Joe Gibbs Racing watching Bassmaster LIVE

Triple monitors loaded up with Bassmaster LIVE at Joe Gibbs Racing's headquarters. The Kyle Busch crew is tuned in. Worth noting that their race team is the biggest Toyota sponsored team in NASCAR.

Photo courtesy of college angler Carson Orellana.

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A limit for KVD

Kevin VanDam has just finished his limit. After the flurry this morning we wouldn't have thought it was going to take this long.

But he does have five. While BASSTrakk has him at 9 1/4, I have him closer to 11 pounds which puts him and Connell neck and neck.

The last fish was in the 2-pound neighborhood. And while things are slow we know he's missed or lost a "good fish" prior to filling his limit.

It's our guess he's having second thoughts about releasing the 3-pounder this morning. But we also know he had confidence he'd catch better fish.

He may be on that track now.

BASSTrakk update

Dustin Connell's bite appears to be heating up, he now has three bass for 4-13. He's sitting unofficially in the lead. Jonathon VanDam has moved into second on BASSTrakk with a limit at 9-4. That's the big bag of the day at this point. JVD started the day in fourth place, and has moved ahead of his uncle Kevin VanDam, and Keith Poche. 

Bobby Lane started the day in 11th place. Now with three fish and 7-8, he has moved up to fourth place. 

Keith Poche began Day 4 in second place, but he has dropped down to fifth place with two fish for 2-8. Poche told Bassmaster LIVE that his primary area was "trashed by the storm." So he's fishing in a creek nearby, flippin a black and blue creature bait.

Most of the field today, seven anglers, are fishing north of the highway 43 bridge. 

'See, they still bitin'!'

Dustin Connell has finally made his way up the river to the stretch he had been fishing previously - the same stretch that has kept him in the top 10 all week. Connell made a few flips and set the hook on fish No. 3. He flipped the fish over the side of the boat exclaiming "See, they still bitin'!!" Connell secured fish No. 3 in his live well and got back to business looking for his 4th fish. 

KVD’s jerkbait tactics

Kevin VanDam told me this morning he would assess the dynamics of how the Sunday storms affected his area upon arrival. So far so good. 

BASSTrakk shows 4 keepers for about 7 pounds in his livewell. 

The secret is also out on the secret tactic and technique. Nobody has a keener sense of reading water, bass behavior and baitfish activity than KVD. All three are key to patterning bass. 

The secret lure is a 4.75-inch, 1/2-ounce Strike King KVD 300 Series Jerkbait, Chartreuse Sexy Shad. He chose the 300 series after noticing threadfin shad in his area being larger than normal, over 4 inches. 

What else is unique to his area is the layout. VanDam is focused on fishing bottom contours and subtle depth changes. Both are key habitats for river bass, because they offer current breaks. Largemouth use those to get out of current and ambush baitfish as it sweeps past them. The threadfin is the food source and the jerkbait is the ideal imitator. 

What else is ideal about current breaks, especially this time of year, is those act like funnels that siphon postspawn bass out of shallower spawning areas. Bass are less spread out and easier to find. 

“River fish move based on their environment, so I will be moving with them,” he told me. 

That makes the perfect setup for VanDam to be a contender. Moving water, a lure imitating the prevailing food source, and postspawn bass concentrated in funnels that make them easier to find. 

What are the VanDams doing?

Although they didn’t reveal exactly how they’re catching ‘em, Kevin and Jonathon VanDam have provided some interesting details. It’s an offshore pattern, focused on ditches and depressions in otherwise shallow water. And the wind direction determines where the bass will be.

“The wind definitely helps make some current in places where there wouldn’t be,” Jonathon said Saturday. “It pushes shad into some different areas where those fish will set up.”

As the wind shifts each day, bass are bunched where the wind and current is positioning the shad. It changes day to day, but there is a pattern.

“I know what I’m looking for at least, so I feel good about that,” Kevin said Saturday.

The other key to this, according to KVD, is the LakeMaster mapping card in his Humminbird electronics, saying, “It has helped me immensely. I can see how the points line up and the depressions and the ditches. The wind blowing through those areas kind of creates funnels. That’s how I’ve been able to come up with what I’m doing.”

When they find where the bass are bunched, both VanDams are catching plenty of them, primarily on Strike King KVD 300 Series jerkbaits.

“I’m catching 30 to 50 fish a day,” Jonathon said. “A lot of little ones though. You’ve got to weed through them to get a couple of good bites.”

KVD with four

I'm just learning that KVD only has 4 in the well. He threw his biggest, a 3-pounder, back fearing it would die.

He hooked the fish in the tongue. By releasing it, that allows that fish a better chance of survival. It also provides a situation where we see KVD making a big gamble.

Two days ago he had a fish expire in his livewell and it didn't allow him to cull up. Bassmaster doesn't allow the culling of a dead fish.

If that fish hadn't expired KVD would have been able to cut into Connell's lead. He doesn't want to take that chance today.

He has to have an above-average stringer to win. A 3-pounder that expires becomes a 2 3/4 pounder with deductions at weigh in. Plus it wouldn't be able to. E replaced for a guy who is hoping for 18 or better today.

That decision will be interesting to watch as the day progresses. At the least, it tells us KVD is confident of catching the type fish that would replace a 3-pounder.

VanDam throws largest back

VanDam has thrown back a fish to avoid a casualty in the livewell. Not just any fish, his largest in his livewell for 3-pounds according to Eric Kaffka.

That’s confidence right there.

Now BASSTrakk has him one shy of a limit for 7-0. And Connell leading with 2 fish for 3-12.

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VanDams climbing on BASSTrakk

One scary sight can be the VanDams behind you on the leaderboard. Now, the duo is climbing on BASSTrakk. KVD sits unofficially in first place, jumping rookie Dustin Connell. Hide the rookies and your nephews, KVD has no mercy on his prey. The last time VanDam jumped from third to a victory was last season on Cayuga after, now Classic champion, Jordan Lee led going into the final day.

VanDam has four fish for about 7 pounds. Our on-the-water director Steve Bowman said, “He’s on fire, catching them nearly every cast.”

BASSTrakk now has him at 10-0, that is if Eric Kaffka, longtime cameraman is keeping up with the pace while capturing this flurry.

The VanDams and Connell are in the same general vicinity today around the mouth of the Pearl River.

It looks to be that Ish Monroe is the only angler that ran as far north as Connell had been going in the previous three days of competition.

A day off and weather changes could have affected the water quality in Connell’s primary area.

As I was turning this in Connell caught his first a 2-7. Connell is flipping a jig in heavy cover and has been catching quality and not much quantity. A native of the Alabama River, it would not surprise me to see the rookie adapt to the water in front of him. With one fish that only puts him 2-1 behind KVD.

Water not any muddier

Yesterday afternoon I drove up the Natchez Trace Parkway to see the conditions of the Pearl River. That was where leader Dustin Connell made the cut for Championship Monday. Today he is joined by a lot of company.

The area did not receive as much rainfall as anticipated. I didn’t observe any muddier, or higher water. Nothing floating downstream the likes of what you see under flash flood conditions.

So it’s no wonder the leaders made the run up the Pearl River. It also has more consistency in water conditions, give or take the influx of the storm runoff. Boat positioning will be easier than confronting the gusty winds blowing across the main lake. There is plenty of habitat and a year-round population of river bass.