August 19, 2016
For most bass anglers, fishing is a pastime best enjoyed in a quiet, idyllic setting on a lake devoid of too many other anglers, let alone the hustle and bustle of noisy summertime swarms of pleasure boaters and jet skiers.
And while that is usually the preferred scenario for the world's top bass fishing professionals, sometimes, the crush of summer boat traffic can actually be a pretty good thing.
So says Kevin VanDam, the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based, touring pro known worldwide by his initialed moniker of KVD.
As arguably the sport's GOAT – the greatest of all-time – angler, KVD has carved out a legendary career despite having to constantly endure the crush of spectator boat traffic that occurs at most of the BASS events he fishes.
Take, for instance, the 46th Bassmaster Classic contested in the early spring of 2016 on Oklahoma's Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, a famed water body barely more than an hour's drive from downtown Tulsa.
If you wanted to know where VanDam was located on Grand Lake during the competition, all you had to do was look for a huge collection of spectator boats racing down the lake not far behind one of the Bassmaster Elite Series competitor boats participating in the Classic.
If the boat wasn't being driven by hometown favorite and runner-up Jason Christie or by eventual winner and hometown hero Edwin Evers, then odds were that the heavily shadowed bass boat would be a red-tinted Nitro bass rig being driven by none other than VanDam.
But that's not the only time KVD has had to find success amidst a swarm of spectator boat traffic. He had to do the same thing in late spring of 2016 on Toledo Bend en route to capitalizing on an offshore crankbait bite as he sacked up hefty limits of big largemouth bass each day on the way to his 21st BASS win.
And a few weeks later, KVD had to do it all over again as he worked his way through a tough final day of fishing to capture the Elite Series event on New York's Cayuga Lake, a narrow win that proved to be KVD's 22nd overall win and his second such title in three events.
What does all of this mean? Simply this, despite the extra boating enthusiasts who are looking to get out on the water during the warm months, VanDam isn't afraid at all of the traffic or the crowds when it comes to his prospects of catching bass.
And he believes such boating traffic shouldn't deter you either, even if it happens to be on the summer's busiest weekend of the current year, such as the long holiday weekend leading into the Fourth of July.
In fact, KVD, the four-time Bassmaster Classic champ and winner of the Jack Link's Major League Fishing 2016 Summit Cup on the Mississippi River in Lacrosse, Wis., says such times are actually can't miss fishing time for his family.
“We're an outdoors family and we're pretty much going to be out there every Fourth of July,” said VanDam, a winner of more than $6 million dollars and counting in terms of his tournament earnings.
“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.”
Aside from the family time, VanDam says that there is actually some pretty good fishing to be found on such busy summer boating days.
“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 says that holiday crowd or not, bass are ambush feeders who are still going to find a way to eat when an opportunity comes swimming by.
“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 VanDam, a 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 VanDam, also a one-time FLW Tour Angler of the Year champ.
“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, Mich., a couple of years ago when KVD won his first Major League Fishing title contested on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.
In that MLF Championship Day round, KVD found plenty of active smallmouth despite the constant onslaught of holiday weekend boat traffic.
By day's end, he had crushed the bronzeback bass while blowing away the rest of the field and running away with the first of his two MLF titles.
The key in such busy water 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 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 22 B.A.S.S. events – and counting – specifically look on such days?
KVD says 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?
Well, with his Elite Series win on Cayuga Lake notwithstanding (a New York state Finger Lake where VanDam used a combination of a drop-shot and a Shaky Head rig to gain the win), keep in mind KVD is the undisputed king of power fishing.
“You've got to remember that the bass are focused on the bait, so I'm going to use more active presentations,” said VanDam. “I'm going to (typically) 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 offshore away from the constant drone of boat engines roaring around, VanDam says the key to busy water fishing success is often to be out on the water at the first crack of daylight.
“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.”
While many families concentrate on backyard cook-out by the late afternoon hours in the summer – VanDam's family included, especially when his famed KVD Citrus Soda Ribs recipe finds its way to the table – the king of bass fishing reminds that the latter part of the day also is a good time to catch a bass.
“Sometimes, that last hour of the day can be pretty magical, pretty darn good,” said VanDam.
If anyone should know what he's talking about when it comes to catching bass, it would have to be KVD, the king of bass fishing even on a busy summertime angling day.
And the bottom line in this piece is simply this, that when the sport's greatest all-time bass fishing pro says that it's a good time to be out on the water, then you can take that star-spangled sentiment right to the bank.