John's Journal...

Kevin VanDam's $200,000 Strike King Lure

Winning Day

Click to enlargeEditor’s Note: On June 24, Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, won his second Bassmaster’s Elite Series event of the year at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. VanDam finished with a four-day tournament total of 78 pounds, 12 ounces, beating out Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Oklahoma, by almost 4 pounds. This victory, VanDam’s 12th, adds another $100,000 to his career earnings of nearly $2.5 million, making him the B.A.S.S. all-time money leader. The victory also propelled VanDam to the top of the standings for the title of Bassmaster Angler-of-the-Year. The same lure VanDam used to win the Elite Series tournament on Lake Guntersville produced another win for him at Grand Lake. The new crankbait VanDam designed, Strike King’s Sexy Shad, is a prototype, but should be in dealer’s stores by fall. Because of the publicity this lure already has and will receive, many dealers have a waiting list of fishermen who want to buy the lure as soon as it arrives in stores. This week, we’ll look at how VanDam won another $100,000 tournament.

Question: What was your mindset as you motored out of the harbor to start the last day of the competition?
VanDam: I knew I had to catch a good bag of bass, so I was totally focused on the job I had to do. I decided to stick to my game plan of running the ugly points and fishing the Sexy Shad, win or lose. That pattern and bait enabled me to get within 7 ounces of winning this tournament, and I wasn’t going to give up on it. I knew I had to have a really-good bag of fish to win, because all the other competitors had been catching good bags.

Question: Where did you decide to go at the blast-off?
VanDam: I went to the ugly points where I’d caught the most bass on the first two days, hoping to get into one of the big schools of fish that had been holding there earlier and catch a school of bass or one big bass moving up on those points.

Question: What happened at your first spot?Click to enlarge
VanDam: On the first ugly point I fished, I caught a 5 pounder. Immediately, that gave me a lot of confidence. But I only caught one keeper fish off that spot. I had a big spectator fleet behind me – more boats than I’d had following me the entire tournament. I decided I’d run to all my good spots. At my second stop, I caught a 4 pounder. At my third location, I caught three more bass to finish out my limit, but they were only 2 pounders. I kept running my milk run, caught a 3 pounder and culled one of the fish in my live well. At noon, I caught another 3 pounder. I kept running the same points and tried to work hard enough to improve my string. When I felt that the smallest fish in my live well weighed 3 pounds, I knew I’d done as much as I needed to possibly win. When I was on the water, I thought I had about 18 or 19 pounds with a legitimate chance to win. My hopes lay in how Jeff had fished. If he’d had a great day and caught a bunch of bass, I knew he’d beat me. When I came to the weigh-in, I could tell by the way he was acting that he hadn’t had a great day.

Question: Kevin, why didn’t you spend all day on the two points where you’d caught big fish on the first and the second days of the tournament?
VanDam: I learned that I usually caught whatever bass were holding on that point as soon as I’d fished all the way around it. I could sit on that point all day and maybe the bass would move up on it but perhaps they wouldn’t. I had a much-better chance of winning by fishing a lot of points and hoping to catch the bass that moved up on one of those points when I was fishing it. I returned to some of my good points two or three times a day to see if the bass had moved up. Fishing points is a timing thing. You must hope and pray the bass have moved-up on those points and have started to feed when you reach those points and start to fish.

Question: How many casts were you making a day?
VanDam: Many, many, casts and a lot of super-long casts. I was winding it fast, trying to burn the handle off that reel. After that tournament, I was toast – burnt-up, dried-up, beat-up, whipped-out toast. By throwing thousands of casts with big crankbaits over a four-day period, not Click to enlargecounting practice days, I’d put in a good week’s work, especially when it was 90+ degrees outdoors. I’m pretty intense when the clock’s ticking on a tournament day. I don’t believe I can catch a bass if my bait’s not in the water, so I keep it in the strike zone of the bass as long as I can each day I fish. There are many little things I do to be successful. I lost very few bass in this tournament, because I was constantly changing the hooks on those crankbaits and using a No. 3/0 extra-strong hook, designed for peacock bass and big salt-water fish. I use the new Mustad Ultra Point hooks. I realized during practice that the bottoms of the points I was fishing were really pulling on the hooks. When I’d get hung-up, I’d bend the hooks and straighten them, so I started using really-big hooks with much-stronger points. I landed 98% of the bass that hit my crankbait.

A big factor in winning is having a lot of confidence in your rod, reel, line, lures, hooks and yourself. On the Series 6 crankbaits, I used No. 2/0 hooks, and on the Series 5 crankbaits, I used No. 4/0 hooks. During the course of each day, I probably changed hooks 50 times. If I dulled a point of the hook on the bottom, I replaced the hooks with brand-new hooks. I was changing hooks on my crankbaits all day to make sure I had the sharpest hooks I possibly could each time the bait went into the water. It’s not possible to sharpen a hook as well as a manufacturer can, so rather than spending time trying to sharpen a hook and knowing it’s not as sharp as it could be, I just change hooks. I check my hooks every few minutes and make sure they’re sticky-sticky sharp.

Question: When you were preparing for the weigh-in stand, did you think you’d won the tournament?
VanDam: Before I went to the weigh-in stand, Jeff Kriet pulled up beside me and said, “I don’t think I have the bass to win it, Kevin.” Marty Robinson, who was in 3rd place, only had four bass. So, I felt that with 18 pounds, 12 ounces that day that I’d probably won.

Question: What did you think when it was announced that you’d won the tournament?
VanDam: I was thrilled. It’s so hard when fishing at this level to win a tournament, because I’m fishing against the best bass fishermen in the world. This tournament was a very physically-demanding tournament, and I was wiped out. When they finally announced that I’d won, I felt like a 1,000-pound gorilla had finally gotten off my shoulders.

Question: In your opinion, what were the keys to winning?Click to enlarge
VanDam: My keys to winning were:
* having confidence that the Sexy Shad color could produce bass for me like it had all year;
* knowing I could find the bass on those ugly points that no one else was fishing and catch those bass with the Sexy Shad color, if I fished the points all day;
* changing out my hooks so that I had really-strong, really-sharp hooks every time the bait entered the water;
* having faith in my BioSonics unit; and,
* using the really-active shad pattern to keep the bass feeding.
When bass hear the excited sounds of shad being eaten by other bass, they get excited and begin to feed. I was able to catch bass one right after the other on that first day for 45 minutes. It’s impossible to do that and keep the bass biting that long without something going on like the BioSonics. The BioSonics helped me get a few more bites every day than I would have gotten without it.

Question: How many people were fishing points on the last day?
VanDam: Just about all the contestants. The anglers who were flipping the willow trees saw that the leaders were catching their bass cranking points. So, on the last day, almost all the contestants were cranking points.

Question: In this season, you’ve won $200,000 in two tournaments. What have you won so far this year?
VanDam: Over $300,000.

Question: What will you do with all that money?
VanDam: I’ve got two young boys going to college, and these winnings will help pay for their educations. College isn’t cheap.

Question: What was the biggest lesson you’ve learned in this tournament?
VanDam: Over the years, I’ve learned that when I have confidence in a lure, a tactic or an area, I have to trust my instincts. When I saw those big fish grouped-up on the first day of practice on a shallow ugly point, I knew that was the type of spot I needed to look for, if I was going to win this tournament. There’s no such thing as catching a fluke bass. Bass have a pattern, and if I can figure out that pattern, I can duplicate it on different areas in the lake.

Check back each day this week for more about "Kevin VanDam's $200,000 Strike King Lure"

Day 1: Look For the Hidden Spot
Day 2: Here Come the Crowds
Day 3: And the Crowd Went Wild
Day 4: When the Sky Cried
Day 5: Winning Day



Entry 411, Day 5