Editor's Note: Industry rep Alan McGuckin got an inside look at how Kevin VanDam loaded 17-plus pounds into his boat on day 1 of the Bassmaster Elite Series event at Toledo Bend. He passed along this piece on VanDam's top two bait presenations.
Seven-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam put 17 pounds of bass on the scales on Day 1 at the Bassmaster Elite Series event on Toledo Bend and walked to his boat to begin loading it on the trailer in the same way Peyton Manning heads to the sideline after seemingly another routine touchdown drive.
Don’t count on Manning to hold up a diagram of the play he used to put it in the end zone for TV cameras, even though that’s pretty much what KVD graciously did when asked what setups he’s using to target post-spawn largemouth this week on Toledo Bend.
“Check this out!” said VanDam, inviting us to take a closer look. “This Splash Jr. was brand new this morning, and now it’s covered in teeth marks after one day.”
VanDam was referring to a 1/4–ounce, 2 3/8-inch long topwater popper from Strike King he relies on heavily when largemouth are guarding their young fry immediately after the spawn.
“It’s just a dynamite bait when bass are fresh off the spawn,” he said. “I throw it even under sunny blue skies in the afternoon, it doesn’t matter, they’ll eat it all day long.”
He ties the topwater lure to 14-pound monofilament because it doesn’t sink like fluorocarbon does. He uses a 6-foot 10-inch Quantum casting rod because it has a real soft tip that allows him to cast it a really long way, and impart all the necessary action.
“That rod is a big part of making the bait walk, skip along and chug with that bloop, bloop, bloop sound,” he says. “And trust me, it’s the bloop, bloop, bloop sound that makes ‘em eat it."
When the fish aren't busting surface lures, VanDam is probing Toledo’s 10- to 15-foot zone by cranking the outside grass edges with a Strike King 5XD crankbait. And no, it’s not the sexy shad pattern.
“I’m using a color we call green gizzard shad this week because the water is pretty clear where I’m fishing,” he explained. “I’m cranking the outside grasslines on secondary points just outside of the real shallow and flat spawning areas, trying to catch those bass that are just starting to move out deep toward their summer homes.”
He always cranks with a 5.3:1 gear ratio reel he was heavily involved in helping Quantum design, and he meticulously chooses rod length based on the size of the crankbait he’s throwing. For smaller cranks, he’ll go as short as a 6'10" rod, but for the 5XD he adamantly believes a 7’4” medium action model to be perfect.
Like Manning, VanDam plays well just about every day – but Sundays seem to be his day to shine brightest. Only two more days will tell whether or not KVD can come from behind to notch his 21st career victory, but one thing’s for sure – his classy character – and willingness to share his game plan with those of us watching from home will always count as a win.