VanDams: Chillin’ with smallmouth

It’s vacation time for the VanDam family but that doesn’t mean fishin’ isn’t a part of our leisure time.

We’ve spent the week in the Traverse City, Mich., area kickin’ back with good friends Lee and Missy Knight and their daughter Emma. They live in Texas and their family owns Mustang Resort on Lake Fork, one of the nation’s best trophy bass lakes.

This is a trip our gang makes every year, giving me a chance to clear my head of business and spend some time playing on the water. We’re an outdoors family, and while fishing is our lives, vacationing on the water is good for cleansing the soul.

We’ve spent a few hours each morning fishing for big smallmouth bass. Afterwards, we’re on the pontoon or the kids are wakeboarding, tubing or waterskiing.

It’s taking my mind off business, yet it’s also getting me tuned into smallmouth fishing, which will be on the agenda at the next two Elite Series events.           

However, these lakes in northern Michigan are different than what we’ll find at St. Lawrence River and Lake St. Clair. The water is a Caribbean blue and you can see bottom in 25 to 30 feet depths. That was quite a shock to Lee the first time he came here because you don’t find it much in the South.

Furthermore, the bass in the South get tougher to catch when the water clears down there, but up here the bass are accustomed to it. They’re sight feeders and will come a long way to hit a bait.

Another oddity for Southern fishermen is there isn’t a lot of cover for these fish; just a lot of sand flats and dropoffs. The bass suspend and roam lot, more like salmon than what traditional bass do. Fishery officials have done tracking studies that show smallmouth will cover several miles in a short period of time. They’re constantly following baitfish and that’s what you have to key on.

We’ve been catching them pretty good – my son Nicholas has three that weighed close to 14 pounds today before I even got my first bite!

But we have to cover several deep flats and dropoffs, fishing fast and watching electronics for balls of bait. We’re using a variety of lures – Strike King 6XD crankbaits, tubes and drop shots, making long casts or dropping a Dream Shot on our drop shot rigs when we see bait on the graph. The fish are coming from 10 to 30 feet of water, and you have to be prepared for everything.

We’ve even caught a few on topwater lures early in the morning before the fish move deeper. A topwater is great in this clear water because the fish can see it from afar.

The key to bait selection is to make it look natural in color and size. Baits that are fished through the water column should be natural, translucent colors, but baits fished on bottom should blend in with the bottom habitat. If it’s sand, use sand colors; if there are weeds or rocks, use darker colors.

You see that in the bass you catch, too. If they’re on sand, they are a light color but if on rocks, they’re darker.

I like all bass but there’s nothing like the challenge of finding and catching Michigan smallmouth!

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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