VanDam's Most-Unusual Bass-Fishing Tactics
Editor's Note: Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, one of the most-dominant anglers on the bass-fishing circuit, likes to fish with Strike King lures and particularly Strike King's Wild Thing, a creature bait that he used to win the 2001 BASS Masters Classic in New Orleans, Louisiana. Chosen Angler of the Year on the B.A.S.S. circuit in 1991, 1996 and 1999, VanDam also enjoys spending time with his family and hunting deer. This week, he'll share a few of his most unusual bass-fishing tactics, and he'll answer some of the industry's most-asked questions.
Question: What are some unusual methods you use to catch fish when nothing else seems to work?
VanDam: That's a tough question. I tried an unusual tactic while fishing a tournament in Michigan. My partner and I were fishing with bright-colored spinner baits to try to draw-up the smallmouth bass in that clear water. The fish were experiencing heavy pressure from a lot of other anglers, so my fishing buddy and I were using a variety of fishing techniques to try to get a bite. Nothing seemed to work. However, I happened to have a bubblegum-colored spinner bait with me. It was one of those things I kept around for a laugh. The bait was completely pink, with bubblegum blades and a bubblegum skirt. I thought, "Well, this bait is wild and different. Nothing else is working. Let's try it." I started throwing that pink spinner bait and suddenly caught tons of fish. I didn't win the tournament, but I think I ended up in second place. That bubblegum-colored bait saved the day. Sometimes throwing an odd-colored lure can make a difference.
Question: What's another odd method you've used to catch bass?
VanDam: I was fishing a tournament in the St. John's River in Florida and catching bass with jerkbaits and Slug-Gos. An amateur fisherman was with me in the back of my boat. He didn't know much about the Slug-Go or the little lead nails used to weigh down the bait and enable it to sink. I'd taken my limit of bass on jerkbaits, so I started throwing the Slug-Go. I watched a couple of good-sized bass come up and look at the bait, but they wouldn't take it.
The amateur saw the fish pass by my bait and decided to add some extra weight to his bait. He shoved four or five of those lead nails into one Slug-go. He didn't realize that you're not supposed to put that many lead nails in one Slug-Go. Consequently, his bait sunk like a rock while he jerked it and twitched it along. Oddly enough, this angler immediately caught three or four bass. I couldn't believe it. Apparently my lure was moving too slowly, and the fish were getting a good look at the bait. His overloaded bait, however, may have hurt the action of the bait, but it was moving so fast and sinking so quickly that he actually caught a bigger stringer that day than I did.
I received a sample bag of Strike King's new 3X lizards, including 12 green-pumpkin lizards. In practice I'd located some bass that were just starting to move up around some shallow stumps as they were getting ready to spawn. I thought, "Well, I just got these new lizards before the tournament, so maybe I'll try one of them." I didn't know anything about the lures, but I did get some bites on them. The baits were really soft, and the fish seemed to hold on to them. However, I rarely go into a competition and fish with something that I've never used. I generally fish the baits I feel comfortable with -- the baits I've used many times.
The first day of that particular tournament, I caught a 15-pound stringer early in the morning. But as the fishing became flat, I decided to return to the shallow stumps where I'd caught some bass in practice on the new green pumpkin lizards. The water was really calm, so I made a long cast and worked the lizard up to the stump. My partner asked me something, and I got distracted. So, my lizard just sat in the same spot for about 20 seconds. When I went to pick the bait back up, there was a bass on the line. I set my hook and reeled in a 5 pounder.
The 3X lizards flatten out to the bottom when you pull them. But when you stop the movement on a Texas rig, the sinker holds the nose of the bait down while the tail floats back up and hangs right in front of the fish. The bass I was trying to catch were starting to guard their beds around these stumps, and they just couldn't ignore the bait. I ended up using those new lizards for the entire tournament. I cast them out by the stumps and just kind of let the baits sit there for a minute. Some 30 to 60 seconds later, the bass would hit. I ended up finishing second in that tournament. I caught the biggest stringer in the tournament - all on those 12 Strike King 3X lizards.
Question: Have you used that tactic any other time?
VanDam: Yes, I've used that technique, called "dead sticking," over the years with other baits. I've caught numbers of fish with soft-plastic jerkbaits but never as many as in that tournament with those lizards. The lure is the reason this tactic works so well. The lizard has action when it's sitting still. It doesn't just lie there like a regular plastic bait does.
Another strange method I've used to catch bass was in a tournament last year in the early spring. The weather was very cold, and we were catching bass with Diamond Shads and lipless crankbaits. In real cold water, crankbaits create tight movements that the fish really want. I didn't bring enough red Diamond Shads with me, and I sure didn't have any red crankbaits that had tight action. But I did happen to have a can of red Spike-It worm dye with me. I figured that the clear-coat finish on the baits I had with me ought to dye like plastic worms, so I just took the red Spike-It and sprayed the baits red. I fished the whole tournament that way and came very close to winning. I finished second in that tournament - totally on crankbaits that I painted red. My partner would laugh at me and say, "That's the ugliest-looking thing I've ever seen." I said, "Yeah, but the bass like it."
Question: Do you use any other strange fishing tactics?
VanDam: In December 2001, I was at a show in California to do a seminar. I went to Anglers Marine, which is one of the No. 1 bass-boat dealerships in the west. They have a big tackle store with a lot of trendy new equipment there, and a guy was selling a sticky substance that you can put on baits to weigh them down a bit. He gave me a few packages of it, and I thought it was like Silly Putty. Nevertheless, I started using a little bit in tournaments and found all kinds of uses for it. I laughed at the stuff when I first saw it, but now I use it religiously for a lot of different things. For instance, if I have a jerkbait that's floating too much, or say I want to slow the rise of the crankbait and make it suspend a bit, I stick a little piece of the substance on the bait. The weight totally changes the action of the bait.
Question: How important is it for anglers to try new things to catch fish?
VanDam: I believe you need to have an open mind to be a successful angler. I used to be a real skeptic about new products. For instance, I looked at one new bait 10 years ago and laughed about it - until I saw it in the water. I could have been using that bait for 3 or 4 months before anybody else had one, but I was too stubborn to give it a try - even to see if it worked. I sure kicked myself for that because I really caught a lot of bass on that bait. When new techniques and items come out, I don't laugh at them any more. I don't care how goofy the product looks or what my first impression of it is, I always give each product or tactic a good thorough try before I make a judgment. I've learned that lesson the hard way.
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