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VanDam details his Grand plan

6/28/2007
Kevin VanDam reacts after Jeff Kriet weighed in a few pounds short of what he needed. James Overstreet

GROVE, Okla. — When Kevin VanDam was finished, resulting in one more victory for the biggest name in bass fishing, he wasn't shy about disclosing the details of his first-place formula for the Sooner Run presented by Longhorn Tobacco.

Every fish he weighed-in at Grand Lake came on a Strike King Series 5 or Series 6 crankbait in a new "Sexy Shad" color pattern that he developed.

"I was confident that crankbait bite would hold up," VanDam said. "I made a decision before the tournament ever started that I was going to crank from start to finish and not get caught up in slowing down and trying to finesse fish.

"There are two ways to catch them when they are inactive. You've got to fish real slow and throw finesse-type baits, or you've got to trigger them with a reaction bait. That's just my style anyway."

But you've got to go back to last year, when VanDam finished 22nd in this event, to get the full picture of how VanDam formed his game plan this year.

"(Last year's tournament) helped tremendously," he said. "What I learned last year is when this lake is a little bit clearer and a little bit lower, I could not catch them crankin'.

"I basically fished a lot of the same places this year as I did last year, but I had to throw a jig or a worm or a Carolina rig to catch them then.

"This year I felt like with the lake a little higher, them planning to generate water (through the dam) all week and the color the lake had, I was confident the crankbait would hold up."

VanDam finished with four days of five-bass limits totaling 78 pounds, 2 ounces, which is almost a four-pound average per bass. Indeed it was four-pounders that made the difference last week.

Catching a limit wasn't a problem at Grand Lake. Out of a possible 278 limits on the pro side (108 anglers Thursday and Friday, plus 50 anglers Saturday and 12 Sunday) 256 limits were caught. And the average size of those bass weighed-in was amazingly consistent the first three days, right at 2 pounds, 13 ounces, jumping to 3-6 Sunday when the final 12 were all swinging for the fences.

The biggest bass each day didn't vary much either. The big bass of the tournament was a 6-4 caught Friday by Davy Hite. The other three days, big bass were 5-14, 6-2 and 5-13.

In a way, this tournament was a test of the two methods for inactive bass that VanDam mentioned previously — 1.) slow, finesse; 2.) fast, reaction.

Jeff Kriet, who led VanDam by seven ounces going into Sunday, chose the opposite method from VanDam. Mainly on a Carolina-rigged Zoom Brush Hawg, with some help from a big plastic worm and a five-inch Storm swimbait, Kriet weighed-in the biggest bag of the tournament, 24-11, which put him into the lead Saturday.

Kriet's mantra all week was "slow down, slow down, slow down." However, he managed only 14-8 Sunday to finish with 74-5, almost four pounds behind VanDam but still good enough for a second-place check of $39,000.

VanDam did occasionally cast something besides a crankbait, but 99.9 percent of his casts and 100 percent of the fish he weighed came on the crankbait.

VanDam's tools for success were as follows: 7-foot Quantum Tour Edition Crankin' Rod, Quantum Energy baitcast reel with a 5-to-1 gear ratio, 17- and 12-pound test Bass Pro XPS fluorocarbon line, and Strike King Series 5 and 6 crankbaits in a new "Sexy Shad" color pattern (which also produced his earlier Elite Series win at Lake Guntersville, Ala.).

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Kevin VanDam fished around rocks, where the gizzard shad would feed, and he pulled up about six each day. James Overstreet

There was no doubt VanDam was focused on rocks this week. He averaged boating about six rocks per day, some that pulled as hard as a four-pound bass.

"The rocks are real porous here, so they tend to hang on to a crankbait," VanDam said.

Rocks are at times important for attracting gizzard shad, according to Gene Gilliland, senior fisheries biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife. Gizzard shad feed mainly on plankton.

"They also eat the benthic goop on the bottom of the lake," Gilliland said. "You'll see them grazing on rocks at times."

Gilliland said bright sunlight tends to concentrate schools of gizzard shad. The shad disperse at night, so low light conditions tend to spread them out more.

It was Saturday's mostly overcast, often rainy skies that caused VanDam's only hiccup. His limit weighed "only" 16-8 that day. Although Sunday's weigh-in was drenched by a heavy thunderstorm, the anglers fished under mostly sunny skies that day.

VanDam pulled his crankbaits mainly through water depths of 4 to 15 feet. The two different crankbait models and the two different strength lines allowed him to bang the rocks at all depths within his target range.

"The Series 5 is a little bit smaller bait," VanDam said. "It runs up to about 10 feet deep, depending on what size line you use. The Series 6 will run up to about 15 feet deep."

Heavier strength and, therefore, thicker line runs shallower than lighter, thinner line. On the shallower-running Series 5, VanDam would cast it on 17-pound fluorocarbon line at four-foot depths. Then pick up a rod that had 12-pound line on the reel and a Series 5 tied on the line when he wanted to probe rocks out to 10-feet-deep. He used that same set up on the Series 6 deeper-running lure to more effectively work those 10- to 15-foot depths.

Another critical part of VanDam's arsenal was the hooks on his crankbaits. You want sharp hooks in any fishing situation, and it's difficult for them to remain sharp when you're banging them off and, sometimes, into rocks.

"I probably changed 50 hooks on my crankbaits this week," VanDam said. "I'm using a new Mustad hook. It's really heavy duty, almost a saltwater hook. It's real stiff. The bigger diameter wire seemed to hold the fish a lot better.

"It was one of the keys. I had a lot of fish that were barely hooked. When the hooks would get dinged up and dulled from the rocks, I'd just put another (treble hook) on there.

One other key weapon, according to VanDam, was a Biosonix Fish Activator with BSX sound technology. Through a patented underwater speaker, this equipment claims to put out sound vibrations mimicking distressed baitfish and live bait being attacked by predator fish, like largemouth bass feeding on gizzard shad.

VanDam's been using this for awhile. He credits it for helping him win the 2005 Bassmaster Classic.

"I kept my Biosonix on a real active shad pattern," said VanDam of his technique at Grand Lake. "Basically, what it does is help bring the shad up. And when bass hear that sound of other bass eating shad, I think they get more aggressive.

"There was one time during the first day of the tournament, I sat there and caught fish on every cast for about 40 minutes. You can't do that unless you can keep them active. I'm convinced Biosonix is one of the key things that does that."

But VanDam's main weapon is always his level of activity. No one makes more casts than VanDam during a day of tournament fishing, especially when he's on a strong crankbait bite like he was at Grand Lake.

"If I caught a bass or two, then I'd really work that area thoroughly," he said. "A lot of times I'd sit there and make the same cast 30 or 40 times, then bam, catch one. You had to make these fish react."

And as he proved again last week, nobody can make fish react like three-time BASS Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam.-->