Kevin VanDam's name is synonymous with speed. Whether it's deep cranking offshore structure or burning a spinnerbait around shoreline cover, VanDam's trolling motor gets a workout. So it was a mild surprise this past April when VanDam claimed the Bassmaster Elite Series title on Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake in what was pegged as a bed fishing extravaganza.
While a VanDam victory is never shocking, the way he amassed 61 pounds of bass over the course of four days turned a few heads. VanDam used a "power-finesse" strategy which combined two techniques that at first glance appear to be polar opposites.
"The idea is to cover as much water as possible but still have the triggering attributes of a finesse bait," says VanDam. "It's power-finesse in that you can cover water but still have that slow presentation."
"Being a power fisherman, I like to fish fast and cover water but I also know that there are a lot of times that you have to slow down and use finesse baits," explains the two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "I found that if I use a power-finesse technique, I can kind of get the best of both worlds. I can still cover water but I can use finesse baits and trigger a lot of inactive fish into striking."
"A tube has a really erratic fall to begin with and that alone triggers a lot of fish," claims VanDam. "I want to get that bait in the zone where the fish are and then move the bait erratically." He will often shake the bait in one place and then snap his rod tip in order to make the bait jump suddenly.
During the Smith Mountain Lake tournament, VanDam focused on cruising bass located on shallow points. "One of the big things at Smith Mountain was that the fish were spread out," explains VanDam. "I had to cover water with the trolling motor and do a lot of sight fishing. Most of the bass I caught weren't actually spawning, they were just cruising the bank. If I could get my bait out there in front of the bass, I could catch most of them."
At Smith Mountain, VanDam relied on a 7-foot, 4-inch spinning rod paired with a 4-inch Strike King 3X finesse worm to catch both largemouth and smallmouth. He notes that when using the power-finesse technique, rod length and casting distance are critical to success. "I can cast that rig a long way on a 7-4 rod. That helps me 'lead' the fish and get the bait on the bottom quickly. When you are leading bass, it's important to use baits that have a lot of action and stay in front of the fish as long as possible."
VanDam believes that there are many opportunities for anglers to utilize the power-finesse technique but water clarity is critical to success. For VanDam, the clearer the water, the better technique is. "In ultraclear water, the fish can see your bait from farther away. A lot of times, that fast fall will get their curiosity, and they'll go over and check it out. That's when the erratic action triggers the strike," he says.
Aside from catching cruising bass, VanDam points out that the power-finesse technique is also applicable to fishing very precise targets like the outside corners of boat docks. "I'm not spending a lot of time in each area," VanDam points out. "I'm just looking for high percentage strikes. I won't catch every bass, but I'll catch the majority of them and over a day's time, it's a good way to catch a solid limit."