Kevin Van Dam claimed a third Bassmaster Classic title yesterday on Lay Lake in Alabama. KVD's $500,000 prize boosted his career earnings over $4 million, and further staked his spot as the most decorated professional bass angler on the planet. (He's also a five-time Toyota Tundra BASS Angler of the Year, and defending AOY champ.) This Classic performance was all about gut instinct; KVD didn't have a secret spot, a secret lure, or a secret technique. In fact, in the February 2010 issue of Field & Stream magazine (on page 61 of our "Bass Pro Clinic"), Van Dam detailed his strategy for fooling early season bass with a lipless crankbait, the same strategy he turned to this weekend when the big bucks were on the line. Rick Adair
Van Dam’s go-to bait was a Strike King Lipless Red-Eye Shad crankbait (he used a gold shad hue in the stained water of Lay Lake). Van Dam told us he prefers the action of this bait for the way it drops in the water without too much erratic flutter or falling on its side. Focusing on structure like tree stumps and coontail, Van Dam mixed his retrieves and kept his line taut to maintain contact with the bait to sense subtle strikes. “The closer to cover the better. I’ll fish a lipless crankbait 10, 12, or 15 feet down if I think that’s where the fish are,” he said. In the Classic, KVD found his keeper fish in even shallower water (2-10 feet). Kirk Deeter
Like most of the top contenders in the field (including the first five place finishers) Van Dam set up shop in a relatively small and crowded portion of the 1,300-acre lake called Beeswax Creek, not far from the launch site at Beeswax Creek Park. This spot featured all the ingredients he outlined in the Bass Pro Clinic feature in the magazine: Current, vegetation, and an adjacent spawning flat. Rick Adair
Interestingly, KVD chose to concentrate his efforts well onto the flat by where the creek channels split, while some of the other competitors stuck to the more predictable, deeper staging areas. Of all the factors he considered in picking his spots, structure proved to be the most critical.
Not only did Van Dam find fish by ripping his bait among the weeds, he also chanced upon an isolated tree stump that produced several fish which proved critical to his win. At one point, he made three consecutive casts at that stump, and by slowing his retrieve through the strike zone, KVD went three-for-three with consecutive keeper fish on consecutive casts. Kirk Deeter
This underscored another of Van Dam’s prophecies from the Bass Pro Clinic story: “In early season, you find fish grouped tightly in small packs. You’re not going to catch one here and there. You find five or six at a time–bang, bang, bang.” Indeed, what ultimately separated KVD from the field was his ability to hone in on pods of fish, and stay on them until he produced heavy bags. Kirk Deeter
Van Dam’s total haul for the tournament was 51 pounds 6 ounces, which proved five pounds better than Jeff Kriet of Ardmore, Oklahoma. KVD’s bag of 19 pounds 7 ounces on Sunday was the biggest catch on the final day, and proved to be the margin of victory. Kirk Deeter
Throughout the tournament, Van Dam stuck with the same basic rig options he outlined for us when we fished with him last year. Quantum Tour KVD rods (medium action, 7-foot); Quantum KVD 150 Series reels, and 17- 20-pound fluorocarbon lines. “Heavier line rides higher, and it helps to slow my retrieve down, which is important in colder, early-season water,” he explained. Kirk Deeter
Perhaps the most stunning aspect of KVD’s win at
the Classic was his adherence to a fairly aggressive form of fishing (with rattling lipless crankbaits) that most other anglers might reserve for later, warmer months. It’s an unconventional approach, especially at Lay Lake where the water temps were in the 40s and visibility was “dingy” at best. While Van Dam is known for his fast-action firebrand style of fishing, few mainstream anglers readily accept this as an early season approach. With another $500,000 in the bank, KVD will likely change a few more minds. Kirk Deeter
Lesson learned: As KVD said “The main attraction of a lipless crankbait at this time of year is that largemouth bass seem to be especially susceptible to flat-sided baits,” KVD told us. “Even though the water is still cold, the bass know their food is in the shallows. If you find them concentrated, and make the right retrieve at the right depth, a lipless bait can dominate in the early season.” And dominate it did. Kirk Deeter