It gets cold early in Michigan, where Jonathon VanDam lives, but that doesn't stop the young Elite Series pro from catching smallmouth bass in the late fall. With a Strike King Red Eye Shad and the right conditions, he knows he can load the boat on natural lakes like Lake Erie.
Water temperature: 45-55 degrees
Water color: Clear
Wind/current: Anything that breaks up the surface and reduces visibility will help.
Structure: Shallow flats
Cover: Rocks — anything from boulders to gravel, though JVD likes for there to be some bigger rocks mixed in.
Depth: 1-5 feet
Lure/Color: 1/2-ounce Strike King Red Eye Shad in Sexy Shad or Chartreuse Belly Craw
Rod: Shimano Crucial 7-foot, 2-inch medium-heavy action casting rod
Reel: Shimano Curado 200E7 with 7:1 gear ratio
Line: 12-pound-test fluorocarbon
Cast/Flip/Pitch: Long casts that cover lots of water.
Retrieve: JVD likes to let the bait sink a few seconds in the shallow water before he starts a fast retrieve, burning it for several turns of the reel handle and then stopping it again to allow it to flutter down. The Red Eye Shad shimmies as it falls, and that often triggers a strike. If he hits a rock or boulder with his bait, he'll pull it over the top before stopping it and letting it fall on the near side. He also snaps his rod back frequently during the retrieve to generate reaction strikes. Ultimately, he experiments until the brown bass tell him what they want that day, but making the lure deflect and ricochet off cover is important.
Key to Success
"At this time of the year," VanDam says, "people just don't look shallow enough. You can really go super shallow with this pattern, even when it's cold. There are some big ones living up there."