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Outdoors

PROS KNOW THE

Frank Sargeant The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 06:26 PM

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So, how do the guys who cast for cash fish when the pressure is off? About the same way they do when it's on, as I learned last week when some of bass fishing's most famous gunslingers assembled for the Strike King Lure Company's annual product introduction.

The event took place on Kentucky Lake in western Tennessee, and a bunch of well-known names were there, including the guy who goes by three initials, KVD.

Kevin Van Dam, his successful nephew Jonathan Van Dam, frequent B.A.S.S. Classic winners Denny Brauer and George Cochran and many others were available to teach us ham-and-egger anglers just a little of what it takes to catch bass — or any other kind of fish, for that matter.

"It's basically looking at the time of year, the local weather and water conditions and knowing where the fish you're targeting are likely to be in those conditions," KVD said. "There's a lot of change with the seasons, with water levels, clarity and temperatures, with vegetation growth, bait movement … a hundred factors, which is what makes it such an interesting chess game to find them and win a tournament."

Added Brauer: "Right now, in fall, it's mostly about finding where the bait is located. In most of the mid-South, like here, shad are the primary bass food, and those huge schools are moving back into the bays to feed on algae before the cold weather kills it off."

Brauer then proved his point by heaving a big Sexy Dawg topwater to a point at the mouth of a big bay on the lake's east shore. (You've gotta love those Strike King lure names. There also is the Pure Poison wobble jig, the Rage Smokin Rooster soft plastic and the Rage Space Monkey.)

Brauer zig-zagged the lure about 10 feet before it was inhaled by a chunky 3-pound largemouth.

The baitfish also stack up on shallow-water weed beds near the main channel — and the bass gather there, as well, as I learned aboard Jonathan Van Dam's boat.

Jonathan spotted shad skipping, fired a Sexy Dawg almost into the next county, and hooked up with a 2-pounder. I was tossing a swim jig they call the Hack Attack, trimmed with white crawfish-looking tails (the Rage Chunk) that kicked like Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte's legs going through the water, and JVD advised me to pitch the sinking bait directly to the spot where he had scored on the topwater.

Sure enough, a 4-pounder grabbed it.

By the time I had that one aboard, Jonathan was hooked up again on the topwater. He landed that one and two more before the fish raced out of range.

"The nice thing about this bite is that it gets better as the day warms up," he said. "The warm water brings the algae to the surface, and the shad come up to feed on them and that turns on the bass, so from noon to about 3 in the afternoon can be really good, even though that's not the usual topwater time."

I also got tips for fishing riprap, docks and woody blow-downs from pro anglers James Niggemeyer and Andy Montgomery, plus some great crappie how-to from Wally Marshall, Tim Blackley and Jackie Vancleave.

"The reason a lot of these pros do so well with our baits is that they actually design them and test the prototypes in tournaments," Strike King spokesman Mark Copley said. "When we put something out there, it's already been tournament tested. And that makes a big difference."

To learn more about Strike King's lures, visit www.strikeking.com.

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