Tips & Techniques

KVD at Chickamauga

At the recent Bassmaster BASSFest tournament at Chickamauga Lake, Kevin VanDam finished second using a Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig and a Strike King Rage Tail Thumper Worm.

That seemed a little odd – not that Kevin finished second, but that he did it without cranking. That tournament was all about ledge fishing, Kevin is a known crankbait master and other competitors in the tournament cranked – so why didn't he fish crankbaits?

Or, more specifically, how does he decide which lures to throw when he's bass fishing deep water in the summer?

"A lot of it is experience," he says. "Our electronics are so good now, you can in a lot of cases have an idea when you pull up that you need to throw a crankbait or slow down – based on the conditions and how fish are related to a particular ledge or drop.

"If you're on a lake that has power generation, that moving current typically puts the bass on top of a ledge in position for them to target shad as they come drifting down with that current. That's when a crankbait is really effective.

"Day in and day out, a crankbait is my go-to bait for ledge fishing. It's an efficient tool to cover a lot of water, you can get it down there quick, and when it's grinding the bottom – when that bait is skipping and kicking around – it's great at triggering neutral bass.

"So I almost always show 'em a crankbait first, even if they're not moving a lot of water and the fish aren't in the most active mood," Kevin says. "In a lot of cases you can still get them to bite a crankbait. And once you catch the first fish on a crankbait, you can fire the rest up and catch them back to back to back.

"If I'm marking fish and can't get them to bite a crankbait – if I'm marking fish on a drop, point or ledge, they don't bite and I might not know for sure they're bass – then I'll drag a Strike King Tour Grade Football Jig or Denny Brauer Structure Jig, both matched with a Rage Craw trailer, on the bottom and try to get the bass to react.

"I did that on the Chick," he notes. "I spent a lot of time in practice graphing, looking, finding spots and marking fish. I'd crank 'em, but couldn't get much of a reaction.

"For the most part very little water was moving," he explains. "Plus the fish get a lot of pressure – the lake is right outside a major city, a lot of anglers fish it and you probably have tournaments 3-4 times a week there. I think those fish were conditioned to seeing a lot of crankbaits.

"So I went to something that's fished slow, that stays in front of the fish a long time, and looks real natural – like a jig or worm."

Slow? That doesn't sound like KVD.

"When I'm ledge fishing, I try to find the most efficient tool," he says. "But once you find a spot that holds fish, you need to throw everything you have at them. You never know on any given day when you're ledge fishing what the best bait is going to be."

On Chickamauga, Kevin had the following baits tied on and ready to go:
> Strike King sexy spoon (sexy shad)
> Dropshot rig
> Shakey head rig
> 5.5-inch Strike King Shadalicious swimbait on a 3/4-oz head
> Strike King Denny Brauer Structure Jig with Strike King Rage Craw trailer
> 10-inch Strike King Rage Thumper worm
> Strike King 5XD, 6XD and 10XD crankbaits
> 1 3/8-oz Strike King Bottom Dweller spinnerbait

"They were all ready to go, and I just experimented with them until I caught one," he says.

He notes that different baits might work on different spots. "On one ledge you might fire a crankbait but they don't bite that, try a jig and they don't bite that, try a worm and they don't bite that, then a spoon and – bam! – you're catching them. But the next spot might be different.

"It's almost like bed fishing: You never know what bait in what color will get that fish excited. Ledge spots can be like that too."

How Electronics Help

He adds that "conditions are always a little bit different" over the course of a day, a factor fishermen have to consider. "As the current speeds up or slows down, it changes the mood of the fish."

That's where electronics help. "In a lot of cases you can kind of tell [what mood the bass are in] based on how they're related to the structure," Kevin says. "So if you graph a ledge and the fish are right on top of the shallowest part and right on the bottom, that's the scenario you're looking for. That's the best feeding position, and that's when a crankbait is your first choice.

"But if you pull up [to a spot] and the fish are scattered or suspended in the water column, out off the edge of the break – which happens a lot if there's no current generation – things like a swimbait or spoon will be better.

"If the fish are locked down on the bottom, a big worm, football jig, spinnerbait or even that spoon or swimbait, is a better choice."