Expert advice on bass fishing on Lake Michigan

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Fistful of fish: Woo Daves, who will emcee the Big Bass Bash fishing tournament June 29 from Bass Pro Shops in Portage, shows off some smallmouth bass he caught while placing third in a tournament last summer in Virginia. | Supplied photo

Area anglers hoping to reel in the $10,000 first-place prize in the Big Bass Bash competition later this month, might want to hang out along Lake Michigan’s rocky shoreline, where they’re most likely to find the ever-moving smallmouth bass lurking about.

That’s the advice of Kevin VanDam and Woo Daves, two men who know a little something about bass fishing.

Daves, of Spring Grove, Va., is a professional bass angler and promoter who won the 2000 Bassmaster Classic World Champion in Chicago among his many fishing accolades. The largest smallmouth he caught weighed 8 pounds, three ounces. VanDam, who lives in Kalamazoo, Mich., won the Bassmaster Classic four times, including in 2011, and was named Outdoor Sportsman of the Year by ESPN in 2002. His largest smallmouth bass was 7.5 pounds.

Both also include Bass Pro Shops among their sponsors, which, along with the Post-Tribune, is sponsoring the June 29 Big Bass Bash competition that will launch at the Portage Marina.

And both shared tips on what rods, lures and boats to use when angling for the elusive fish in mighty Lake Michigan.

Try it on the rocks

“The biggest factor with Lake Michigan is the weather. A little bit of wind makes casting and positioning the boat harder, but it also makes the fish less spooked and more aggressive,” said VanDam, 45, who said he’s been fishing his whole life.

“Smallmouth bass notoriously move around a lot. But they like to be among rocks, and there are so many rocks along the lake’s shoreline,” VanDam said.

Daves said at this time of year the bass are moving back to the shoreline area, back to the creeks. He said the lake’s backwaters might be a good place to find the bass.

The zebra mussels that invaded Lake Michigan made the waters clear, according to VanDam, so the lures of choice should have a natural color and move naturally. He and Daves agree the small, finesse type of lure works best.

VanDam said small plastic bait is one of his favorites.

“It has an erratic fall when cast. A lot of times I’ll get a bite,” he said.

He said the sense of smell is very important, which is why a lot of lures are impregnated with salt or different types of scent.

“If the fish do bite, they won’t drop it,” he said of using a scented lure.

Daves said if he were participating in this tournament he’d probably use plastic bait, green pumpkins, white spinners, and Zoom brush hog bait.

Long rods, heavy lines

The two pros said a long rod and heavier line would work better. Daves said he’d probably use a seven-foot flip’n stick rod with a four-pound line.

“This time of year there’s a lot of rain. You’ll want a little heavier line,” he said.

VanDam likes to use a light to medium action open fall spin rod with light fluorocarbon line and a six- to eight-pound test line. He said you want a long rod, as it’s important to make a long cast in clear water.

While VanDam personally uses a 21-foot fiberglass bass boat when fishing, he said both a bass boat with an electric trolling motor and a deep V aluminum boat are built to handle big waters such as Lake Michigan.

Neither Daves nor VanDam plan to enter this year’s competition, but Daves said he is proud to be an emcee since it’s a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project (and Warriors First Foundation), which raises awareness and funds for those who were injured while serving during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

“They dedicated their lives to defend us and support us. It feels good to give something back,” said Daves, who has fished in about 40 states, but said he enjoys fishing any of the Great Lakes best.

VanDam said he’ll be competing in Alabama, Atlanta and Arkansas, among other areas, this year.

“The excitement never wears off,” he said of tournament fishing.