(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.)
Bass University instructor Jonathon VanDam is a widely acknowledged Great Lakes guru, but even he admits that “the only thing you can count on with a smallmouth is that you can’t count on them.”
Accordingly, he tries to control the variables that are within his control, and that starts with boat-rigging. “Bass boats are just not made for the abuse of the Great Lakes,” he said. He’s had his out in 10-foot waves and has seen many others swamped. Getting ready to go out on even an average day requires extra bolts on his trolling motor mount and connecting his jackplate to his boat. He rigs an extra bilge pump and carries both drift paddles for his Power-Poles and a separate drift sock as well.
While most anglers don’t think of the Great Lakes as current-driven, JVD is acutely aware of lake retention time – the duration it takes for all of the water in a system to move through the lake. Huron takes 22 years, Ontario takes 6 years, Erie takes 2.6 years and St. Clair takes a mere 7 days. He keeps that info at the front of his brain when he fishes, looking not only for rockpiles, reefs, and drop-offs, but also trying to figure out how the current drives bait to that cover and structure.
He uses a wide variety of both bottom-bouncing and power baits, everything from a tube, grub, dropshot and Carolina Rig, to a spinnerbait, crankbait and swimbait. The dropshot is a staple for all Great Lakes anglers and JVD throws it on a G.Loomis 822 DSR paired with a Shimano Stradic 2500 reel, which he says has a “butter-smooth” drag. He spools it up with a main line of 10-pound Power Pro Slick with a 6-foot leader of 8-pound XPS fluorocarbon, which he ties on with a barrel swivel.
Regardless of depth, JVD uses a 3/8-ounce tungsten dropshot weight in order to “feel the difference in bottom contours.” At the top of his 14- to 18-inch dropshot leader he ties a Trokar 1/0 finesse worm hook. Most anglers nose-hook their dropshot baits, but JVD prefers to Texas-rig them, which “keeps the bait more horizontal.” He’s a huge fan of the Strike King Dream Shot as well as the Z Too, a 5-inch minnow style bait made of 3X material.
He also loves to burn a spinnerbait, but he does it with a G.Loomis NRX 894, a 7’5” stick usually used for worms and jigs. The length enables him to make long casts and the rod has sufficient backbone for a healthy hookset at a distance. He pairs it with a Shimano Metanium HG with 17-pound XPS fluorocarbon. He leans heavily on painted blades in the clear waters of the Great Lakes, and his favorite colors are sexy shad and chartreuse sexy shad. While he catches plenty of big fish on tubes and dropshots, he said that he’ll lean more heavily on reaction presentations when he needs a big bite or two to put him over the top.
If you want to learn some of JVD’s other shortcuts to Great Lakes mastery, including his setups for tubes, cranking and swimbaits and why the Strike King Scorcher is the perfect spinnerbait up north, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.