2009 Elite Series - Blue Ridge Brawl
In 2007, then-Elite Series rookie Casey Ashley finessed more than 57 pounds of largemouths from the lake en route to his first career BASS victory.
That was in June. This time the Elites are visiting Smith Mountain in April, and the fishing should be even better. Sight fishing for big bass will likely be responsible for many of the top catches and biggest bass. And there’s plenty of water to choose from for this tactic. The lake offers more than 500 miles of winding shoreline along its 40-mile length. That means it’s full of coves, cuts and drainages along both the Roanoke and Blackwater river arms, and along with the coves are laydowns, stumps and other shallow cover largemouth love.
What most pros typically end up fishing, though, are the numerous boathouses that line the shore. Ashley worked riprap areas between boathouses for his win in 2007.
KVD Championship interview
KVD on winning Blue Ridge Brawl - part 2
KVD on winning Blue Ridge Brawl - part 1
KVD video from Blue Ridge Brawl Championship
Secrets to KVDs success in the Brawl
“I had no expectations of thinking I could win after practice and I didn’t know how it would all develop. After the first day I thought I had a pretty good chance if some things went my way, and they did.
He had a limit by about 10:00 today, which was earlier than on any of the previous 3 days. He didn’t sight-fish early, but instead focused on smallmouths chasing shad on points. He caught three doing that and found a couple of spawners along the way.
He ended up catching about a dozen keepers. When the day was over, he was fairly confident he’d caught enough to win.
“I didn’t know for sure because so many fish had moved up, but a lot of them weren’t catchable. The timing wasn’t right for those other guys to catch those fish and a 3 1/2 pound lead (the advantage he began the day with) was a pretty good cushion.”
He caught the majority of his fish throughout the tournament on a 1/8-ounce shakey-head with a Strike King 3X finesse worm. Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published in the coming days.
KVD takes the Blude Ridge Brawl - 1st Elite Series championship of the season
MONETA, Va. — Harkening back to his Michigan roots, four-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam picked apart a clear, deep fishery — just like he used to do years ago as a kid in Kalamazoo — on Smith Mountain Lake, to the tune of 61 pounds, 13 ounces, enough to hold off Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., for a victory by more than 2 pounds Sunday at the Advance Auto Parts Blue Ridge Brawl.
With a decidedly different approach than most in the Elite field, VanDam targeted smallmouth bass by sight on the way to his 15th BASS victory. While most were sight fishing, no one else was actively seeking smallmouth. To boot, VanDam used a technique that isn’t considered one of his strengths.
But VanDam has shaped an illustrious career — his 15 wins put him third on BASS’ all-time list — by adjusting to the conditions. Sunday, he boated 13 pounds, 14 ounces, and threw everything but the kitchen sink to close out the victory.
“It seemed like every time things weren’t going right, I made an adjustment and things would turn on again,” said VanDam. “It was just one of those magical weeks where everything fell into place. I’m just really proud of the decisions and adjustments I made.”
While VanDam was technically sight fishing, he wasn’t executing the technique in the traditional sense. He was keying in on areas where shad — the main forage on Smith Mountain — were spawning and attracting the aggressive smallmouth. His main weapon of choice was a 1/8-ounce Strike King Shaky Head paired with a 4-inch finesse worm in dirt color.
In a twist of fate, VanDam, who is often plagued by throngs of spectator boats, felt he got a boost from the abundance of spectator traffic on the spacious fishery. He felt the traffic helped to disturb the waters, causing the bass to become more aggressive in sensing an easy meal.
Perhaps most importantly, VanDam has put himself in the driver’s seat in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with 1,063 points. A victory in the seasonlong points race would be his fifth and his second straight. His credentials already match up favorably with any bass angler who has ever competed.
“Since Day One, I have been focused on the Angler of the Year,” said VanDam, also a two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. “This year, it’s going to be interesting. I just want to get on a pretty good run here so I can build some momentum heading into the postseason.”
The AOY race is shaping up to be intense and memorable. An angler just as hot as VanDam, Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., the 2009 Bassmaster Classic champ, is close behind in second, trailing by just 65 points.
VanDam in control
Kevin VanDam has said each day of this event that his fishing starts slow, but grows in intensity as the day wears on. The third day was more of the same, but recreation and spectator traffic added to the early-morning grind.
“It was hard to see this morning, and I had a lot of boats following me,” he said. “Their wakes made it really difficult to see things. It was just a real struggle today.”
Pointing out that his pattern is really more of an afternoon deal, VanDam is fine with the morning pace. “In the mornings they’re just not up there because the water is still pretty cool first thing,” he said. “As the day wears on, you’re able to see more and more coming in.”
Kevin pointed out that he’d found some quality fish in the last hours of Friday’s competition, but they had vanished overnight. “A lot of the fish that I’d found yesterday were gone today,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone caught them, I really just think that they’re moving up and pulling back off.”
With the nights growing warmer each consecutive day, VanDam is confident that Sunday will be the best day of the tournament – provided that there’s a little breeze. “Believe it or not, it’s better if we have a little breeze blowing because it blows the pollen out of the way,” he explained.
“Plus, with a little ripple on the water they’re a lot less spooky. You can still see them, you just have to work harder.”
Unsure of exactly what the day might hold, VanDam is intent on closing out his 15th win. “I don’t know what I can do tomorrow, but I’m going to go out there and give it my best,” he said.
“I’ve seen plenty of other fish in the areas, it’s just if they’re catchable or not.
VanDam holds steady on Smith Mountain Lake
“Sometimes things don’t go your way and sometimes they do,” Kevin said on day 3. “One thing I can say about this tournament is I’ve made a lot of decisions that have worked out well.
“Regardless of how it ends up, I’m real proud of what I’ve done to this point. I judge my performance based on decisions and execution, and this is the best event I’ve had this year.”
He’s weighed eight smallmouths so far, but said he’s just about depleted his brown-fish areas. He’ll have to go in search of largemouths as well. He’s not sight-fishing exclusively, but he’s spied a lot of the fish he’s caught to this point.
“I don’t have any spawning fish left at all, so I’m going to have to hunt for new water. But new fish are coming for sure – I saw quite a few today, but they weren’t ready to bite.
“I’ve gotten through 3 days, and somehow I’m going to have to pull another day out. After what I found in practice, I had no dream of contending in this one. I’m always confident, but I also know I could go out there and really struggle. The difference between catching them and not catching them here is such a fine line because they’re so finicky.”
“I’m really proud of the way I have been fishing this week,” said VanDam, a two-time Bassmaster Classic champion. “I have made solid decisions and the right adjustments. But it has been a grind.”
“Sometimes when you put your fish on the scale and you have a good day, it looks pretty easy,” said VanDam, 41. “But it has not been easy. Still, I’ve got a solid pattern and my record is pretty good when I have a lead.”
“I’m real proud of the three days I’ve had so far, the adjustments that I’ve made. I’ve had to be real sneaky.” — KVD “I’ve seen fish spawn more than once, especially smallmouth. Sometimes they’ll come up there three or four times.”
KVD storms to the lead on day 2
“I was pretty fortunate today because it was definitely a struggle out there,” said VanDam, “The fish were in a pretty funny mood today and it was important to be patient.”
While he has established a slim lead — 14 ounces over Fred Roumbanis of Bixby, Okla., — VanDam said he would search for new water as he had tapped into many of the productive spots he located in practice.
Similar to last year, VanDam is making his performance count just when the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race is getting interesting. Nearly halfway through the regular season, with a solid finish here, VanDam could grab hold of the AOY lead. Dangerous with any lead, VanDam is excited about the new Bassmaster Elite Series postseason.
“This year, especially, there is going to be a ton of drama,” said VanDam, 41. “I’m on a pretty good roll right now but it’s important to peak right near the postseason. Anything can happen this year.” While VanDam’s pattern was defined, Roumbanis was all over the place Friday. He had 15 rods strapped to the deck and used every one of them while junk fishing around spacious Smith Mountain.
VanDam said he fished much the same way he had on day 1. He was one of only a small percentage of the field who improved on his opening-day weight.
“I just went out and fished hard again,” he said. “I did some of the same things I did yesterday and it just worked out. I feel pretty fortunate.
“It wasn’t easy. I’m just going real slow and working hard and grinding along. I’m not catching tons of fish, but I’m doing something a little different than a lot of the guys are and I can’t say a whole lot about it without giving away too much.”
He went through eight or nine keepers and his biggest fish was a 4-pounder.
“I’m changing up my gameplan every day and the weather dictates a lot of how I’m going to fish. The heat and the sun are beneficial – conditions are getting a lot better than they were during (the latter part) or practice, when the water was getting colder.
“I’m definitely keying on the time of year. A lot of guys are strictly sight-fishing, but I’m kind of mixing it up.”
VanDam is targeting smallmouth due to their larger average size in proportion to their green cousins. With brown fish accounting for six of the 10 keepers he’s weighed thus far, he revealed he’s having to mix things up to be consistent. “I’m throwing a few baits as I’m looking,” he said.
“I’m just mixing it up and dealing with the conditions. I could get them to react a little better yesterday with the little breeze that we had. For sight fishing, obviously you couldn’t ask for better conditions than we had today.”
While weights were lower than most expected, VanDam is keenly aware that the weekend has enormous potential for big bags. “There’s going to be another wave of spawning fish that come to the banks this weekend,” he pointed out. “I really thought more would have today, but tomorrow’s going to be different.”
Kevin VanDam - 61-13
1. 15-7, 2. 17-2, 3. 15-6, 4. 13-14
Matt Herren - 59-5
1. 17-11, 2. 11-12, 3. 15-0, 4. 14-4
Kelly Jordan - 58-3
1. 20-9, 2. 11-1, 3. 12-11, 4. 13-14
Greg Hackney - 57-0
1. 13-13, 2. 14-0, 3. 14-1, 4. 15-2
Aaron Martens - 55-0
1. 14-2, 2. 16-11, 3. 9-3, 4. 15-0
Shawn E Grigsby - 54-3
1. 15-2, 2. 13-15, 3. 12-7, 4. 12-11
James Niggemeyer - 54-3
1. 12-8, 2. 12-4, 3. 16-5, 4. 13-2
Dean Rojas - 53-11
1. 18-7, 2. 11-9, 3. 13-7, 4. 10-4
Skeet Reese - 53-5
1. 13-3, 2. 11-4, 3. 15-13, 4. 13-1
Matthew Sphar - 49-3
1. 17-13, 2. 12-13, 3. 10-15, 4. 7-10
Byron Velvick - 45-10
1. 13-5, 2. 14-14, 3. 13-5, 4. 4-2
Jeff Connella - 42-12
1. 11-9, 2. 14-3, 3. 15-4, 4. 1-12
History & Notes;
Day 1: Wade Grooms — Bonneau, SC — 06-08
Day 2: Kenyon Hill — Norman, OK — 06-07
Day 3: James Niggemeyer — Van, TX — 07-02
Day 4: Aaron Martens — Leeds, AL — 06-07
Day 1 stats – 99 anglers, 90 limits, 5 fours, 2 threes, 1 two, 1 one.
Day 3 stats – 50 anglers, 40 limits, 7 fours, 1 three, 1 two, 1 one.