The Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl on Smith Mountain Lake was a classic sight fishing tournament. Each of the three best finishers worked beds in one fashion or another to put together their winning sacks.
Here's how they did it:
(1st Place — 61 pounds, 13 ounces)
Kevin VanDam, securing his 15th BASS victory, went against the grain and fished for smallmouth.
"I knew I had to do something different to be competitive in this one," said the four-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year. "All you had to do was look around to see what was coming. The bass were ready to spawn, the weather was warming and the new moon was on Friday. It was obvious this would be a sight fishing, largemouth tournament for most of the guys."
In practice VanDam noticed that there were smallmouths on the beds in 5-6 feet of water on main lake points and secondary points in some of the major creeks. He also noticed that some smallies were chasing spawning shad alongside other points in 1-2 feet of water. From those observations he developed two patterns.
"I grew up fishing for spawning smallmouths in Michigan. In fact, it's my favorite kind of bass fishing. I absolutely love to do it. They're great tournament fish, too. In my experience smallmouth bass are more aggressive than largemouths. As a consequence, they're usually easier to catch.
With that background, I targeted the bedding smallmouth with a 1/8-ounce Strike King Tour Grade Shaky Head and a 4-inch Strike King 3X Finesse Worm in the dirt color. I'd throw it right into the bed and let it sit there.
"The 3X worms are really buoyant. They stick straight up in the water. As the bedding bass move around they cause the worm to move around. The bass just can't stand something like that in the middle of their bed. They want it gone, which is fine with me."
When he ran short of beds, the Kalamazoo, Mich., angler targeted cruising brown bass chasing shad in the shallows alongside the points. "I'd throw the same bait about 15 feet in front of them as they were cruising looking for shad. They just swam right into it. Again, they couldn't resist it."
The baits weren't the only reason for his victory, however. It was a group effort.
"I used everything I had. My 109-pound-thrust Motor Guide trolling motor, my Power-Pole, my new Biosonix unit, my lures and my tackle all played a critical role in the final result.
"But my Oakley sunglasses made the biggest difference. I had six pair, all with different colored lenses. I switched them around according the available light. They enabled me to see what was happening under the water. I wouldn't have won without them."
Tackle: A 7-foot, 4-inch Quantum KVD Tour Edition Finesse Spinning Rod (medium action), a Quantum Tour Edition PTi-B open-faced spinning reel (TE40PTi-B, 5.2:1 gear ratio) and 8-pound-test Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon line.
(2nd Place — 59 pounds, 5 ounces)
"I caught all my fish sight fishing, and they were all green," said the Trussville, Ala., pro. "I fished the first day in the Roanoke River and the last three days in the Blackwater River.
"There really wasn't much special about what I was doing. I looked for beds with decent size bass and then fished them every day of the tournament. Almost all my beds were between 2 and 5 feet deep, which is typical for largemouths.
"The thing that allowed me to put together 59 pounds, though, was taking the time to find the sweet spot in the bed. You have to watch the female and pay close attention to how she reacts. When she acts nervous you're getting close. After that it's a matter of putting the bait in exactly the right spot. That's mostly a matter of trial and error, along with a lot of casts."
Tackle: Herron alternated between throwing a Texas rigged Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (white trash, juicy and black neon) and a Skinny Dipper (white trash and pro blue).
With the Sweet Beaver he used a 7-foot, 6-inch Kistler Helium LTA rod (heavy action), a Shimano reel (6.3:1 gear ratio) and various test-weights of Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line. He armed the Beaver with a Reaction Innovations 4/0 BMF hook and held it down with 3/16 to 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten Worm Weight.
For his Skinny Dipper he used a 7-foot Kistler Argon TS rod (heavy action) with the same model of reel, same line, same weight and a 6/0 swimbait hook.
(3rd Place — 58 pounds, 3 ounces)
"Most of my beds were in main lake spawning pockets and in the major creeks," said Jordon, who hails from Mineola, Texas. "I moved around a lot because the bass didn't all come up at the same time. There was a lot of variation from one part of the lake to another. I had to hunt and peck for the ones that were committed to their beds and were ready to bite.
"My best beds were in 2-6 feet of water with my biggest bass coming off the deeper ones. Deep beds are sometimes hard to spot and even harder to fish. But they also hold the biggest bass, sometimes anyway. They're worth a little more time and effort when you need weight."
Tackle: Jordon caught most of his bass on a Texas rigged Lake Fork Tackle Baby Fork Craw (green pumpkin), weighted with a 5/16-ounce Lake Fork Tackle Tungsten Weight and armed with a 6/0 Owner Wide Gap Hook. His rod was a 7-foot, Fenwick Techna AV (medium-heavy action), with an Abu Garcia Revo STX reel (7.1:1 gear ratio) spooled with 65-pound-test Spiderwire.