July 02, 2015
For a number of years, yours truly has avoided fishing on the Fourth of July like it was ... well, like it was the plague.
Since my home water happens to be the voluminous Lake Texoma, an 89,000-acre reservoir on the Texas/Oklahoma border an hour's drive north of Dallas/Fort Worth, such avoidance is somewhat understandable.
Found at the confluence of the Red River and the Washita River, the truth is that sprawling Texoma doesn't have any trouble attracting fishermen, recreational boaters, personal watercraft enthusiasts and sailboat aficionados.
In fact, the beautiful water body comprised of rocky shorelines, sandy beaches and relatively clear and deep water is annually among the most heavily visited lakes in either state.
And all of the above is true enough on a run-of-the-mill week day, let alone on a summertime weekend.
But add in the crush of the year's biggest summer holiday - Uncle Sam's annual birthday bash - and the number of people crowding onto the water at Texoma can swell to uncomfortable levels, if not levels that seem borderline insane.
Making Independence Day fishing for the largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass that swim in Texoma an exercise in frustration at best.
But according to Bassmaster Elite Series pro and Major League Fishing veteran Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., my avoidance of my home lake on the Fourth means that I'm missing out on some great fishing potential, holiday crush or not.
In fact, KVD, the four-time Bassmaster Classic champ and winner of the Jack Link's Major League Fishing Summit Cup in Alpena, Mich. a couple of years ago, says that the Fourth of July is actually one of his favorite times of the year to be out on the water.
“We're an outdoors family and we're pretty much going to be out there every Fourth of July,” said VanDam.
“It's one of those holidays where you can count on us being out there fishing somewhere," he added. "We're almost always out there for the Fourth and in fact, I can't remember the last time we were not on the water.”
And that fact isn't just because KVD's family loves the tradition of being on the water for Independence Day - VanDam says that there is actually some pretty good fishing to be found too.
“Yeah, some of the best fishing up here in Michigan is when it's real busy and the water is real crowded on these holiday weekends,” said VanDam.
Why is that? KVD, who has learned to catch fish despite the crush of spectator boats that often seems to follow his every move at a tournament, says it's because holiday crowd or not, bass are ambush feeders.
And on a holiday weekend like this year's Independence Day celebration, bass have learned to utilize the existing conditions to their advantage.
“When you are on a shallow lake like those that we often have here in Michigan, the bass are going to be active in the shallow water where you find bottlenecks, funnels and that sort of thing,” said the seven-time BASS Angler of the Year.
“The reason for that is because the water is going to be stirred up and often stained and the baitfish are going to be stirred up and on edge,” added KVD, also a one-time FLW Tour Angler of the Year.
“And that means that the bass are going to be focused on the bait and keyed in on feeding.”
A similar scenario happened in Alpena a couple of years back when VanDam won his first Major League Fishing title on the Saturday of a very busy Labor Day weekend.
In that MLF Championship Day round, KVD found plenty of active smallmouths despite the holiday weekend boat traffic.
In fact, by day's end, he had crushed the bronzeback bass and blown away the rest of the field en route to his first ever MLF title, completing what is arguably one of the sport's best final round performances of all-time.
The current king of bass fishing said that the key to success in such situations is to target the spots that give bass a place to ambush baitfish in the shallow, stained water that is getting churned up by holiday boating traffic.
“Some of the best days of fishing that we have up here are on these busy days where there is a lot of activity,” said KVD. “The bass are actually on the prowl in such situations because they have an advantage (over the baitfish).”
Where does the winner of 20 BASS events and more than $5 million in career earnings specifically look for bass on such busy days?
VanDam says that he will cover water looking for flatter, shallower areas, especially those spots that have some grass and vegetation.
“The shallow mouths of bays and canals, they can also be real hotspots when there is a lot of hustle and bustle out there,” he said.
What type of lures does VanDam throw in such situations?
“You've got to remember that the bass are focused on the bait, so I'm going to use more active presentations,” said KVD, widely known as the king of power fishing.
“I'm going to be throwing things like a spinnerbait, my Strike King KVD squarebill crankbaits and even a Strike King Red Eye Shad, which can be a really good choice sometimes.”
On southern impoundments - where deeper water can lure a bass that grows weary of the constant drone of boat engines roaring around - VanDam says that the key to holiday fishing success is often as simple as being out on the water at the crack of dawn.
“You've got to fish real early in those situations,” said KVD. “If you'll be out there, you can get some good fishing in before most people get up and get out on the water.
"You've got until 10 or 11 o'clock in the morning on most lakes before things get real busy.”
Later on in the day can also be a good choice as the sun heads towards the western horizon.
As long as any on-the-water fireworks shows aren't providing a temptation for boaters to remain on the H2O until after darkness actually falls, that is.
“Sometimes, that last hour of the day can be pretty magical, pretty darn good,” said VanDam.
If anyone should know that, it would have to be KVD.
Because when the sport's GOAT (greatest of all-time) says it's a good time to be out on the water, you can take that star-spangled sentiment to the bank.
Even when dear old Uncle Sam is busy celebrating America's 239th annual red, white and blue birthday bash.
On a crowded water body filled with plenty of bass.