Letter from Shreveport — From the April 2013 issue

The Super Bowl! (Of Fishing)

In search of a hero at the Bassmaster Classic

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VanDam is known as a power fisher as opposed to a finesse fisher. Mike Iaconelli, who won the 2003 Classic and is the sport’s loudest personality — his full-throated, fist-pumping celebrations landed him on GQ’s “Ten Most Hated Athletes” list — explains the distinction in a video clip on his personal website:

Power fishing means you’re covering a lot of water. You got the troll motor on high, you’re throwing big baits, you’re reeling them in fast. But more than anything, power fishing means you’re trying to get a reaction bite. And in fishing there’s two kinds of strikes you can get, two kinds of bites to get. One is a reaction strike, and one is a hunger strike. Most of the time, when you’re finesse fishing, you’re generating a hunger strike. You’re trying to make that bait look natural, and it’s light line and those fish are eating it out of hunger. But in power fishing, using the fall of the bait, using the wiggle or the speed of the bait, you’re trying to trigger a reaction strike. And what that means is that the fish isn’t necessarily hungry. And that’s good because nine times out of ten when you’re fishing, you’re not fishing during periods when the fish are actively feeding so you need to trigger that fish to bite.

VanDam has published two instructional books, which include long chapters on tackle, weather, water clarity, and numerous other variables. The writings are meant for the amateur angler, but they demonstrate how specialized VanDam’s knowledge is:

When fishing heavy weed beds of the north or when shad pull into the matted grass in the backs of creeks, I like a wooden jerkbait that is highly buoyant and can be fished in the pockets of the weeds.

Many anglers would prefer to fish a soft plastic jerkbait in that situation, but one of my favorites is the A.C. Shiner, a balsa minnow lure that can be worked like a topwater or a jerkbait. You can give the A.C. Shiner a lot of action without moving it from the strike zone. If you jerk it forward then give it slack, it will move backwards. I snap it hard and fast, only an inch or two, to make the bait flash and roll.

A few professional anglers have degrees in fish biology and related fields, but none have come close to matching VanDam’s success. “Put a biologist out on this lake with me,” VanDam told me on Lake Conroe, “and I guarantee you I’ll catch more fish.”

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is a California-based journalist and the cofounder of the news aggregator againstdumb.com.

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