Kevin VanDam is the king of fishing and using power-fishing techniques to catch’em . When targeting bass during the pre-spawn, sometimes it is just a matter of figuring out what they want to eat. VanDam has found a Strike King Rage Swimmer to be one of the most important tools in his arsenal during that time of the year. Occasionally, power-finesse is all that is needed to convert neutral fish into feeders.
1. Why a Swimbait During the Bass Pre-Spawn?
|“ The pre-spawn is a great time to catch the biggest fish in that body of water.”- Kevin VanDam
“If you have the right swimbait, and they like one with a slower swimming action with a slower moving tail that has a little bit of wobble to it, it’s a very easy meal for them,” VanDam said. He’ll look for fish to be relating closer to bottom in clearer water. Largemouth bass will be scattered as they set up to spawn.
|Strike King Rage Swimmer|
“The Rage Swimmer bait is a real efficient way, yet not a fast technique this time of the year, to cover a lot of water. If you get around them, they can’t help but eat it.”
2. What are you looking for?
Staging areas outside of large flats where bass are eventually going to pull up to and spawn are places VanDam suggests you look first to dial in this pattern. He’ll seek out:
- Bottom compositional transition- it could be really heavy grass with some clean areas with some hard bottom or even sand. Many of his Northern lakes have scattered sand and weeds on the breaks along a big flat.
- Depth transitions close to these large flats.
- The inside corner of a big main-lake point that is adjacent to a flat is a classic pre-spawn northern natural lake type structure for that time of the year.
- The edges of the big flat where there is a break is a consistent place where they will set-up. Bottom composition is key.
Northern smallmouth prefer a different terrain from largemouth, VanDam says. He looks for these bass to “go shallower and roam bigger deeper flats this time of the year”. Southern smallmouth, like those on Table Rock and other highland reservoirs, relate to main-lake tapering gravel points.
3. Do Water Temperatures Matter?
Fishing the right locations are key- so is targeting the right water temp. He's caught bass from early pre-spawn until they make their last move towards spawning when the water reaches into the 60’s. Even late in the pre-spawn, he’s found them ready to eat a swimbait. “It’s one of those areas that even as you get late into the pre-spawn, early in the morning, those fish are staged still outside on these edges and you can catch them like that,” he started. “As the sun gets up during the day, the swimbait bite ends because those fish are getting more scattered.”
4. What Type of Water Conditions do You Look for?
Stained water conditions can work, but VanDam prefers for water to have 2-feet of visibility or more as bass tend to relate to shallower cover and structure but they will stage deeper on some bodies of water. “The deeper that it is, in some cases, makes it a little bit tricky to keep the bait working effectively in the zone that they are in,” he started, “They’ll be relating shallower than they would most any other time of the year.”
5. Tell Us What Running Depth is Key to Success
|Strike King Tour Grade Round Jighead|
Matching the proper line size to get the proper retrieve rate and presentation down near the bottom where the fish are at is paramount for VanDam.
“The deeper the water, the lighter the line that I use. In a lot of cases, I’ll go to 6-pound fluorocarbon in the clearest lakes when fishing that 15- to 20-foot zone just so that you get less drag. It it makes me more efficient,” VanDam said.
He’ll pair a 3.8” Strike King Rage Swimmer with 3/16, 1/4, and 3/8 ounce Strike King Tour Grade Shakey head jig. He also mixes in a 5/16-ounce head that a friend pours for him. Especially when probing deeper water, he likes the way a football head fishes as it makes contact with and just hovers above the bottom.
|Bass Pro XPS Fluorocarbon Fishing Line|
VanDam will use a lighter jig head, like a 3/16-ounce when fishing water 8-feet or less, especially when he doesn’t have the water clarity that he needs. He’ll use Bass Pro XPS fluorocarbon fishing line ranging from 6- to 12-pound test with 8-pound being a staple for him. Sure, he’ll fish 12-pound in shallow water if he knows first are up shallow because he’ll use a heavier 3/8-ounce head to best trick the size of fish he is targeting.
It’s important to rig the bait perfectly straight so that it runs in a perfectly straight line when retrieved.
He’ll glue the baits to the jig head knowing he can get 4 or 5 more fish per bait and keeping him super efficient. That said, the keeper on the Strike King heads do a great job of keeping soft-plastics pinned on, says KVD.
6. What's Your Go-To Swimbait?
|Strike King Rage Swimmer Swimbait|
VanDam insists that the Rage Swimmer is the best bait for the job. “The Strike King Rage Swimmer has a much slower overall wag to the body, it’s a more subtle presentation. It works very good in those deeper situations,” he said.
When fishing Northern lakes, he’ll fish a green pumpkin colored Swimmer that traditionally mimics a bluegill. In the South, he’ll use baitfish patterns that are natural for the body of water that he is fishing.
7. Talking About Presentation, Which is the Best?
While it isn’t necessary to keep banging the bait along the bottom or ticking the grass that’s down there, keeping the Swimmer down near the bottom is key. “My typical presentation is I’ll cast it out there, let it sink down to the bottom, and start my retrieve. A long cast is critical to keep the bait down near the bottom,” he started. “I’ll reel it along the bottom 10- or 12-feet and stop it and let it tight-line back down to the bottom.” VanDam takes into account the depth that his boat is sitting in and tries to visualize the depth where his bait first hits the bottom and tries to keep it swimming along.
8. What's Your Choice of Fishing Rod, Reel and Tackle?
|Quantum Smoke Spinning Reel|
“Long casts are very critical for this technique to keep that bait in the strike zone and to cover a lot of water efficiently,”VanDam stressed.
VanDam currently uses a medium action 7’4” KVD Tour graphite spinning rod paired with a Quantum Smoke spinning reel. While his current set-up affords him super-long casts, he cannot wait for his current prototype rods to come to fruition.
As Bassmaster has currently changed the rules regarding rod lengths, VanDam is working with Quantum to develop a 9-foot version.
A 9-foot fishing rod allows him to make longer casts and move more line on the hook set, both key factors when targeting bass in gin-clear water. He figures the added rod length will allow him to move 6 to 7-feet more line than he would with a 7-foot rod.