VanDam loves bluegills; deep fried

It's not what you'd expect — the five-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year dunking black gnats and wax worms. He ain't playin'. He's serious. It's been this way since he was a lanky kid pestering Kalamazoo's panfish population. Frankly, it's one of the outdoor experiences that's a part of him. He loves it. "I go bluegill fishing a bunch.

Through the ice, middle of summer — it doesn't matter. The lake my dad lives on, not too far from my house, is loaded with giants, and we hammer them. Ask Zona. There ain't nothing like it," says VanDam, with his signature intensity.

"In April, we use bobbers to float artificial black gnat flies and wax worms when the bluegills are suspended over weed beds. Then, as spring progresses, the bluegills move deeper, so we lose the bobbers and throw a mini crappie tube jig and wax worms in 8 to 20 feet of water. We cast out and let it slow fall through the water column," said the three-time Bassmaster Classic champion. "By July, they move to the deep flats, and we use a two-hook drop shot rig with a red worm and a wax worm. We catch a pile of bluegills measuring 7 to 9 inches, and occasionally we'll catch a 10-incher," said VanDam.

When a three-time Bassmaster Classic champion goes bluegill busting, the equipment he chooses is a tad beyond ordinary. VanDam uses 4-pound fluorocarbon line, which is about as easy to work with as a spider's web.

So here's a tip: Do what KVD does. Break out a big spinning reel to catch these 9-inch trophies. A Quantum Kinetic model KT30PTi-B spinning reel has a larger spool than the typical panfish reel. The larger spool makes the ultra thin, 4-pound fluorocarbon much easier to manage. It kinks far less on a larger spool, and you're able to enjoy the stealthy, faster-sinking benefits of 4-pound line for catching deep bluegills.

VanDam has cooking tips too. First, scrape the scales off them. Next, leave the remaining skin intact with the fillets — it adds flavor. Then Kevin soaks them in Sprite. Once wet with the soda pop, he dips them in Uncle Buck's fish batter. Now ready for cooking, a Cajun Fryer makes the perfect vat for KVD's canola oil. He heats the oil to a temperature of 325 degrees and dips each battered fillet for two minutes of cooking. Bluegills are relatively easy to catch and, subsequently, many people have been hooked on fishing by this particular species.

Here's the best news: Starting this Saturday, June 5, just about every state in America is participating in National Fishing & Boating Week's Free Fishing Days. If your state is participating, and it most likely is, then you can fish for free — no fishing license required. Be sure to check your state's fisheries department's website.

You and your kids don't have to take bluegills as seriously as VanDam. For you, it may just be a bobber, a box of nightcrawlers and a Zebco 33 close to the bank. Fun is guaranteed. Memories will be made. And who knows, a bluegill fest this Saturday might just be the foundation for a future Bassmaster Classic champion.

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