November 08, 2017
There aren't too many times when the legendary Kevin VanDam gets stumped on a fishery and has a hard time putting keepers in the live well.
But during portions of the fall fishing season, even the greatest can become a little bit stymied as lakes exit the summer doldrums, turnover and remain awash with relatively warm water.
"It's a challenge for me because typically this time of the year, you've got to fish real slow and really finesse the fish to get them to bite and that's not my style," said VanDam, a two-time Major League Fishing champion and a four-time Bassmaster Classic champ.
What does the Kalamazoo, Mich., angler do?
"I try to keep a positive mental attitude," he ruefully smiled.
KVD also knows that during such tough, grind it out conditions, it's of paramount importance to capitalize on each bite opportunity that comes an angler's way in a day of fishing.
Meaning that a pro like VanDam – who has seven BASS Angler-of-the-Year titles and one FLW Tour Angler-of-the-Year title to his credit – will find a way to put the blinders on and stay focused.
Because when that fish does come calling, there won't be a second chance to set the hook successfully.
One thing KVD does make note of on this topic is that despite a decent early morning topwater bite that can occur in the fall (something MLF pros are often catching only the tail end of as they wait for enough TV filming light and the boat official's command to start the day with Line's In!), fall fishing can be tough until later in the afternoon.
Why is that?
"It's usually best late in the afternoon because the shad will get active," said KVD, who owns a couple of MLF Summit Cup trophies from championship events contested in Alpena, Mich., and La Crosse, Wis.
So does KVD abandon his preferred power fishing strengths on autumn days when the bite is really tough?
Not really, he indicates while shaking his head no.
"I'm not going to change the way that I fish, I'm just going to keep changing water until I run into them," he said.
Meaning that VanDam will run a good portion of autumn water based on seasonal patterns – think major creeks with a solid supply of baitfish – until he lands on several fish that want to bite.
One of KVD’s favorite bass baits in the fall is a jerkbait. (Lynn Burkhead photo)
To search for those fish, you'll typically find an array of Strike King lures including a jerkbait, a squarebill or shallow- to medium-running crankbait and a spinnerbait lying somewhere on the front deck of KVD's Nitro bass boat. And there will probably even be a few Strike King topwaters tied on as well.
But oftentimes, during the fall months of the year, it's the jerkbait that KVD will tend to gravitate towards, a lure that he can fish like none other and a bait that has brought him unparalleled success down through the years.
And that's true in the fall months just as surely as it is during the pre-spawn days in the very early spring where a jerkbait can really excel.
"Jerkbait fishing isn't really different in the fall versus the spring," said VanDam. "It's about the situation (being faced) and the water clarity. When you have that clean, clean water, it's always something that you can think about."
If a reader doubts that statement, then just look back to the 2011 MLF event staged on Lake Amistad, a Lone Star State lake that was moving into the sweet spot of fall fishing in early November of that year.
As the southwest Texas lake cooled down quickly, the bass fishing began to turn on that particular week, something that allowed KVD to put on a jerkbait fishing clinic.
That was especially true on a cool cloudy day as KVD fished his Sudden Death semi-final round, a round of MLF competition where he nearly went out in the first period by pounding his way towards the day's cut-weight of 40-plus pounds.
Sitting only 50 yards away from VanDam most of that morning, it was a virtuoso performance with a jerkbait, something that I won't soon forget as I watched the sport's GOAT (Greatest of All Time) do what he does best.
If there's a problem with jerkbait fishing in the fall, it might be when one finds themselves on the water earlier in the season when water temperatures are still a bit too warm and/or when the water isn't all that clear from recent rains.
During those times when conditions can be challenging, KVD seems to relish proving his mettle against a tough day of fishing, not to mention the other bass fishing pros aiming at an event's top prize.
As he often says, the key to success is to keep a positive mental attitude out on the water.
"You just have (to do that)," said VanDam. "You worry about the variables you can control. (Where) I'm at fishing (and the time of the year), there's nothing I can do about that.
"I've just got to try and make the most of what we've got (in front of us on any given day)."
He usually does that, something that his impeccable resume of 23 BASS wins, 25 Classic appearances, two MLF wins and career earnings of more than $6 million attest to.
Earning such a legendary spot in the annals of bass fishing history isn't easy, especially at times of the year when the fishing is tough.
But KVD excels at finding a way to get it done, even as others are struggling.
And it makes paying attention to the lessons that he endeavors to teach as valuable as any can be for a bass angler, especially one finding himself on the water facing a tough day of fall fishing.
It may be tough, but it certainly isn't impossible.
Just ask KVD.