He does this in several ways, one of which is to cast a drop shot rig a long way, and then twitch it quickly over the bottom. VanDam demonstrated this hyperactive retrieve to me in a swimming pool during a media event at Reelfoot Lake, Tenn.
I couldn't believe how frenetically the little worm darted back and forth as it scooted along in front of the drop shot weight. It looked panic-stricken. A bass would have to be comatose not to pounce on it. Besides sparking reflex bites, VanDam's upbeat drop shotting pace covers far more water than the standard shake-and-bake ploy most anglers use.
The leader from VanDam's hook to his drop shot weight is usually 8 to 12 inches long. Given the line's angle with a casting presentation, the bait dances back only a few inches over the bottom.
"Most forage species stay close to the bottom where they can blend in for protection," VanDam said. "That's why the bass are down there." A drop shot rig makes the worm more visible to bottom-hugging bass than, say, a shaky head.
It also keeps the bait free of slime and prevents the line above the hook from being frayed by rocks and zebra mussels. However, VanDam goes with a longer leader when he marks bass suspended above the bottom.
This is common on the Great Lakes, where smallmouth often feed on smelt and alewives. The last time VanDam fished Lake Erie out of Buffalo, N.Y., a 3-foot leader made a big difference for him.
VanDam prefers cylindrical XPS Finesse Drop Shot Weights from Bass Pro Shops. These lead weights slither trough grass and over rocks with fewer snags, he claimed. And, if VanDam wants to fine-tune the sinker's weight, he can trim it with side cutters.
Generally, VanDam opts for a 1/4-ounce weight in depths to 12 feet, a 3/8-ounce weight from 12 to 20 feet deep, and a 1/2-ounce weight when fishing deeper than 20 feet. The weight should get down fast and maintain consistent bottom contact without creating too much drag.
Strike King's dirt colored 4-inch Super Finesse Worm is VanDam's go-to drop shot bait. He nose-hooks the worm with a No. 2 Mustad Drop Shot Hook.
"The softness and buoyancy of that worm outfishes everything," VanDam said. Spinning tackle matched with 8-pound fluorocarbon line handles VanDam's finesse drop shotting chores.
The thin line cuts the wind and water for a fast sink rate, and VanDam is convinced that it gets more bites than heavier line.
Deep bass that scatter over vast flats can be maddening. They don't hold on humps or drops that you can see with a depthfinder, and you rarely find them in the same place two days in a row.
VanDam has overcome this dilemma at Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, Table Rock and elsewhere. He keeps his electric motor humming and doesn't put his drop shot rig into the water until he sees a bass on his depthfinder. While looking for bass, he keeps the bail of his spinning reel open and holds the line in his finger.
This lets him release the line the instant his Humminbird marks a bass. "If you wait too long to let go of the line, you'll miss the bass," VanDam said. "You want the bait to land right on top of the bass where it's more likely to bite on the initial fall." When the sinker hits bottom, VanDam holds his rod still for a few seconds. If a bass doesn't strike, he gives the bait a few twitches.
If that doesn't get results, he reels in and moves on. When looking for scattered bass before a tournament, VanDam does so while idling with the outboard. When he sees a bass, he releases the drop shot rig and puts the outboard in neutral. "I find loads of bass fast doing that," VanDam said. "It helps me locate areas that hold the quality fish I need to do well when the tournament starts."