provided by John E. Phillips
Mossy Oak Fishing Pro Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Michigan, is one of only two professional fishermen to win four Bassmaster Classics. He’s also won three Major League Fishing Cups (https://majorleaguefishing.com/) 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 http://kevinvandam.com/ and his Facebook page.
Mossy Oak: Kevin, you’ve been bass fishing for over 30 years and winning a good portion of that time. How long do you think you can keep this winning streak going?
Kevin VanDam: I’m still having a lot of fun bass fishing and competing. I feel like as long as I’m having fun and enjoying what I’m doing, I need to keep doing what I’m doing. One of the things I like about the competitiveness of bass fishing is that every day I learn something new. New lures, new technology and new techniques to fish for bass are always available for me to learn. The learning part of bass fishing is what I really enjoy the most. As long as I’m having fun and continuing to learn every time I go out on the water, I’ll continue to fish and compete.
Mossy Oak: What’s the newest innovation in bass fishing, currently, that you’ve seen?
VanDam: New bass-fishing strategies have been developed every year, but in the last few years the Neko Rig really has come on strong. I remember many years ago when the Carolina Rig was the new, hot tactic. Then, shaky-head worms were popular, and next fishing a tube bait gained popularity with northern bass anglers. The Neko Rig involves putting a small weight in the head of a finesse worm and rigging that worm wacky style. The Neko Rig has proven to be a very effective way to catch bass that are in a neutral mindset or in a totally inactive mood or have had plenty of fishing pressure.
Today, finesse techniques (small, slow-falling lures) and baits that are very subtle have become very effective because of the better electronics that allow us to find bass quicker. Also, the skills of bass fishermen to catch bass have increased so much more than in the past. Fishing bladed jigs like the Thunder Cricket have become very popular in the last few years. The bladed jig is a very efficient bait and seems to catch really big bass. Swimbaits, too, have become more and more popular than ever before.
Bass anglers need to keep open minds, try new lures, tactics and electronics and be willing to change to find more effective strategies than the way they’ve fished the day before. I’m keenly aware of new lures, techniques and colors of lures, new features on electronics, new materials for rods, reels and lines and new ways of catching bass that I’ve never fished previously. I think all bass anglers have to be continuously evolving to continue to get better at our sport.
Mossy Oak: Another big change in the world of bass fishing is the bass fisherman himself. We’re seeing a tremendous number of new, young tournament anglers who have come through the ranks of high school and collegiate fishing. What’s your opinion of this change in the type of anglers against whom you have to compete? What do you think the futures of these new young anglers will be as they move into the professional ranks?
VanDam: In the past, fishing-license sales were down, and anglers were leaving the sport. The entire fishing industry was looking for ways to get more young people involved in bass fishing. Today, the greatest influx of new bass fishermen and tournament bass fishermen has come from the high school and collegiate bass-fishing circuits. I think some of the factors that have caused this phenomenon to happen is what’s happening on social media on these fishing circuits, having smartphones to look up and learn more quickly about fishing and seeing these young people grow into serious competitors. These youngsters have learned how to use Google to get the best information available on the lakes they’re fishing, the lures that tend to catch the most bass on those lakes and the sections of the lakes that tend to produce tournament-winning bags of fish.
Young, new anglers also can learn new techniques and are willing to try them quicker than older anglers will. For instance, they don’t have to go to a tackle store to learn how to tie a FG knot or what’s a Neko Rig. They can get the answers to these questions on the cell phones they always have with them. They can watch 100-plus YouTube videos on any lure, any tactic and any depth finder and learn any other fishing information they want to know and have somebody teach them what they want to know. I’ve got literally thousands of videos on YouTube on all the different fishing tactics and strategies that I use.
The barrier for learning fishing knowledge that once was a hindrance to newcomers to the sport, and especially to young people, no longer exists today. These young people have learned how to research how to bass fish, and they are much quicker to try and learn new lures and new strategies than we were 10-20 years ago. Their abilities are especially strong with using sonar. They have played video games and used all types of electronics their entire lives. Learning how to use forward-facing sonar or 360-degree sonar doesn’t really challenge them. Having the ability to look underwater all the way around their boats while they’re fishing is no big deal to them, and that’s the new frontier currently.
I’m convinced that learning technology quickly is the reason so many high school and college students are able to compete in fishing tournaments successfully. Recently, I think the pandemic has been a great stimulator to get young people out of the house to go fishing. You can socially distance in a boat and be outside, while you’re fishing. So, not only young people, but the public as a whole has looked at fishing this past year as a way to be safe, be outside and reduce their odds of contracting the COVID-19 virus. Currently, fishing-license sales are at an all-time high from this past year. Besides that, these new tournament anglers have learned that fishing is a cool place to be.