Two Bassmaster tournament victories have enhanced Jonathon VanDam’s fondness for smallmouth bass.
The Kalamazoo, Mich., pro developed his affection for brown bass while fishing in his home state throughout his formative years. During his professional career, VanDam relied on catching smallmouth to win the 2009 Bassmaster Northern Open on Lake Erie and the 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series Green Bay Challenge. He lists the hard fight of smallmouth and the fish’s overall aggressiveness as the reasons he enjoys fishing for bronzebacks.
VanDam has discovered through his experiences that smallies will take on large baits even though they have a smaller mouth than their largemouth cousins. “They are very territorial, and I have caught them on baits that they definitely can’t fit in their mouths,” he says.
Here’s a look at VanDam’s five favorite lures for catching smallmouth bass.
Strike King Dream Shot
VanDam opts for a 4-inch Dream Shot for fishing on a drop shot rig and favors the 5-inch version for attaching to a 3/16 or 1/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Shakey jighead for shaky head fishing. His favorite colors for the drop shot bait are KVD magic, morning dawn, and brown/purple laminate. He selects morning dawn, green pumpkin, watermelon seed, and magic as his top colors for the shaky head worm.
He ties his drop shot rig to a 10-pound Power Pro braid main line with a 8-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon leader. His drop shot rig consists of a Trokar number 1 drop shot hook and a Strike King Tour Grade Tungsten Drop Shot Weight that he throws on a G. Loomis NRX822DSR rod and a Shimano Stradic CI4 spinning reel.
VanDam considers the drop shot rig a tactic for all seasons, and he will fish it in various areas with sand or rock bottoms. His presentation requires little movement of the rig. “Typically, I find less is a little more when it comes to the retrieve,” VanDam says.
The Michigan pro also likes to fish the shaky head Dream Shot all year long, mostly around rock or hard bottoms. Since the lure spirals as it falls, VanDam notices most strikes occur on the initial descent. If the lure reaches the bottom, VanDam slowly crawls or shakes the Dream Shot across the bottom. He works the lure on a G.Loomis GLX802JWR rod and Shimano Stradic reel with the same main line and leader he uses for the drop shot rig.
When smallmouth are holding along breakline transitions of points and drop-offs in the spring, VanDam favors throwing a Strike King KVD Jerkbait or KVD Deep Diving Jerkbait in crystal shad clear ayu and strobe shad hues. “A lot of times, I will look for some of the taller grass like cabbage which is something the smallmouth relate to in the northern part of the country,” he says.
He employs an erratic retrieve such as three quick jerks followed by a pause. He jerks the lure on a G.Loomis JBR 812 rod and Shimano Curado 70 baitcast reel filled with 10-pound XPS fluorocarbon.
VanDam suggests this lure will produce all year, but his favorite time to throw a tube bait is during the summer. He chooses a 3 1/2-inch Strike King Coffee Tube in magic goby, dark melon, and white illusion purple/gold flake colors and attaches it to a Strike King Tour Grade Tube Jig Head (3/16-ounce jig for calm days and heavier versions for windy days or fishing in current).
“I will throw it out, let it sink to the bottom, and then I will snap it aggressively almost like I would a jerkbait a handful of times and let it fall back to the bottom,” VanDam says of his retrieve. He snaps the tube along sand or gravel bottoms with a G.Loomis GLX852JWR rod and Shimano Stradic CI4 2500 spinning reel spooled with 10-pound XPS fluorocarbon.
During the spring and fall, VanDam likes to burn a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Painted Blade Spinnerbait along shallow sand flats featuring gravel or grass patches.
“A lot of time, I will mix in some twitches with the rod to get those blades to change a little or get the skirt to flare,” VanDam says. He favors the models with two painted blades in white or chartreuse or chartreuse-and-white with a skirt in the same color scheme. Since he needs to make long casts with the spinnerbait, VanDam relies on a 7-foot- 1-inch G.Loomis 853JWR rod and Shimano Metanium baitcast reel with 17-pound XPS fluorocarbon.
A Strike King Series 5XD crankbait in chartreuse sexy shad or sexy blueback herring is VanDam’s choice for catching smallmouth holding 10 to 17 feet deep along points and humps during the summer and fall. He favors cranking the lure at high speed with a mixture of twitches and pauses. His cranking outfit consists of a G.Loomis CBR 906 rod and Shimano Curado 200 baitcast reel filled with XPS 12-pound fluorocarbon.
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