Versatility

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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.

This week I think we should talk about versatility. We've talked around it from time to time but not directly at it. It's important; we need to spend to some time on it.

I define versatility as changing your natural angling style to meet current conditions, doing what you need to do rather than what you want to do.

Versatility is not simply about being able to fish on top with a walking stick and along the bottom with a jig and pig. There's more to it than that. A versatile angler is one who can meet the needs of the fish with a variety of tackle, different techniques and, most importantly, with a positive mental attitude.

Kissimmee was good to me this year. I won that event. What made it especially sweet was that I did it by being versatile. I adapted to water that's been tough on me in the past. My reward was an Elite Series win.

I like to run and gun — everyone knows that. It's my natural style. But that doesn't work well in Florida. I needed to become versatile — meet the needs of the fish — if I expected to make a good showing. It wasn't a matter of what I wanted to do or liked to do or felt most comfortable doing. It was a matter of what I needed to do.

During prefishing I threw reaction baits — mostly the Strike King Red Eye Shad in Sexy Shad. I also threw a few jerkbaits. If I got a bite or two from an area, I left immediately and didn't go near it again until the tournament was underway.

When competition started, I fished that same spot Florida style — slow and careful. True, I still used my reaction baits, but I fished them differently. I forced myself to concentrate on the immediate area I was fishing. And I made myself understand that I wasn't going to catch a lot of bass, but that the ones I did catch would make a difference at the end of the day.

My beloved run and gun attack from spot to spot doesn't work in Florida, no matter how much it suits my style. I had to abandon it and slow down, working each area carefully from a variety of directions and with a variety of retrieves.

That's a slow and methodical approach — not one that suits my natural fishing style. But the tournament wasn't about me. It was about the fish and what I needed to do to make them bite.

Was it painful or difficult or somewhat unnatural for me? Yes, when I was on the water. It sure wasn't painful or difficult to hold up the trophy while my picture was being taken after the final weigh-in though. Nor was it painful to cash the $100,000 check.

Now, you'll note that I have talked about natural fishing style or what I (we) like to do. I do not talk about strength or weakness. Fishing your natural style is not a strength, and changing is not a weakness. Don't ever look at it that way. Think and talk adaptability, change and need — fish need, not human need. If you think you're fishing weak, you are.

True, you need to be able to fish with different lures, at different depths and under different conditions. I'll be the first to admit that. But that's technique; it's not versatility. Adapting is versatility. And all good anglers are versatile.

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