Gearing up for our smallmouth season


Steve Bowman

We’re on our so-called tournament “break” between events before we make the northern swing to my beloved smallmouth waters in late July.

For several Elite pros, the “break” is only from tournaments. For example, last week I flew to New York to appear on Fox and Friends for Bass Pro Shops. I’ve also be busy filming commercials, TV shows and will soon head to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR race on behalf of Bass Pro Shops and Toyota and to do some work with Driver Martin Truex.

And then there’s the annual tackle show in Orlando where all the new gear is revealed.

Once the season resumes in late July, it’s all about smallmouth fishing, and I am thrilled. I’m in a good place (seventh) in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of Year standings. This sets up well for me to qualify for the AOY Championship event and the Classic. We’re going to some of my favorite fisheries – St. Lawrence River, Champlain and Lake St. Clair – so I have a lot of confidence.

Up to this point we’ve fished largemouth waters, and I’ve had some good events under tough conditions. I’ve had some close calls, including some chances to win. Even though I didn’t win, I put myself in contention, and that’s all you can ask for when fishing against this tough Elite field.

I’m excited about the fact that smallmouth bass will play a big role in our final tournaments. Smallmouth are my favorite bass and, to be honest, I love those clear-water fisheries. We’ll also be fishing in milder weather conditions compared to what we deal with in the South during mid-summer.

However, the move north requires a wholesale shift in equipment and techniques for this final leg of the season.

I’ll still keep my frog rod and flipping stick in the boat, but a lot of my heavy tackle and baits will be replaced with spinning rods and finesse baits. I never had a spinning rod in the boat through most of the events we fished earlier this year.

That’s going to change. I’ll go through all my equipment and get everything dialed in with lighter line, load the rod locker with spinning rods and a ton of finesse baits.

Of course, I am cognizant of the fact that largemouth could be a big player at the St. Lawrence River and possibly Champlain. It probably will be postspawn season for smallmouth when we are there, making them a little tougher to key on. The largemouth living in backwaters will have spawned and already put on weight. The smallmouth won’t have the big bellies that they will have later in the summer, and they will be scattered.

I’ll try to put together patterns for both species to give me options. That’s going to be the toughest decision an Elite angler will have to make. Does he fish for a handful of heavy largemouth bites or try to find the bigger smallmouth that spawned early, but are scattered, and could produce the winning stringer?

That’s the kind of stuff that I love about our sport. You’ve got to factor in so many conditions and use that info as best you can to put together the winning stringer.

It’s all about the attitude, baby!

Kevin VanDam's column appears weekly on You can also find him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.