June 30, 2022
By Lynn Burkhead
Even during the heat of summer, I’m a fool for America’s piscatorial favorite, the largemouth bass.
Just the other day, I went on a striper fishing trip at Lake Texoma with my middle child and oldest son Zach, content to try and get him his first good striped bass on a fly rod.
Except that the stripers weren’t biting, for us or the Texoma striper armada of guides and recreational anglers who assemble at the crack of dawn every summer morning to chase these inland linesiders as they chase shad in the Texas/Oklahoma border lake.
And just like that, dear old dad suggested that the object of our morning trip turn from stripers to Texoma’s largemouth bass, the late-June kind of fish that powered B.A.S.S. angling star Greg Hackney to a BASSfest win on the lake several years ago.
If the truth be told, we didn’t do so hot on largemouths, or smallmouths, or spotted bass, as my young-buck son out-fished the old bull at the back of the boat. But I kept trying, kept flinging a big extra-large Flyman Fishing Company Double Barreled Popper fly on my eight-weight fly rod at any decent looking vegetation, rocks, or submerged cover.
Why? Because even with a fly rod that day aboard my Ranger bass rig, like most of the rest of the American angling public, I’m eaten up with the largemouth bass, a species that I just can’t get enough of. And that’s true even now, as the 2022 version of the Fourth of July holiday weekend arrives, a time on the water that I once avoided like the plague.
You know, before there was a real plague to avoid. But I digress, because Texoma is not exactly the easiest place to fish in the summer months, let alone on Uncle Sam’s Fourth-of-July birthday celebration.
But according to Kevin VanDam, the bass fishing sport’s all-time greatest competitor—the undisputed GOAT, in fact—it can be done.
In fact, despite my avoidance of my home lake on the Fourth since it resembles the D-Day armada put together by my hometown’s favorite son, Dwight D. Eisenhower, I’m actually missing out on some great fishing potential, holiday crush or not.
According to Van Dam, the Kalamazoo, Mich., bass fishing Hall-of-Famer, the Fourth of July isn’t just a great time for perfecting his famous Citrus Soda ribs recipe.
Because just like the crowds that gather on lakes near his Michigan home, there is a way to enjoy the holiday and still hook a few bass, crowds or no crowds.
I’ve learned that lesson down through the years, covering KVD’s first of four Bassmaster Classic wins back in 2001 on the Louisiana Delta near New Orleans, wins on Kentucky Lake and elsewhere, and veritable clinics that the current Bass Pro Tour and Major League Fishing superstar has put on in various spots, including Alpena, Mich.
Explosive Bass Fishing on the Fourth?
In a conversation that VanDam and I once had about fishing on the Fourth—in actuality, KVD talked and I listened—he indicated that America’s birthday 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 in our interview a few years back. “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. And if it’s true in Michigan, it’s probably true in many other places.
“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 winner of an unparalleled 29 professional tournaments that includes four Classics, three MLF Cup events, one BPT event, and 21 other derbies on the various B.A.S.S. circuits.
Add in seven B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year trophies, an FLW Tour Angler of the Year title, 121 career "Top 10" finishes, a staggering $6.9 million dollars in career earnings (competitively speaking, not counting product endorsement earnings and such), and a 12th best angler status in the current BassFan World Rankings and it pays to listen to what he says on anything bass-fishing related, right?
Yup, and then some, even when the firecrackers are flying.
“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. “And that means that the bass are going to be focused on the bait and keyed in on feeding.”
I had a bird’s-eye view of KVD doing this a few years ago in Alpena when he won his first Major League Fishing Cup title on the Saturday of a very busy Labor Day weekend.
In the MLF Championship Day round of that made-for-TV derby, it was a virtuoso performance, an epic day on the water during which 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 was arguably one of the sport's best final-round performances at the time.
Ambushing Bass Still Gonna Eat
KVD notes that the key to success in such high-pressure 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 and what does the winner of nearly 30 professional angling events and almost $7 million in career earnings specifically look for when seeking bass on such busy days?
VanDam told me 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 all-time king of power fishing techniques and a man whose Nitro bass boat is filled up with all kinds of Strike King lures that grab a fish’s attention.
"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."
Early Start Can Pay Off
On southern impoundments - where deeper water can lure a bass that grows weary of the constant drone of boat engines roaring around - VanDam indicated that the key to holiday fishing success is often as simple as being out on the water at the crack of dawn. That sounds like topwater time even to my untrained ear, perhaps a KVD Sexy Dawg that walks back and forth or a KVD Splash that spits and pops on its way back to the boat.
"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, as the holiday starts to pass by, 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 falls, that is.
With several such fireworks shows annually slated around my home lake and hometown of Denison, that’s usually a guaranteed bet. But so is the lure of that last light fishing says KVD.
"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 greatest says that it's a good time to be out on the water, you can take that star-spangled fishing sentiment to the bank.
Even when dear old Uncle Sam is busy celebrating America's 246th annual red, white and blue birthday bash on the mid-summertime holiday.
On a crowded water body filled with plenty of bass anglers and boaters, to boot.
It might not be a quiet and secluded fishing experience, but when you’ve got a good bass at the end of the line, who cares?
With that sentiment in mind, happy birthday America! And good luck catching the nation’s most favored fish on this Independence Day holiday weekend, the legendary largemouth bass!