Editor’s Note: With $100,000 on the line for 1st place in the BASS Elite Series Tournament held on West Point Lake in Georgia in early May, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, admits, “I’d never even seen the lake before the first day of practice.” Most tournament bass fishermen would be terrified to fish a major tournament on a lake they’d never fished previously. But this week, VanDam will tell us how he overcame this problem to finish seventh.
Part 1: What Kevin VanDam Does Before the Tournament Starts
Question: Kevin, what did you know about West Point Lake before you arrived there?
VanDam: I’d never seen or fished this lake before. But when I got on the lake the first day of practice, it reminded me of Lake Norman in North Carolina. It had a number of clay banks and clear water, and the lake was low, so there was very-little cover around the shoreline.
Question: How do you prepare for a tournament on a lake you’ve never seen previously or ever fished?
VanDam: I’ve fished other lakes on the same river chain. It’s above Lake Eufaula in Alabama and borders Alabama and Georgia. Because of the time of year, the bass would be just finishing-up the spawn or in a post-spawn pattern. Also, there might be a shad spawn happening on the lake. The first morning of practice, as I was putting my boat in the water, I saw shad spawning on the rip-rap at the boat launch, and that told me to look for the shad spawn. Because the shad spawn usually happened from April to mid-May, the bass would be keying-on the shad spawn, at least early in the morning. The shad generally would spawn after the bass spawned. So, by seeing the shad spawning, I knew the bass spawn had ended. Those two factors gave me a fairly-good idea of how I should conduct my practice fishing.
Question: What did you learn in practice?
VanDam: Practice was tough. Although I only got a few bites, I caught a few big bass. I tried cranking and fishing points and fishing offshore structure, but I couldn’t get much going in deep water. The few bites I got were near the shoreline. I was getting bites early in the morning on clay and rocky points, where the bass were feeding on the spawning shad. Then, during the day, I had to find some type of cover and shade, which this lake didn’t have. So, I started searching for underwater rocks, lay-downs, brush, stumps, boathouses or anything that would hold bass.
If I could find a tree, a boat dock or some other type of cover, where the bass could hide and attack baitfish, I’d catch the bass. I caught two bass that weighed 5 to 7 pounds from isolated stumps. I looked for other bass but couldn’t locate them. I decided then that this tournament would be tough, and I’d have to work all day to catch a limit of keepers.
Question: How did you think you’d fish the tournament after your practice days?
VanDam: I needed to capitalize on that early-morning bite when the bass were feeding on the spawning shad and try to get a limit of bass in the box early. I realized that after the early-morning bite, fishing would be difficult.
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