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Inside the Fishing Mind of Kevin VanDam

provided by John E. Phillips

Mossy Oak wanted to know how Mossy Oak Fishing Pro Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, finds and catches bass. Kevin VanDam is one of only two professional fishermen to win four Bassmaster Classics. He’s also won three Major League Fishing Cups and is one of the fastest anglers finding and catching bass in every tournament he attends. He’s a very detailed angler and a keen observer of everything around him when he’s on the water. Sights and signals that most bass fishermen completely overlook are some of the keys to VanDam’s success. To learn more about VanDam, visit his web page at

The Latest Strategy for Successful Bass Fishing with Kevin VanDam – Fishing in the Moment 

Kevin VanDam Mossy Oak Fishing Red Hook

Two anglers in the world of competitive bass fishing have introduced two philosophies to fishing in recent years. The first was four-time Bassmaster Classic winner Rick Clunn, who introduced a philosophy called, “Trust your Gut.” Clunn was the first angler to talk about intuitive fishing, which illustrated that when you got a feeling, a notion or a premonition or heard some type of voice that told you to fish for another type of bass, fish differently, fish another color lure or fish somewhere you’d never fished before, that you needed to trust your instincts and follow notions you had. 

In recent years, Kevin VanDam has introduced another philosophy of fishing called, “Fishing in the Moment,” based on the fact that fishing reports, even current fishing reports, aren’t an indication of where the bass are, and how to catch them on the day you’re fishing. VanDam is what my Dad once called, a “Close Observer.” At the same time, while VanDam is searching for a place to make his next cast, watching his lure hit the water and looking at his rod tip, he’s retrieving the lure while fishing it underwater or seeing what his bait on the surface is doing. He’s also able to observe other changes taking place on the lake that can influence what the bass are doing, and where they’ll be holding. Part of fishing in the moment, VanDam explains, is that much of what you learn when you practice fish before a tournament, other things you know about a particular body of water before the tournament, and how you fish the day before a tournament actually have very little bearing on how you will fish the next day. Oftentimes, VanDam will go to a tournament and not practice fish before the tournament, and the Major League Fishing Circuit he’s fishing today doesn’t permit anglers to practice fish. 

Mossy Oak: What does “Fishing in the Moment” mean?

Kevin VanDam Mossy Oak Fishing Red HookKevin VanDam: Every angler has his own fishing style and lures that he has confidence in to catch bass. Fishing in the moment is applying your strengths (the way you like to fish and the lures you prefer to use) and trusting your instincts and your past history of bass fishing as you see different water, weather, fishing pressure and wildlife changes, and then knowing how to adapt to those changes instantly. When I go to a lake I’ve never fished before, I start with my basics of bass fishing, including where the bass should be on their seasonal migration pattern. I begin trying to apply my strengths (using search baits to find schools of bass, choosing the right lure that will make those bass in that school bite and being aware of the changing fishing conditions throughout the day) to that seasonal pattern. That’s how I’ll start my day to fish in the moment.

Mossy Oak: In recent years, you haven’t fished the practice days at some Bassmaster tournaments, and you aren’t permitted practice days on Major League Fishing. Why do you not take advantage of practice days?

VanDam: I didn’t intentionally try and develop this type of fishing technique; I was forced to learn how to fish like this. At the MLF events, we’re not allowed to pre-fish or to research the lakes where the event is being held. We just have to show up at the event. We don’t learn the lake where we’ll be fishing until we reach the boat ramp on the lake where we’ll be fishing. 

The first thing I try and do is make some observations about the clarity of the lake. As soon as I put my boat in, I want to know the water temperature of the lake. I combine that information with where the bass should be according to their seasonal patterns. Now that may not be the best way to learn a lake before you compete on it, however, on this tournament circuit, we are forced to fish in the moment. The angler who can figure out where the bass are and how to catch them the fastest wins that particular tournament. That’s the real challenge of bass fishing for me - finding schools of bass quickly, learning at what water depth and on what type of structure they’re holding, and then choosing the lures that I believe will produce the most fish and/or the biggest bass on that day, on that lake.

Mossy Oak: Don’t most anglers, when they arrive at a lake and are thinking about past history -  which may include where they’ve found bass a year ago, last weekend or yesterday there - will use that information to try and go to the same spot and use the same technique and lures to attempt to catch bass on the day they’re on the water?

VanDam: Most bass anglers definitely have a difficult time with their memories. They want to apply the knowledge they have from the past and the lures they’ve used in the past to repeat a great day on the water or a win in a tournament. For instance, if you’ve fished a certain lake, and you’ve caught bass on a white spinner bait before in an area, you’ll start throwing that white spinner bait. That may be okay, and you may catch fish that way, however, if the fishing conditions have changed overnight, in the last week or in the past year, that white spinner bait may not be the best lure of choice. I’m not afraid to totally change the technique and the lure I’m using, and the way I’m fishing when I notice a change in the fishing conditions and realize I can apply a fishing strategy that fits the current conditions and make that change quickly.

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