Powering thru the transition period

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Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam

In the world of professional bass fishing, Kevin VanDam is at the pinnacle and arguably the best in the world.

Once summer begins to fade, the bass start doing a lot of different things and you have to be prepared for all of them.  

It’s during the early transition from summer to fall that you may have to use every trick in the book, from fishing schooling fish to deep summer patterns.

It’s a time when I’ll fish everything from two to 30 feet and will probably have a dozen rods rigged with different lures lying on my Nitro boat deck.

Now, when this transition occurs can vary from one end of the country to the other. It happens sooner in northern extremes than in southern waters. And given the drought conditions and hot weather we’ve experienced nationwide, this transition could occur later than it normally does.

Historically, it’s the end of August and the first couple of weeks of September. But I think it will happen a couple of weeks later because the waters have been so warm and the lake levels so low.

At any rate, bass are following around whatever bait is available. They’re not far from summer areas, but the bait is roaming around in open water. That’s the critical thing to remember: Find the largest amounts of baitfish, and that’s where the bass will be.

Monitor your graph for those large concentrations, or watch for shad flipping on the surface, blue herons standing on points, gulls diving into the water — all dead giveaways that baitfish are nearby.

This is a time of year when I spend a lot of time driving around looking at my graph or for above-water signs that baitfish are in the area. I rarely pick up a rod until I find them.

They may be in the backs of creeks of stained reservoirs where you can fish square bills, but on most lakes, they’re still relating to off-shore structure until the water starts to cool.

However, instead of holding on the humps and ledges, the fish will be suspended off the edges, and that makes them harder to pinpoint and catch.

That’s when power fishing is a must because you have to cover more water to find them and choose the appropriate lure that fishes that area — and the fish — efficiently.

As you might have guessed, the crankbait is my favorite tool in most situations. I’ll have a Strike King Series 5 for water 8-10 feet deep, a 5XD for 15 feet, and a 6XD for 20 feet all ready to go. I likely will have multiples of them rigged on different line sizes to adjust to depth needs.

If I see shad suspended 10 feet down over 20 feet, I will fish the Series 5. That may sound odd since the bait is not coming close to the bottom, but it is matching the baitfish and fishing where they and the bass are suspended.

The key to cranking suspended fish is to vary the retrieve and make it move erratically to trigger fish into biting. I’ll stop it, give it a jerk, continue the retrieve for awhile, then repeat the process.

Now if I see the bass are deeper on my graph than my crankbaits will run, I'll rig a 4 1/2-inch Shadalicious swimbait on a 3/4-ounce jighead and fish it through that zone (also erratically), or I will dump a drop-shot rig with a Strike King Dream Shot on the hook down to where they are and try to get them going.

Other baits you’ll find on my deck will be a spoon, football jig (if they’re near the bottom), or Bottom Dweller spinnerbait. The spoon and spinnerbait work well when the fish are suspended because I can count them down to any depth then work them through the zone.

This is also a time where the umbrella rig can come into play. Rig one up with shad-imitating swimbaits, make a long cast and drag it through that depth zone.

I also keep a Sexy Dawg topwater ready in case the bass push bait to the top and a short-lived, yet fun, feeding frenzy erupts.

As the evenings cool and grow longer, the shad will move into creeks which triggers the beginning of the fall pattern and the real fun begins. But until then, you have to use a lot of different tools and fish the proper depth — where the bait is living.

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