By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
(Editor’s note: As part of our continuing Pro’s Corner series, this is part 3 of a 3-part feature on how pro anglers utilize the tried and true spinnerbait to put fish in the boat. Today, four-time Bassmaster Classic winner Kevin VanDam opens up about his passion for spinnerbaits and offers his theories on what styles and blade/color combinations work in certain situations. To read part 1 about Mike Iaconelli's spinnerbait/smallmouth tactics, click here. To check out part 2, which covered how Scott Canterbury fishes a spinnerbait on a constantly changing river system, click here.)
Seven-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam has amassed a lot of money during his career chucking spinnerbaits, but not so much anymore. In recent years, his spinnerbait program has been derailed.
“It’s not as dominant as it was a few years back because we have so many other tools now,” he said. “For me, it’s always been a high confidence bait.
Another reason spinnerbaits weren’t in the news is because the weather conditions haven’t been right.
“For a while, we had lower-water years, lakes got clear, we didn’t have high water or flooded conditions in the spring,” VanDam added. “In the last year, that kind of changed where we saw high, stained water with flooded bushes and grass in the spring.”
Greg Hackney pointed to Rick Clunn’s 5th-place finish at the Lake Texoma Elite Series (BASSFest) in 2016 as evidence to back up VanDam’s point. Clunn simply never put his spinnerbait down.
Slow-rolling a spinnerbait around outside grass lines, docks, fishing it above grass and brush tops is still in VanDam’s wheelhouse.
“Bass are more aggressive under low-light or cloudy conditions and windy days,” he said. “That’s when bass are feeding upward and where a spinnerbait really shines.”
VanDam is meticulous about pairing the correct head weight and blade combination to match the specific set of conditions he’s trying to solve at the depth that needs to be targeted while still triggering a bite.
“With a spinnerbait, you have the ultimate in depth control in the upper to mid-part of the water column,” VanDam said. “You’re varying your presentation to have the maximum triggering qualities. I almost never just cast a spinnerbait out and reel it with a steady retrieve. I’m always stopping it, starting it, twitching it, jerking it.”
Colliding a spinnerbait with a piece of cover also can pay dividends.
“When you bang a spinnerbait into a limb or grass and change the rotation of those blades and the skirt flares, the sound that it makes and the visual appeal that it has at that time, that’s a great way to trigger a bass,” he added.
In cold and stained water, VanDam throws a spinnerbait that he can fish in the strike zone longer with more triggering qualities, more vibration and more water displacement.
In clear water, a faster presentation that displaces less water helps keep fish from getting a good look.
Should he need to tweak a bait, he’ll swap out the rear blade by opening the rear loop and use a blade he’s kept from one he’s retired.
“It’s all about fine-tuning the overall package,” he said. “In almost every situation, I want to fish my bait above the bass’s line of sight. I want him to look up at the lure.”
For shallow presentations or cold, muddy water, a single Colorado blade creates a slow-moving bait easily kept in the strike zone. It displaces the most water, gives off the most vibration and provides the most lift.
As the dirty water warms, a double-Colorado works for the same reasons but can be retrieved to hover just below the surface, but excels with a slow to medium retrieve.
A Colorado/Indiana blade combo excels in warm, muddy water and fishes well on a slow to medium retrieve. The willow blade provides the flash; the Colorado provides the vibration. Bright colored baits also help to achieve maximum visibility.
A willow-leaf blade covers the whole water column, handling both high- and low-speed retrieves by displacing the least amount of water and providing the least amount of vibration. VanDam says the Strike King Raz-R Blades don’t swing with as wide an arch as standard willows and spin even faster.
VanDam says there's a time and place for spinnerbaits with tandem blades, single blades and even painted blades.
Match the size of the blades to the forage that the largemouth are feeding on.
Silver and gold blades often provide the necessary flash to entice a bite.
“Every time a nickel or gold blade makes that loop around that gives that bright flash, it’s hard for the bass to see exactly what it is,” VanDam said. “Under better light conditions, you get a lot of flash off metallic blades.”
Painted blades have their place, too.
“I throw a lot of painted blades under low light conditions – real cloudy and windy days – where your light penetration is cut down,” he noted. “They give off a great profile and silhouette with a much more subdued flash.”
VanDam said he has spent hours underwater, wearing a mask and staring upward as a spinnerbait went zipping by overhead to help him better understand the impact of wave action, the surface of the water, water clarity, and how the color of the sky disguises the bait.
“In dirty water, the silt in the water does that for you,” he said. “The lack of light penetration breaks up the outline of the lure, making it harder for the bass to identify what it is. They feel it with their lateral line and they can sense it feeling that displacement. In stained water situations, spinnerbaits can be so effective.”
In low light situations, VanDam hypothesizes bass see in black and white.
“There’s nothing realistic about a chartreuse/white spinnerbait,” he said. “If you take a black and white photo of one, it basically looks grey-white or pearl-white.”
He reasoned that when fished properly under low-light situations or early in the morning, a bass needs to view that spinnerbait as white.
“If a bass is looking up at any baitfish, the belly of everything that swims is white and light-colored,” he noted.
VanDam pointed out that bass have become more conditioned to lures and angling pressure, so matching the hatch is paramount, especially in clear water.
“You want something translucent so that the light passes through it like it does an emerald shiner or a shad in that same situation and looks natural,” he said.
The same rules apply when mimicking solid-colored forage like bluegill and perch. In clear water, trimming the skirt to the back of the hook to offer a more compact, realistic offering is imperative, while dirtier water might call for a bulkier skirt.
“It’s not the blade size that matters for the profile of your presentation, it's the size of the head and skirt and tail or trailer that you have on there that imitates the profile of your bait,” he said.
Targeting shallow cover calls for a 6-foot, 10-inch Quantum Tour KVD PT casting rod. The soft tip and rod length facilitate precise casts and feel for what the lure is doing. A Quantum Smoke HD reel with 6:6.1 gearing spooled with 25-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon forces him to slow down.
For open water, a 7-foot, 2-inch rod provides the necessary power, leverage, and tip for long casts and bone-jarring hook-sets. A high-speed reel and 20-pound fluorocarbon works best.