Tuesday, January 31st, 2023
Tuesday, January 31st, 2023

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Bass’n plan: How not to lose your biggest bucketmouth of 2020

By Louie Stout
Contributing Writer


Every one of you reading this has lost a big fish sometime during your life. 


There are days that it just happens. But oftentimes it was because you made an avoidable mistake.


How do we prevent those mistakes? We turned to legendary pro angler Kevin VanDam, a Michigan man who has landed enough big bass in his lifetime to have mastered the key to getting brutes into the boat. During a Bassmaster tournament a few years ago, VanDam set the Lake Lewisville, Texas, lake record with an 11-pound, 13-ounce bass he caught while fishing with 8-pound fluorocarbon line and a spinning outfit.


“A huge part of landing any giant bass is your preparation and attention to little details before you go on the water,” he said. “I’m very meticulous about that.”

His best bass’n tips

Fresh line: You cannot afford to take a chance with bad line and should check it frequently. VanDam re-spools frequently.


“We have a lot of zebra mussels in our part of the country, and it doesn’t take much for them to nick the line,” he said. “I’m constantly checking mine and stripping 10 to 15 feet off when I’ve been fishing in a harsh environment.”


He also reminds anglers that backlashes in baitcast reels can also cause problems. You might be able to pick out the backlash, but kinks it may have created will put weak spots in your line.


When choosing line size, think about the technique and cover you are fishing. VanDam opts for the heaviest he can without sacrificing bites.


Conversely, finesse fishing in clear water with few obstructions allows him to use 6-pound line to enhance the natural action of the lure he’s using.


Hooks: No one is a bigger stickler about hooks than VanDam. He says anglers often mistakenly select the wrong hook and gap for the size of plastics they rig or the size of line or rod they are using. You want enough gap between the shank and the barb for the hook to penetrate properly.


“You don’t want a heavy hook if you’re finesse fishing with lighter line because it will make it difficult to penetrate a bass’ mouth,” he explained. “Nor do you want a finesse hook when flipping or using big line because that hook can flex and open up and allow a fish to escape.”


Treble hooks are just as critical but for different reasons. VanDam switches stock hooks on a lure to his Mustad KVD Trebles. Even so, if he’s fishing crankbaits on a craggy bottom throughout the day, he will take time to replace those with fresh hooks.


“I don’t care what brand you use, you can’t sharpen a hook anywhere close to what the factory does,” he said. “When your hooks are banging on rocks, gravel or mussels, they will wear down.”


Rod and reel: Match your rod action and gear ratio to the technique you plan to use. If skipping docks with a jig, you need a rod beefy enough to set the hook and move the fish.


“Anytime I’m using the rod to move the bait – and not the reel handle – I want a faster gear ratio as well,” VanDam said. “If a fish swims off quickly I can catch up with it and get a good hook in him.” 


When fishing treble hook lures, he advocates using composite rods because they allow him to keep tension on the line when a fish jumps and shakes its head. 


“It’s like a shock absorber,” he said. “It allows the fish to take the bait better and keep him buttoned.”


Playing the fish: VanDam assumes he has a big fish every time he sets the hook. 


“Do not let the fish control you,” he insisted. “You must control the fish with the rod and keep that rod angled away from the direction the fish is going. Keep the fish off balance and never allow slack line.”


He sees pro and amateur anglers alike make the mistake of grabbing the line when trying to land the fish without a net. He says you want to maintain control of the fish with the rod, keep the bass moving in a straight line until it tires and you can grab it with your hand.


Landing nets help, but only if done properly.


“Never put the net in the water until you have the momentum and are moving that fish to it,” he said. “If the hook in the fish’s mouth catches the net and that big fish turns, you can kiss it goodbye.”


Check the drag! VanDam doesn’t recommend anglers rely on a reel’s drag system when they get a fish nearby. With baitcast reels, he’s ready to disengage and thumb the spool when a big fish makes a surge. Also, he will back-reel with a spinning reel.


“The thing you must remember is the drag is set for getting a firm hookset at the end of a cast and not for playing the fish near the boat,” he said. “That slippage may not be enough when a big fish is near the boat, your rod is bowed with short line and the bass turns to make another run,” he said.


So, the next time you rig up impatiently, ask yourself: Am I geared up for that bass of a lifetime?

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