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2015 Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River Presented by STARK Cultural Venues

Preview

After a fog delay on day 1, the Elite Series anglers hit the water on the Sabine River!

Tour Review

Good things happened at Sabine River 2015

We just left the Elite Series opener on the Sabine River, an event that provided plenty of challenges due to rising muddy water and heavy rains, including 6 inches or more on Saturday.

The fishery was high and muddy when we got there and a lot worse when we left. The muddy conditions required me to fish a slow, methodical pace, something that doesn’t fit well with my preferred style of fishing. While I’m not satisfied with not making the finals, I’m happy to escape with a 46th place finish.

As tough as fishing was, though, there were a lot of good things going on in Orange, Texas, that week.

For example, Bassmaster.com’s live coverage was remarkable given the tough conditions camera crews faced.

Bassmaster cameramen put viewers in the boat with the leaders and you could watch the drama unfold the moment it occurred.

You saw nearly every fish catch made by the final day leaders and heartbreaking experiences like the one experienced by Shaw Grigsby. On a day when every bite was critical, Shaw swung a keeper bass in the boat only to have it come unhooked, bounce across the deck and fall back into the water. Viewers saw him dive on top of his rods trying to recapture the fish and the agony on his face when he realized what happened. I know how he felt; I’ve had the same thing happen to me.

If you enjoy competitive fishing and haven’t seen the live coverage, you should. Drama aside, it’s amazing what you can learn by simply watching leaders go about their business of trying to win a tournament.

I will warn you though – it’s mesmerizing. I watched some of the action on the last day and couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Another great experience for me was to meet 12 of the top high school tournament anglers who were finalists in a fish-off during the Elite event.

The competition began weeks earlier with several hundred kids competing. The finalists were paired with an Elite angler (who didn’t make the Elite semifinals) and fished a nearby private lake on Saturday. Because the weather was so bad, the award ceremony was postponed until Sunday, when Elite pro Davy Hite and I introduced them as they came across the Bassmaster stage. Each teenager wore a tournament jersey bearing sponsors’ names. We loved their enthusiasm for the sport and how excited they were to have the opportunity to fish with Elite pros. The local chamber of commerce presented scholarships to the top three teams.

The popularity of high school bass competition is amazing. I even met some kids who had middle school fishing teams from Texas and Louisiana. Seeing so many young people get into fishing is the most exciting thing I’ve seen since I started my career.

And finally, another positive aspect of our stay in Orange was the people who live there. It’s so cool to roll into a city that has big banners welcoming the Bassmasters and hearing the local people tell us how excited they were to have us there.

We’ve been to a lot of communities across the country, but the support and enthusiasm we got from those fans was second to none. We drew massive crowds that cheered loudly for each angler who walked across the stage.

Now we head to one of my favorite bodies of water, Lake Guntersville, for our next Elite event. It will be quite a contrast to the Sabine, as we shouldn’t have to worry about saltwater intrusion or changing tides, and hopefully, no floods or nasty cold weather.

Conditions should be just right for a lot of big fish catches and huge limits. It should be a slugfest, and if you tune into Bassmaster.com on Saturday and Sunday for the live coverage, you’ll have a ringside seat.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

Sitting in 41st place, KVD believes he can make Top 12 cut
If Kevin VanDam was coaching his hometown Ostego High School Bulldogs basketball team, he’d have ‘em believing they could beat the Kentucky Wildcats.
 
A lot of rare qualities comprise the greatest angler to pick up a graphite rod the past 25 years – perhaps none greater than self-confidence.
 
Not cocky. VanDam is the consummate class act. He simply believes in his abilities at a higher level than most believe in theirs. Way higher in fact – even when sitting in 41st place entering Day 3 today of the Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River Presented by STARK Cultural Venues.
 
“I’m coming for ‘em today,” said KVD with a wink and a giant smile as he steered his Tundra to the top of the launch ramp.
 
“I’m fishing in the same area today that I fished the past two days, and two years ago when we were here. I know the potential it has for big fish, and with the field cut in half today, there won’t be near as many boats in there, and I’ll be free to move around and cover a lot more water,” he explained.
 
If you know VanDam, you realize that freeing him up to cover more water, combined with confidence gained from past experience, could make for a miraculous comeback indeed.
 
As he pulled a Quantum 7’ 2” medium heavy TourKVD rod topped with a 6.6:1 Tour KVD reel and a Strike King swim jig from the rod box, he warned it wouldn’t be his only weapon of choice. “There are fish in all phases of the spawn here, so I’m mixing it up with a spinnerbait, two different creature baits and a swim jig, trying to find the big females that haven’t yet locked-on to a bed,” he explained.
 
“The bigger females I’m trying to catch are just cruising and looking for a male, it’s like a singles bar in that area,” laughed VanDam.
 
Then the mood turned intensely serious again when asked if he could make today’s cut into tomorrow’s Top 12 from his current spot way back in 41st place.
 
Without hesitation, VanDam responded, “Absolutely!”
 
“I feel like if I can catch 12 pounds today I’ll make the Top 12. That’s my goal. And I’m telling you, that kinda weight lives where I’m fishing,” warned VanDam in Orange’s damp dark morning air.
 
“We’re gonna go Hawg snatchin’ today,” concluded the 47-year-old in kid-like fashion with genuine excitement for the day ahead.
 
“Hawg Snatchin” – sorta sounds comical coming from the typically serious and most dominant bass angler of the past two decades. And you can also be certain if he were coaching the Ostego Bulldogs today, he’d have ‘em fully believing a Wildcat whoopin’ was about to take place. 
KVD - day 3 on the Sabine River
The challenges of dirty water

We kicked off the Elite season on the Sabine River in Texas, a body of water that presents new challenges in many ways.

The Sabine system is full of fish, but catching them this time of year when it’s high and muddy is difficult.

During the spring, there is very little vegetation to help clear the water, so visibility is just a few inches.

In other words, if you don’t like fishing dirty water, this is not the place to be in the spring. However, the leaderboard shows just how good these Elite guys are. The fish aren’t huge but limits are still being caught.

Of course, a big advantage of dirty water is it helps position the fish. They feel secure in real shallow water and like to get tight to the cover. I’m amazed at how I can throw all onto the bank, pull my bait in the water and get a bite in places where I wouldn’t expect that to happen.

Bass like to get around hard objects during the spawning season. There isn’t a lot of that in this river system, so finding any firm objects under water is key.

Anglers from this area have learned to become darn good casters. They have to be; casting accuracy is extremely critical when you’re flipping, spinnerbaiting, or buzzbaiting on the Sabine. You must make pinpoint casts without a splash or even a ripple or you’re going to spook these ultra-shallow fish. It can be the difference between getting a few bites and catching a lot of fish.

For someone who lives in the north and doesn’t get a chance to fish in the offseason, it’s important to brush up on casting accuracy. When I got down here I was rusty, but after a few days I dialed it in.

I’ve learned that a rod with some tip action will help you achieve a softer presentation whether throwing a jig, creature bait and spinnerbait.

A shorter rod helps, too. Because the water is dirty, you don’t have to make long casts. A shorter rod is less cumbersome when doing that.

The softer rod also helps you fish lighter baits, which can be important when fishing that shallow. Pitching heavy baits is easy with any rod, but that’s not the case with lighter lures. A softer rod tip will make it more effortless.

In dirty water, I don’t use anything heavier than a 3/8 ounce. My spinnerbait will have tandem Colorado blades to help slow it down and keep it in the upper part of the water. If pitching, I may go to a 1/8-ounce slip sinker on a Strike King Rodent or a ¼-ounce jig. Bulkier baits with a lot of appendages offer more vibration and stay closer to targets and that triggers these bass into biting.

Since I can’t see into the water, I try to visualize where a bass might make a spawning bed and give it serious thought before making the cast. Again, accuracy is critical.

So is patience. One of the hardest things for me to do is let a bait sit in one place for very long. However, this time of year you have to deadstick a bait, and when you move it, move it just a little.

The Bassmaster Elite Series always presents a season of challenges and we face something different at every lake. But if you face those challenges with patience and determination, you’re going to learn something and become a better angler at each event.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

-- Kevin VanDam

KVD ready for the 2015 Elite Series start

KVD waits out the fog on the Sabine River - 2015
Four Elites preparing together for Sabine

LAKE CHARLES, La. – Kevin VanDam had just spent 17 hours driving through the heartland of America from Michigan to south Louisiana.  

The fatigue was evident.

“My butt hurts,” he said. “Right now, I feel like I don’t want to ever sit down again.”

The always upbeat and energetic angler was as close to wiped out as one will ever see him. But a bed wasn't calling his name as much as the opportunity to sit with some of his Elite counterparts and visit about the next day’s fishing.

The conversation had nothing to do with competition, but everything to do with how they would spend the next two days before the competition clock started with the first day of practice for the Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River Presented by STARK Cultural Venues.

Before the start of that season, though, VanDam was part of a four-angler group who gathered at what’s quickly becoming a bass fishing destination, Grosse Savanne, for a day or two of fishing unlike anything they will experience on the Sabine River.

“There’s a part of this that’s all about relaxing and getting in the groove before the season,’’ said Dennis Tietje, the host and subsequently a guide at Grosse Savanne. “It’s nice to just chill out with those who understand what you are getting ready to do in a couple of days and there’s not any pressure.”

Tietje, VanDam, Paul Elias and Edwin Evers gathered for this no-pressure wind down before gearing up event, each of them with a little something different in mind.

Elias would spend a day tuning tackle while Evers and Tietje would be hosting two wounded warriors as part of a program Evers will be doing all season long. VanDam would be using his time to fulfill an obligation for a photo shoot with Plano. A crew of cameramen would accompany him, shooting fishing photos for their upcoming catalog.

Every one of them would spend a few days relaxed in the front of a boat, a stark contrast to their mental attitude when the first boat takes off on Day 1 on Thursday.

Paul Elias

It’s a part of the fishing game many of us never get to see, although we may realize that an Elite angler’s schedule is built to be busy.

“Days like these are so important in a lot of ways,’’ Elias said. “Some of those ways you can’t really anticipate.”

For Elias, who starts the new season this week with new equipment, he was able in just a few hours to set up his rods and reels and get them adjusted for the way he will need to fish all week.

“If I hadn't been able to do that I would've spent part of my practice time getting that done,’’ he said. “And judging by the conditions we will be in, that’s time I need to be focusing on other things.

“Then when you are able to catch them like you can here, you find out if you are having any other issues; maybe a problem with the wrong hook or the wrong knot.

“That can be a big thing for this event. Everything has to be right because you won't get that many bites. When you do you want everything right.”

Elias included that much of his time was spent throwing a lure that he’s not very familiar with, but he knows it will be a factor this season. The lure will remain anonymous, but Elias was happy with some things he figured out.

Edwin Evers and Dennis Tietje

While Evers and Tietje spent their day hosting two Wounded Warriors, each indicated there were small clues you just pick up, pointing to trends in water temps that should be similar to those they will start practice with.

The anglers were guarded about what they felt like a day of relaxing fishing provided in terms of how it could help them once they venture out to tougher waters.

“You don’t really want to discuss those things,” Evers said. “But whenever I can, I always try to go somewhere near the tournament waters in hopes of getting a little more dialed in. When we go to Guntersville, I’ll try and spend a day on Wheeler.

“Those days can be invaluable.”

Kevin VanDam

For VanDam, it was the first day on the water in 2015.

“Today is like my birthday and Christmas all rolled up together, because it was my first day on the water,’’ VanDam said. “You have to remember in Michigan the water is still hard, covered in ice.

“This was the first time I was able to check out my electronics, get everything working and know where things are.

“The biggest thing, though, is it was a new boat and it was different. During one of my roll casts, I busted my windshield. I mean smoked it. It was right off the bat. So I have to make adjustments and learn from that.

“And outside of that, I feel like I learned a lot.”

Interestingly, VanDam, even after 17 hours of driving and seven hours of sleep, spent 12 hours on the water and was the last to come off the water.

The whole time he was Classic VanDam, standing and quickly moving around the almost 600-acre reservoir in constant motion: All of that giving credence to his statement of not ever sitting down again.

2015 Bassmaster Elite at Sabine River Presented by STARK Cultural Venues
Sabine River, Orange, Texas
Mar 19 - Mar 23, 2015

Leaderboard

1
Chris Lane - 50.00
1. 15-10, 2. 12-13, 3. 11-3
2
Mike McClelland - 46.0
1. 11-7, 2. 9-8, 3. 12-0
3
Aaron Martens - 44.8
1. 13-14, 2. 12-0, 3. 11-11
4
Brandon Lester - 43.2
1. 12-3, 2. 7-9, 3. 10-14
5
Greg Hackney - 42.14
1. 12-9, 2. 8-12, 3. 9-15
6
John Crews - 41.9
1. 9-9, 2. 3-10, 3. 15-10
7
Shaw Grigsby - 39.9
1. 13-4, 2. 11-2, 3. 11-10
8
Scott Rook - 37.12
1. 10-9, 2. 10-13, 3. 11-8
9
Todd Faircloth - 36.7
1. 10-8, 2. 13-0, 3. 9-3
10
Justin Lucas - 36.2
1. 9-3, 2. 8-4, 3. 11-2
11
Keith Poche - 34.15
1. 7-11, 2. 10-3, 3. 10-2
12
Micah Frazier - 31.10
1. 11-6, 2. 5-9, 3. 11-2
46
Kevin VanDam - 16-3
1. 9-10, 2. 4-3, 3. 2-6

History & Notes;

In 2013 Elite anglers found a vast fishery that crossed the borders of Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. It was filled with creeks and bayous and parts of the Louisiana Marsh. The big cypress trees and Spanish moss provided a picturesque backdrop.

 

Big Bass

Day 2: Ken Lyobe - 5-1

Day 3: Justin Lucas - 5-4