KVD's One-Two Punch to Power Through Spring's Transition Fishing
After weeks of relentless winter weather in much of the country, spring has officially arrived on the astronomical calendar.
Thankfully spring has sprung in many parts of bass country as milder weather has gripped the nation this past week.
What does that mean for a bass fisherman chomping at the bit to beat cabin fever and get out on the water? According to seven-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., it's time to get outside for some great spring fishing as bass transition from wintertime through the pre-spawn and on towards the spawn itself.
With some parts of bass country still dealing with frigid water as of this writing, that period of great fishing will vary of course. But what doesn't vary, for KVD at least, is the types of baits and techniques he will use when he encounters bass transitioning from winter haunts towards their spring homes.
"I'm a power fisherman and I like to fish moving baits," said VanDam. "This time of year, fish are in their transition time so they (can) make pretty quick moves (towards the bank). I like to throw lures that are efficient at various depths."
One bait that VanDam likes to throw during the transition time is a Strike King Red Eye Shad lipless crankbait, especially on lakes filled with vegetation like Alabama's Lake Guntersville and Texas' Toledo Bend or Sam Rayburn reservoirs.
"On a lake with a lot of grass and flats, the fish will be moving toward those spawning flats," said KVD, who likes to retrieve the bait above the top of grass, ripping it free when it comes in contact with the vegetation. "I can cover a lot of zones in 2 to 10 feet of water with a Red Eye Shad."
One key to fishing these baits according to VanDam is to use the right size lure. The Michigan pro and MLF champion indicates that he is " ... really trying (to) get these baits down to fish holding cover (like) rocks, grass, etc."
As for his tackle set-up, when fishing these lipless cranks, VanDam will use his own Quantum Tour KVD cranking series rod in a seven-foot medium action.
"I'll use this rod 99 percent of the time with a Red Eye Shad," said KVD. "With a composite rod like this, you've got the best of both worlds with the slower action of glass and the sensitivity of graphite. I can feel the bait and I know what the bait is doing. And it has the power to (fight a fish and) rip it out of grass when I need to."
VanDam pairs that rod with a Quantum Tour KVD PT baitcasting reel with a 5.3:1 gear ratio that is spooled with 12- to 17-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS KVD Signature Series fluorocarbon.
"I'll throw the heavier line if I'm fishing shallow water or grass," said VanDam.
What about his color selection for lipless crankbaits?
"I like to fish a lot of crayfish colors," said VanDam. "If the water is clear, I'll go to a more natural crawdad pattern. If there is more color to the water, I'll often use red. And if the water is dirty, I'll often go to a chartreuse pattern."
Where does KVD look to fish a lipless crankbait at this time of the breeding cycle?
"I'm going to look for areas that have all the ingredients," he said. "Places that are close to where the fish will eventually spawn. When there's a deeper channel, an edge or a point around those areas, that's going to concentrate those fish.
"On lakes where there's an abundance of flatter (bottom contours), I'm going to look for places in the water that hold vegetation near the spawning flats."
On lakes that are more rocky and clear, like those found in the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks region, VanDam will shift gears a bit with his early spring bait selection.
"In real clear water, I love fishing a jerkbait," said the four-time Bassmaster Classic champ. "It's a very effective lure in highland reservoirs that have clear water. And it's pretty good in even some of the southern lakes if there is good water clarity. A jerkbait is pretty hard to beat."
(MLF/Jeff Phillips photo)
For his jerkbait fishing, just like the jerkbait clinic he put on near Alpena, Mich., a couple of years back en route to winning the MLF Summit Cup there, VanDam uses his own signature Quantum Tour KVD multi-purpose rod.
"It's a graphite rod," said VanDam. "There is a faster action in the graphite rod which really makes the bait react when I jerk it. I generally use the 6-foot, 10-inch medium-heavy rod and match it to the fluorocarbon (I'm using)."
Typically, that line is the Bass Pro Shops XPS KVD Signature Series in 12-pound-test, spooled onto a Quantum Tour KVD PT baitcasting reel with a faster 6.6:1 gear ratio.
What colors does VanDam like to have in his lure boxes when it comes to fishing a Strike King KVD series jerkbait?
"With the jerkbait, it's the exact opposite (of the lipless crankbait)," said VanDam. "Since it's going to be more up in the water column, I want to imitate a shad with a natural but visible color."
Once again, water clarity will play a role although the type of water that VanDam will throw a jerkbait in will typically be fairly clear to begin with.
"If the water is crystal clear, I'll throw really natural colors that are almost translucent," said the 2001 FLW Angler of the Year. "If the water is slightly stained, I want a bait that is more visible like a chartreuse Sexy Shad. That's one of my favorites because it lets the fish see (it) as far as possible."
If you've ever seen VanDam retrieve a jerkbait, you know that it's an energetic and hard to duplicate action that occurs in a continual fluid start/stop motion.
Seen from underwater cameras, a jerkbait that KVD retrieves will erratically dart back and forth before hovering on the pause. That's usually when a largemouth or smallmouth bass can't stand it any longer and comes up and delivers a slashing strike.
Given recent winter weather and chilly water temperatures that are running a few degrees behind the normal pace of many spots, VanDam cautions anglers to adjust their retrieve speed and cadence to the conditions they are fishing this spring.
"With a jerkbait in the (early) spring, you really want to subdue your retrieve a lot," said the winner of more than $6.03 million in career earnings on both the B.A.S.S. and FLW Tours.
"If the water is colder, you want to pause it longer (on the retrieve)," added the winner of 20 B.A.S.S. events.
Another key to effectively fishing a jerkbait at this stage of the spring is to fish the bait in the right places.
"You want to try and do things to really put the odds in your favor," said VanDam. "That means focusing on key transitions where the bank turns into a flat, a bluff, etc. When you find those areas, you want to fish parallel to them and keep the lure over the top of it, over the top of the bass, as long as possible, the whole cast if possible."
With this one-two power-fishing punch, VanDam is able to cover a lot of water as bass transition from the deeper water of the winter months towards the spawning flats where the life cycle of the fish will continue during the warmer days of spring to come.
"I like catching them at any time of the year, but yeah, this is one of the best times," said KVD. "The fish are fat and healthy, they are eating a lot, and at times, they are fairly concentrated. If you catch one at this time of the year, you'll often get into a group of big ones.
"Of course, they'll do the same thing at times in the summer, fall and winter," he added. "But spring is probably the easiest time of year to find a group of fish that are the bigger size that (we all) like to catch. The odds are better now."
As winter winds down and spring begins to appear around the corner, follow VanDam's advice and you too may have a big smile on your face as you battle a big bass all the way back to the boat … just like KVD does.