Kevin VanDam (Lesson 8: Late spring)

Kevin VanDam
Kevin VanDam

About the author

Kevin VanDam as told to Louie Stout

Kevin VanDam as told to Louie Stout

Kevin VanDam is a 7-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 4-time Bassmaster Classic champion.

In my last Master Series story, I covered the late winter/early spring season, a time when the water is cold and fish are beginning to move around.

It can be a challenging period for the power fisherman because the strike zone is small. You have to get sneaky with your power baits and fish them in very specific areas.

But once the water warms and we get into a more active prespawn period, power fishing comes into its own and is one of the hottest times to fish fast-moving baits.

I'm often asked to define the magic temperature or range of temperature that triggers the hot bite. The truth is there is no set temperature; it's more of a transitional thing. Fish activity correlates with a rise in water temperature, rather than a set temperature. And it can vary from lake to lake.

Frankly, water temperature is far less relative to fish activity than I once believed. I've been surprised at just how active bass can get in cold water, even during the dead of winter.

In the north where I live, they get more aggressive in lower water temperatures than they will at those same temperatures in southern waters. Our bass are more accustomed to frigid water and move into the spawn phase at lower temperatures than southern fish.

The moon has a much greater influence over when bass spawn, yet not all fish spawn at the same time.

So, don't fool yourself into believing that they won't spawn until the water gets into the 60s. Give me stable weather, a full moon and water temperatures in the 50s, and I know bass will be very active and some will be spawning.

It's not unusual to find bass in all elements of the seasonal pattern on a given lake during the peak spawning season. Some will be emerging from winter haunts while others are locked down on beds in the warmest part of the lake. Others may be starting to stage along drops adjacent to spawning flats and getting ready to move in.

That's when conditions are ideal for a power fisherman like me. Because we use fast-moving baits, cover a lot of water and don't spend a lot of time in one area, we can test every phase of the spring pattern, fine tune it and pick off the most aggressive fish in a shorter period of time.

I prefer to concentrate my efforts on prespawn fish that are staging near spawning areas because they tend to be the most aggressive. Again, finding them is matter of covering water in search of the sweet spots.

I've fished several areas during a day and then suddenly encountered one little stretch where a school of hungry big ones pulled up to feed — and I'd catch four or five in a row. If I were out dragging soft plastics around and making fewer casts, I might have missed those opportunities.

The peak prespawn period is a time when a variety of lures catch fish, but one may catch them better. Chose the one that best suits water clarity and weather plus fishes the depth and cover most efficiently.

Let's say I'm fishing scattered logs in 10 feet of water along an offshore creek channel that runs against a spawning flat. I could catch those fish with either a spinnerbait or crankbait, but based upon the conditions of that day, one lure might be more effective at triggering those fish to bite.

If it's windy and the water has some color, it might be the spinnerbait. If sunny and clear, the crankbait might be better. Either lure might work regardless of the conditions, but one might catch bigger fish and more of them.

Forage is another factor to consider. If there are tons of shad in the area, a spinnerbait likely would work best. If I chose to try a crankbait, it would be one that stayed off the bottom where the shad are swimming around.

I still power fish when the bass get onto their beds. I may not catch them with fast movers, but those tactics often help me find the fish.

For example, if I suspect the bass have moved into the bushes to spawn — but I'm not sure where — I'll burn a spinnerbait around shallow bushes in several pockets. Spawners may not bite the lure, but they will swat at it and give away their location. Once they do, I can switch to a Strike King Rodent (creature bait) and start dunking into those bushes and make them bite.

But again, I'm fishing fast. I'll rig it with a 3/8 ounce weight and make more flips. I may not catch every fish there, but I'll catch several and cover water. If I determine the area holds big fish, I can go back through it and fish slower.

Once bass come off the beds, they tend to hang around the area while they recoup from the rigors of spawning. They aren't as likely to chase a bait, but many are guarding fry and remain in the attack mode, so power tactics will catch 'em.

The bass will suspend around cover, such as boat docks or bushes, until they've recovered.

Best lure choices are those that prey on their instincts, have a lot of built-in action and stay in the strike zone longer. And, because the bass do suspend a lot during this period, I try to avoid baits that fish on the bottom.

That's why walking stickbaits, topwaters, jerkbaits, soft jerkbaits, a Strike King Ocho (stickworm) or a drop shot rig are good options. You can impart erratic action into them, yet they don't move away rapidly, giving the fish time to react.

Best of all, they allow me to cover water faster, make more casts and show my lures to more fish. That increases the odds of me getting more bites.