Rod-N-Reel: Kevin VanDam Tournament Pro and Common Fishing Mistakes

Kevin VanDam is the talk of every tournament, along with the other fishing greats. He is also envied. But he didn’t get to where he is from the luck of a strike – it took hard work and self discipline, as well as knowing everything he could learn about tackle and the prey he seeks that keeps him in the top winners of BASS tournament events. He is in a group that people recognize as pros, names like Bill Dance, Hank Parker, Martin Roland, Judy Wong, and veteran Rick Clunn among several. They not only are sponsored by the major lure, tackle and boat companies – they actually provide incentive and ideas to create new and better products. A few of these pros even teach classes about fishing and techniques that will help other anglers who use up their weekends in this enjoyable sport to get more strikes. Kevin VanDam is no exception and he is probably the most sought after speaker in the bass fishing world.
Kevin VanDam was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan October 14th, 1967, where he still lives with his wife, Sherry and two sons, Jackson and Nicholas. He is best known for catching bass during the toughest conditions. He has been a pro since 1990, and as of the end of the 2007 tournament season is the top pro of the world ranking – number one. To date, he has won $2.9 million in twelve tournaments (as of September 6th, 2007), with income from his sponsorships and various appearances in the media, et cetera. His best tournament finish was at Lake Guntersville in 2007 (1st), Lake Wylie in 2006 (2nd) and Monongahela, Allegheny Rivers, Ohio for 1st place in 2005.
He was BASS Angler of the Year winner for 1992, 1996, and 1999; FLW Angler of the Year for 2001, first ever Elite 50 Champion for 2004; Bassmaster Classic winner for 2001 and 2005; and ESPN Outdoor Sportsman of the Year for 2002 – his first ESPY Award.
Of course, he has his own website where you can follow his career and shop at his online store with general news releases about the career that brings home the bacon. Once he was the youngest among the BASS Pros – now he is 40 – and still one of the best. He is a busy man and his wife takes care of things like the website and making schedules to make the sponsors happy. They are truly a team.
What did he do before he began this tournament career?
He was a boat and tackle salesman.
Kevin says:

A lot of guys helped me out early in my career, knowingly and unknowingly, and I respect many of them. Tommy Martin, Larry Nixon, Rick Clunn, Denny Brauer – I can name several others too.

His favorite lake to fish is Lake St. Clair in Michigan – his home state stomping grounds. And his least favorite?

Lake Gaston, Virginia – It’s a good lake, but I’ve had the two worst finishes of my career there.

His primary strength in fishing techniques is power fishing, along with the ability to adapt to on-water conditions. He studies the situation and acts accordingly. He says his biggest technique weakness is drop-shotting, as if it could be that he has a weakness when it comes to pro fishing. His major fishing team/sponsor is Nitro boats, with a Mercury motor. Kevin also sponsors Strike King lures, Mustad, Plano, MotorGuide, Quantum (one of my favorite reel companies), Bass Pro Shops, Trojan batteries, D&R Sports, Biosonix, RMR Industries (Kevin VanDam’s Line and Lure Conditioner). His favorite vehicle company that is also his non-fishing sponsor is Toyota, with the Toyota Tundra being his favorite, of course.
Kevin’s favorite food is “any grilled meat” with a big steak at the top of the list. Rock and roll is his favorite music:

I’m definitely a rock and roller. The best band in history is Metallica.

His favorite film is Red Dawn. His favorite sports person outside the fishing circuit is Tiger Woods:

I think he’s the most mentally dominant figure in all of sports.

When he is not fishing he enjoys deer and turkey hunting.
And, if you ask him why he fishes:

I absolutely love it. I’m fascinated by all of it.

Well, the old saying that one does well at something one loves to do is proven with Kevin VanDam.
You can see the stats of his tournament events at Bass Fan website.
In the March 2008 issue of Bassmaster magazine, Ken Duke provides information in a list of ten mistakes commonly made by anglers – even some who have been fishing all their life, such as me. …

Kevin VanDam has a trophy case that’s the envy of anyone who’s ever cast a rod and reel. … So what does VanDam think the average fisherman could do better?
“I see a real lack of attention to the details,” KVD says. “They don’t replace the factory hooks on a crankbait with quality hooks. They don’t change their line often enough. They think, ‘Well, I should have 14-pound test for that crankbait, but 10 will work.’ They’ll throw a white spinnerbait in clear water when they know they’ll probably get more bites with a translucent shad pattern. You could say it’s a lack of attention, but it’s also laziness,” he adds. …
If you’ve seen VanDam cast, you have an idea of what’s possible with a rod and reel. He’s a magician who seemingly can put a lure anywhere and from any angle.
“Most of the bass I catch during the Elite Series season are not feeding.” VanDam says. “I catch them because I’m able to make a good, accurate, soft presentation that takes the fish by surprise and creates a reaction bite. You can’t do that with a sloppy, inaccurate, splashy cast.”
And you can’t get better without practice, either, according to VanDam. Even at his level of proficiency, BASS’s all-time money winner knows the value of practice. As good as he is, he believes he always can be better, so he practices during the off season and between tournaments.
“The worst place to practice your casting is probably on the water,” VanDam opines. “You’ll be too busy worrying about getting bites. The best thing to do is practice in the backyard or at a swimming pool.”

Other tips from other pros are also listed:

When the smoke cleared on the 2007 Elite Series season, Skeet Reese stood alone at the top, claiming the Angler of the Year title along with winning the Capitol Clash on the Potomac River. It was a solid year all the way around that began with his second-place finish at the Bassmaster Classic. To perform at such a high level, Reese had to constantly stay on top of the conditions, something he sees too few weekend anglers do.
“Instead, they go back to the place they caught them last week or last month or even last year,” he says. “They need to realize that fish change every week, every day or even every hour, depending upon the conditions. If you’re not making your adjustments as the conditions change – from some clouds moving in to the wind starting to blow from a different direction – you’re not going to catch all the bass you should be catching.”
Reese believes that few weekend anglers carry the full assortment of line types and sizes – from a 6- to 30-pound test – with them whenever they go fishing. Nor do they make the best use of lines. He says, “Line diameters and types make a huge difference in lure performance. The difference between 8- and 12-pound line can be enormous. Even on power fishing lakes, like
Toho in Florida or Sam Rayburn in Texas, you need lots of lines to choose from so you can make adjustments and catch fish consistently. You need the right lines to get your baits into productive depths or pull fish out of cover or minimize line visibility. It all adds up.”

Few BASS pros are as consistent as 2005 Angler of the Year and three-time Classic runner-up Aaron Martens. …
“I’m amazed at how many fishermen are not taking care of their line,” he says. “They don’t tie good knots, and way too often I’ll seem them break off a fish and find that it broke at the knot. I’ve seen co-anglers lose tournaments because of this, and there’s no excuse for it. The knot is one of the few things we really can control in our fishing.”
Martens is also a fanatic about fighting fish properly once you have them hooked. “Too many fishermen don’t keep good pressure on the fish,” he says. “They should be reeling as hard as the line and hooks will allow. Keep steady pressure on the bass until you land it. It took me a long time to learn this, but it’s something that helps me a lot, and I bet it accounts for half the bass I’ve seen co-anglers lose over the years.”

According to Elite series angler Greg Hackney, weekend anglers – even the good ones – listen to too much dock talk. … “It’s generally a mistake to go to a new body of water and try to fish like the locals,” Hackney says. “You need to fish your strengths and find water that suits your style. Listening to a little dock talk is OK if you use it as a guideline or to get an idea of what might be happening on the water, but you can’t let it control your fishing.”

Michael Iaconelli has a reputation for being rough on equipment. He resents when observers tell him he’s “tough on his toys.”
“My boat, motors, electronics, rods, reels, lines and lures aren’t toys,” he says adamantly. “They’re the tools of my trade, and I rely on them to perform even under the toughest conditions. If I’m not testing their limits occasionally, I’m probably not getting the most out of them or myself. One thing that drives me crazy is watching a fisherman with a spinning rod make a beautiful cast and then engage the reel by cranking the handle rather than flipping the ball manually. That contributes to line twist and can ruin your day on the water. You have to flip the bail manually and get in the habit of doing it. Little things like that means a lot.

I am guilty of this. Spinning reels, because when I was younger and just began to fish, I couldn’t seem to cast an open faced bait reel without dealing with the line snag and spending too much time picking the knots off the reel. Here in the northern fishing region, you will see more anglers using spinning reels than any other types, except when trolling deep for salmon with trolling equipment. And then they use what the salt water anglers use – complete with a line meter to gauge the dept. In fact, the spinning reel is Kevin VanDam’s favorite – especially for intricate presentations. I too got in the habit, especially after mastering (well, better than when I first started) the baitcasting reel. Even with modern technology available on great baitcasting reels such as the Quantum series, I will still get a jammed reel with backlash line when I am not paying attention to the cast. So then when I am using the spinning reel/rod combination, I forget to do what Michael Iaconelli correctly states what must be done. And that is another thing I like about being an angler – there is always something new or someone with a different idea about the sport, something to always learn or test. And, as far as equipment, I pay attention what Mr. Iaconelli uses – after all, if it can take the rigor of what he dishes out – it must be good equipment.

Ike [Michael Iaconelli) has both a Classic championship (2003) and an Angler of the Year award (2006) to his credit. … He noticed that most anglers catch bass without asking some pretty important questions.
“They’re so happy just to have caught the fish that they don’t ask the right questions,” he says. “Did the fish hit on the fall? Was it on the windward side of the dock? Did it come off the point or the pocket of the weed edge? If they’d just ask these questions, they would be putting a pattern together that would lead them to lots more bass. The fish are there for a reason, and good anglers figure it out.

Good bass fishing isn’t always about the subtle nuances. Sometimes the best opportunities are starting you right in the face if you’ll just open your eyes to look for them. That’s what Hackney believes. …
“It happens all the time in national tournaments,” Hackney says. “We go to a lake and someone wins by fishing an obvious-looking area near the launch ramp. Then the local guys are surprised that he caught them there because it looked so obvious and was so close to the take-off point. Rather than try it themselves, they ignore it because it’s a well-known community hole or they think it’s been fished so often that it’s been picked clean. They wind up outsmarting themselves.”
Correcting even one of these common mistakes won’t be easy. You may have to overcome years or decades of bad habits and attitudes. If you can do it, though, you’ll be making a real difference in your bass fishing – one that will put more bass on the end of your line, more fish in your livewell and, if you fish competitively, more hardware in your trophy case.

As I mentioned in a previous article early this year, the smallmouth bass is changing its pattern, specifically feeding pattern because of the increase in population of exotic species introduced in the waters of the Great Lakes – namely the Goby.
March is around the corner and it will be the month where the ice fishing winds down and by April and May the ice disappears. Traditionally here, the boat fishing begins on the Peninsula on the Memorial Day weekend, where the big tournament season here begins. Tournament participants from many places will be arriving and the weekend anglers such as myself will begin what we like to do most during the season. Whether fishing in the Sturgeon Canal, the bay itself or any of the many areas, including The Flats and off Washington Island – I am interested in trying new presentations and techniques this year to accommodate the changing habits of the roaming smallmouth bass. Soon I will resume the periodic fishing report I began last year for the Peninsula and Door Passage; known in history as treacherous waters when squalls suddenly appear, as evidenced by the shipwrecks of unwary or careless sailors as far back as when the original natives ventured forth in their large hand-built canoes.
Next article I will write about suspended bass, something that has perplexed anglers, pro and weekenders alike, as long as boats have been used to seek aquatic prey as a sport.
Meanwhile here is the upcoming fishing report for spring 2008:

Open water fishing generally starts in early April when hardy fishermen brave the nippy temperatures and launch small trolling boats from shore at Baileys Harbor, Rowleys Bay and Cave Point. At that time brown and brook trout are the main target and very active fishing can be found in less than 20 feet of water. Medium to light rods, and an assortment of trolling spoons and plugs are standard tackle.
About mid April all the ice moves out of the
Green Bay side of the peninsula and active brown trolling shifts to the numerous harbors along that side of the county from Egg Harbor to Sister Bay. As the ice clears out of the entrance to Sturgeon Bay, trout trollers often find some of the best fishing along the Sturgeon Bay “flats” located just south of the old stone quarry. The average “ice out” along the Green Bay side is April 20, but yearly ice thickness and weather conditions are in control so a phone call ahead is advised before you come from long distances. …
In late April, brown, rainbow and an occasional brook trout are being caught all along the
Lake Michigan shoreline. During late April, look for spawning rainbows in the streams. Smelt netters be alert for your favorite time about April 20th. Wisconsin residents are not required to have a fishing license to take smelt but non residents must purchase a fishing license. As soon as the ice clears out of Sturgeon Bay, walleye fishing can get hot. Minnows and jigs as well as stick baits are favorite baits, water temperature is critical.
With the exception of the
Washington Island perimeter, bass season opens the first week of May, and you can expect active fishing all along the Green Bay shoreline as well as some of the Lake Michigan bays in the northern part of the county. Linker size pike come out of that area also. The Mink River and Rowleys Bay are noted for 20-lb northern pike. Shallow water brown and brook trout fishing continues to be good thru early May but changing water temperatures sometime force fishermen to deeper water. A large population of spawning walleye move into the warm shallow water of Little Sturgeon and Sturgeon Bay. Pier and small boat fisherman have a very good success with pre-spawn walleyes fishing mostly at night trolling and casting plugs and using jigs. Some lakers are caught shallow water trolling, but most success is found out in the deep water off the “bank reef” located 4 miles off shore northeast of the Sturgeon Bay canal station. The fishing season is now open in inland lakes in Door County making this a good time to try for walleye or northern in Europe, Kangaroo, or Clarks Lake.
In early June the smallmouth fishing hits its peak. The fish move in very shallow water to spawn and can be easily caught with soft plastic baits and stick baits. A catch and release method is recommended at this time. The
Mink River in northern Door County is a favorite hot spot for both bass and perch as is Sawyer Harbor in Sturgeon Bay. One of the better producing inland lakes, Kangaroo Lake, is a good bet for walleyes now. Lake trout trolling on the bank reef gets better as the month progresses and more and more Chinook salmon are showing up in the catches. Lakers as large as 20-25 lbs are actually common each season on the reef. At the northern tip of the county, Gills Rock and Washington Island trollers will start the season near the end of June with catches of trout and salmon on a daily basis. Unusually deep water can be found close to shore here and the area provides excellent deep water trolling excitement for small boat fishermen.
July provides some of the best deep water trolling of the entire year. From one end of the county to the other, lake trout and salmon fishermen enjoy consistently good action. Washington Island, Gills Rock, Baileys Harbor and the bank reef off
Sturgeon Bay are the most heavily fished. Active charter boat fleets work out of all these ports. Washington Island’s bass season opens July 1 as the bass move out to deep water on Larson’s reef near Sand Bay, and bass fishermen will find plenty of action out on the reef shoals off Sister Bay, or along the rocky shoreline of Peninsula Park or Rowleys Bay. Salmon and trout fishermen can often hit some outstanding pier fishing off the government breakwalls at the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. Small boat trollers can also enjoy the excitement of big water trolling right out in front of the canal breakwall. Both salmon and trout are usually moving into the area. About the third week of July, salmon start showing up in the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. This is also the peak season of the salmon trolling up in Gills Rock and Washington Island. Baileys Harbor is also good trout and Chinook salmon. Enjoy the excitement of the K/D Salmon Tournament throughout Door County the last weekend of July. The nine-day tournament offers prizes every day.
…into August, bass fishermen can still enjoy good fishing throughout the county. Shoreline fishing improves for brown and rainbow trout anywhere from
Baileys Harbor to south of the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. In the inner bay of Sturgeon Bay, walleye fishermen can find active fish near the Michigan Street bridge and on Dunlaps reef. Night fishing along the rocky shoreline of Sturgeon Bay and Sand Bay is also productive for walleye. Deep water trollers usually find terrific salmon through early August trolling waters of Gills Rock, Baileys Harbor and the bank reef off of Sturgeon Bay. Lake trout action is generally confined to the reef at this time. In the last few weeks of August, dock fishermen can expect some good perch and bass fishing in Fish Creek, Ephraim and Northport, just to name a few. Trolling for brown trout in shallow water should improve remarkably now as the browns move in. Trout and salmon fishing along the shore of Pottawatomie State Park can often produce some lunkers at this time. Chinook salmon action improves each day in the ship canal and off the breakwaters in Sturgeon Bay.
Beginning of September is prime time to troll the ship canal and mouth of the canal for mature Chinook salmon. New regulations close lake trout fishing after Labor Day but increasing numbers of Chinook salmon and brown trout capture the interest of local fishermen. Perch and walleye fishing continue strong as we move into fall. Buckets of jumbo perch often come from
Sunset Park in Sturgeon Bay or around the channel marker buoys that mark the bay near Pottawatomie State Park. Early fall is getting to be the best time of the year to capture your trophy walleye.So that is the overview of the upcoming fishing season for the Door Peninsula.

Wikipedia, Bassmaster magazine, ESPN web library, FLW Outdoors, and ESPN news sources.