4- to- 10-feet deep, which was where the Series 5 crankbait was designed to run.
Question: What color did you decide to fish?
VanDam: I fished the Sexy Shad color. I won the Lake Guntersville tournament with this bait in the same color, because it’s effective under a variety of water conditions. Sexy Shad has a pretty turquoise-and-teal back that really looks natural, even in stained water. As the tournament progressed, the lake really cleared-up. During the first day or two of the tournament, it may have been possible to catch bass on chartreuse or darker-colored crankbaits, but as the water cleared-up, the Sexy Shad kept getting better. I had just a few of the prototypes, and I gave one to each of my roommates, Davy Hite and Scott Rook. Davy finished 5th and Scott finished 14th. All of us were fishing the Sexy Shad.
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Tomorrow: Here Come the Crowds