(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)
Kevin VanDam is most likely the greatest power fisherman who’s ever lived, and while he can pick up a spinning rod and make it work if necessary, more often than not he can avoid finesse, even when others can’t. During the wintertime, when most of his competitors turn to light line and slow-moving jigs and worms, KVD usually keeps his hard-bait game in gear.
One of the lures that he distinguished himself with early in his career and considers to refine and improve upon today is the jerkbait. Of all of the lures that he’s designed and collaborated on, the Strike King KVD Jerkbait – both the regular and the deep-diving version – is among his favorites. He throws them on a Quantum Tour KVD 6’10” medium-heavy graphite rod, which enables his desired action: “I want the bait to never go the same place twice when I pop it,” he said.
It’s better to have too a rod that’s too stiff than not stiff enough. Also, he feels that the longer rod allows him to make longer casts, and with an extra 15 feet and slightly lighter line (often 8- to 10-pound instead of his preferred 12), he can get the bait a little bit deeper.
Every pull of the jerkbait “should start and end with slack,” he explained. You never want to move it toward the boat with the reel, which is simply an implement for picking up slack. While he’s a fast moving machine, he also knows that it’s critical to slow down at times. While the 30-second pauses that Ozarks-region anglers sometimes employ feel like a slow death to him, he’ll use them in high-percentage zones. “I have to know exactly where one is sitting to fish that slow,” he explained.
The tight-wiggling KVD 1.5 Flat Side is his favorite cold-water crankbait, typically in crawfish colors, although he’ll use shades of chartreuse in dirty water and shad patterns where there’s a baitfish die-off. The year-round crank that doesn’t get enough cold-water usage from weekend anglers, he believes, is the Strike King 5XD. He believes it’s better than a Wiggle Wart in many situations, especially clear lakes where the fish are living deeper than the Wart will go. “I want it in the strike zone the whole time,” he said. He’ll weight it with Storm SuspenDots or SuspenStrips to make it hang in a fish’s face and taunt him. Heavier hooks also help, and he’ll replace the standard round-bend size 4s with Mustad KVD No. 4 trebles.
Another key lure is the Red Eye Shad, which has a distinguishing characteristic from other lipless baits – it remains completely balanced on the fall and never swims on its side. What may surprise even many experienced anglers is that VanDam often fishes it “like a jig” in 10 to 15 feet of water. “You can fish it a lot deeper than I ever dreamed and still be effective with it,” he said. The key is to sweep it slowly with your rod and then let it fall with a minimum of tension on the line. Too much tension kills the flutter. He prefers a 7’ cranking rod – medium action in open water and medium-heavy in thick grass. Anything longer and he tends to overfish the bait, and that’s a bad deal because “the flutter is the difference in getting bit.”
If you want to learn more of VanDam's cold-weather power fishing secrets, including how to properly balance a hard bait with lead wire or strips, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.