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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.


Professional Fishing: Luck or Skill

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 question would you ask a pro angler if you were an average fisherman?

VanDam: This is a good question for me because I really look up to a lot of anglers, like Larry Nixon, Denny Brauer, George Cochran and Rick Clunn. My brother has a big marine dealership and tackle store, and before I began fishing professionally, we'd bring these guys in for promotions. I got to ask them some questions before I became a pro.

One of the questions I wanted to know the answer to in the beginning was how much money was required to get out and follow the tournament trail. Many young fishermen ask me that now. Obviously the cost varies. At that time, I was trying to get out on the tour for a full year. I had about $20,000 in the bank, and I wanted to know if I could make it for a full year. Back then that was plenty of money. Nowadays, that amount is probably not enough.

Somebody just starting out in this business may want to participate in the Bassmasters open events, which includes only four events each year. So, participating in those events costs a little bit less. Entry fees are $600. An angler can practice and fish these events and not spend a whole lot of money. You possibly can get away with spending $1,000 to $1,500 per event. However, if you get out on the tour and fish for a season, then you're looking at a whole new ballgame. The entire season may set you back about $30,000, not including your truck, boat and insurance. The investment is large, and that's why breaking into professional fishing is difficult, especially for young guys who already have families and may not have other jobs or sponsors.

Question: What percent of people who try to break into professional fishing actually make it?

VanDam: Probably 1 percent make it. Few anglers have much staying power. They may participate in events for a couple of years and then disappear. So maybe 10 percent of those who try to become pros make it for at least a little while. I don't know. The percentage is not a lot. Staying in the game is tough.

Question: What questions do people ask you most often?

VanDam: I'm really known as a spinner-bait fisherman. So people ask a lot of questions about fishing spinner baits or why spinner baits are my favorite lures. I like to use spinner baits because they're so efficient. I can cover a lot of different depth zones, water clarity and types of cover. Plus, spinner baits are great lures for locating fish and covering a lot of water. I often use spinner baits to find a fishing spot. Maybe I'll catch a couple of fish or get a couple of bites in one area. And then I may use a worm, a jig or a jerkbait.

Question: What else do people ask you?

VanDam: A question I get asked a lot is just how competitive the fishing is on the tour. People always ask, "How good are those guys?" I wondered the same thing at one time. I fished pretty well in local and regional tournaments around my home, and I wanted to see just how good Larry Nixon, Rick Clunn and Denny Brauer were. What's amazing is the difference in the competition today from when I started - even from a couple of years ago. The learning curve is pretty steep now, and the competition is very tough. To win a Bassmasters tournament is really saying something. You have to have everything go right, and you really need to be on your game. I've had only seven wins in my 12-year career. Denny Brauer has had 12 or 14 wins - or something like that. Clunn is up there pretty high as well, but that's over a more than 20-year career.

Question: How much of winning is luck, and how much is skill?

VanDam: I don't believe in luck at all, so I think that's a very small factor. I try to eliminate all the variables I can control - whether that's equipment-related, lure-related or whatever. Anything that I can control, I do. The things I can't control, I try not to worry about. I just don't like the word luck. I call it good fortune or bad fortune. Luck may play a factor in getting a bite, setting the hook and reeling the fish to the boat. But if the bass is a good one, and it gets free from the hook in mid air, good fortune is when the fish bounces back and stays in the boat. Bad fortune is when the fish bounces off the side and back into the lake.


Fishing Basics and Family Support

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 other common questions you hear?

VanDam: People ask me how I travel all over the country to lakes I've never even seen before and still fish so well. My answer to that question is that I just have a system in place that I always use to locate fish. Before I go, I'll get a map of the lake and determine the type of lake that it is. Then I'll cruise the lake to see what it has to offer - what the water clarity is, what types of cover it has and what the seasonal pattern is - and start my search process from there. I'll look at a few basic things and then determine the best pattern for that season of the year. Then I'll try to come up with a game plan that fits my style of fishing.

I'm not a nice fisherman. I don't like to fish slowly. I'm a power-bait fisherman. In other words, I like to cover water with spinner baits and jigs. And crankbaits are kind of my expertise, so I'll try to pinpoint the area in the lake for the season of the year that fits my style of fishing. As we travel around the country, I always seem to be able to find something that I like to do - even if my style of fishing totally goes against what should be happening on a particular lake.

Question: Can you apply some of these basics to every lake, or is it a whole different ballgame every time?

VanDam: I use the same formula on every body of water fish. I wrote a book that spells out my formula in detail. Bass fishing is a science that is not an exact science, but I do take the same approach at every turn.

Question: Can you give me one example?

VanDam: Each little piece of information you learn brings up another question. For instance, say you're fishing in the spring in shallow water, and you're throwing a spinner bait at some bushes. You get your first bite when you run the spinner bait by the sunny side of the bush where the wind is blowing. You have to ask yourself if the fish are concentrating on the sunny side or the shady side and if they prefer the windy side or the calm side. Then you may get a second bite on the shady side but the wind is blowing on that side too. Is the wind the key? You have to consider all these factors as they arise.

Question: Can you give me one more example of a question people ask you a lot?

VanDam: "How do you stay happily married?" I get that question a lot. "How do you keep your family life together?" I've been pretty fortunate to this point because my wife and I have twin 5-year-old boys. They're just starting school and have been able to travel and see the country and go to a lot of the tournaments. The schedule is going to be so hectic this year that we're not going to be able to do that.

I talk to them pretty much every night, though. I talk to my wife for sure at least three times a day. I talk to my kids at least every night when I get off the water, right before they go to bed so they remember who their dad is. We also try to plan little trips, or we'll try to pull them out of school for a few days so they can go with me at least once or twice a year. For example, if I'm going to be in a tournament in Florida, we go to Disney World or something like that. We try to make the time that we do have together the best quality time it can be.

Question: Can you make it as a professional fisherman without your spouse's support?

VanDam: I can't. My wife is my business manager and my booking agent. She keeps things scheduled. She gets my plane tickets. She handles all the day-to-day contacts with sponsors. My wife doesn't have a job that she goes to, but she has a big job taking care of the boys, the house and all of the day-to-day business of things in our lives.

Question: Is the lack of family support a big reason some anglers don't make it in this profession?

VanDam: If you don't have family support, you're at a huge disadvantage. I am very lucky. I have great family support, not only with my wife but also with her parents. They will do whatever it takes to watch the kids. Also, my brother has a big marine dealership and store, and that makes a big difference as far as keeping my equipment in tiptop shape all the time. If I'm in between tournaments, and I need to fix something on my boat, it doesn't matter how busy the guys at the shop are. I go there and do it myself, or somebody drops what they're doing and helps me get going. Most guys don't have that kind of luxury.


Fishing Spots for Beginners

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: Can you pick out one lake in each region of the country that you think is suitable for a beginning angler?

VanDam: For a new fisherman, you want to go to a place that homes crappie or bluegill. Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee is full of those types of fish, and a number of wonderful guides work there, particularly at Blue Bank Resort in Tiptonville, Tennessee (www.bluebankresort.com). This is a great place to fish.

When you talk to the guides and plan your trip, you can tell that they sincerely want you to have a good time. And if you let them know in advance that you're bringing a beginning fisherman with you and really want to get him on a lot of fish, they'll do their best to meet your needs and expectations. That's the good thing about a reputable resort and guide service like Blue Bank, because they want you to have a good trip so you'll come back.

Other great places for beginners are Lake Okeehobee and Kentucky Lake (www.1fghp.com/Hondo/index.shtmll, www.kenoakresort.com, www.chucksguideservice.com, www.balonsproguideservice.com). You'll find a bunch of resorts and guides around that area. Tremendous crappie fishing is very seasonal, so be sure to check that before you go. Lake Eufaula in Alabama is another great place for beginners to learn to fish.

Question: Are there some good places to fish in the North?

VanDam: The problem with the Northeast is that the fishing is so seasonal that making a living as a guide is more difficult there. I know of several good lakes to fish, but not a lot of people who guide. One of the best things to do if you're in a region like that is to go to the local, independently-owned tackle store. Talk to the people who work there, and tell them that you have somebody who you want to get started in fishing and that you want to catch bluegills and bream. Sometimes you may find someone to take you fishing in a situation like that. But I don't personally know of any guides or anything like that in those areas.

Question: What about out West?

VanDam: Out West you'll find a lot of trout fishing. To try to take somebody for the first time on a public trout stream or a trout lake is pretty tough. But California has many lakes that are stocked with trout and that will have bluegills and other fish like that. They do have guides out there too. Probably a good contact out there would be Anglers Marine (www.anglersmarine.com) in Anaheim, California.