Few people on this planet know more about northern smallmouth bass than Kevin VanDam. The bronze aquatic torpedoes are just different. Their patterns, preferences, and nomadic nature require a special learning curve VanDam has been perfecting his entire career.
With nearly $7 million in tournament earnings that includes 28 pro-level wins, it's safe to say VanDam has a proven track record. When KVD talks, you'd be wise to listen.
The Team Toyota pro suspects he spends 70 percent of his time targeting smallmouth versus their large-mouthed relatives when fun-fishing around his home in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Following Stage 5 of the Bass Pro Tour we caught up with KVD to talk smallmouth bass and get a glimpse into one of the greatest minds bass fishing has ever known.
Two tips for Northern smallies
We wanted to quiz VanDam on what his current favorite baits or techniques for bronze-backs were, but the greatest tournament angler of all time couldn't help but divulge two crucial tips he pays attention to before every smallmouth trip; use a long rod and invest in quality sunglasses.
"Using a longer-than-usual rod helps a ton for northern smallmouth," VanDam explained. "The water is typically ultra-clear up here, so long casts are extremely important. Light line and a long rod will help you get your bait as away from the boat as possible, and assists with moving a lot of line on your hook set when you get a fish to eat."
VanDam pointed out he practically never uses a rod shorter than 7 feet long when targeting clear-water smallies. He designed his new signature series of Lew's rods with this in mind, including the 7-foot, 4-inch KVD Lew's Spinning Rod VanDam trusts for nearly every finesse fishing application.
Owning and wearing a good pair of polarized sunglasses was KVD's next suggestion that'll help you catch more fish whether you are stalking the bank or covering an offshore flat in a bass boat.
"Electronics are important for showing me what's underwater, but to me a good pair of sunglasses is absolutely critical," VanDam said. "Smallmouth love transitions or changes in bottom composition. I'm constantly looking for those things when I'm smallmouth fishing. Oakley's Shallow Water Prizm is hands-down my favorite lens color for northern waters."
Whether he is enjoying time on the water his boys Jackson and Nicholas or in the middle of high-stress MLF competition, VanDam's eyes are always scanning the water. Looking for indications like transitions, irregularities, individual pieces of cover, or smallmouth themselves. KVD catches a pile of smallmouth each year thanks to the clues he discovers using nothing but his eyes.
VanDam's smallmouth staples
The tips KVD provided above will give you a couple steps in the right direction to consistently catching smallmouth, but throwing the right baits helps even more. VanDam offered six northern smallmouth staples he has rigged and at the ready whenever he launches his Nitro boat.
3 power-fishing preferences
- 1/2-ounce Strike King KVD Burner Spinnerbait
- Strike King KVD 300 Series Jerkbait
- Strike King KVD 300 Series Jerkbait Deep
It's no secret KVD loves to move fast and power fish. Fortunately, VanDam has found that to be the best way to locate smallmouth. The pace VanDam keeps during competition would make a toddler on a sugar-high sleepy, but there is undoubtedly a method to his madness.
If restricted to three choices, these lures are what VanDam would bet the house on for smallmouth in northern waters.
"I always start by power fishing if I'm targeting smallmouths," VanDam said. "Even if I don't catch the fish on a jerkbait or spinnerbait, oftentimes they'll show themselves. Smallmouth are notorious for following baits up to the boat, but I'm OK with that. I can always go back and finesse them if I need to. Power fishing not only catches me a lot of smallies, it helps me find a lot of fish, too."
3 finesse frontrunners
- 3/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Tube Jig with KVD Pro-Model Tube
- Strike King KVD Dream Shot with 3/8- or 1/2-ounce weight
- 1/8-ounce Ned rig with a Strike King Ned Ocho
When the conditions call for it or he simply can't get fish to react to more aggressive offerings, VanDam has found great success with these three lures and presentations. Relying on these finesse techniques to "cleanup" areas where he has located finicky smallmouth.
"I absolutely never go smallmouth fishing without a tube and a drop shot tied on," VanDam admitted. "While I'd prefer to catch them power fishing, it's impossible to deny to effectiveness of those three lures. Whether I'm trying to coax more bites from an area, dropping down to a fish that chased my bait to the boat, or the scenario calls for a more subtle presentation I lean on these three lures."