Along the way the Kalamazoo, Mich., bass-catching machine naturally filed mental notes away on the best characteristics of those artificial lures that triggered the most strikes. VanDam, 44, has used that knowledge ever since and made the most of his chance to assist in the design of crankbaits, soft plastics and topwaters for his artificial lure sponsor, Strike King Lure Company.
VanDam's imprint is evident in the artificial lure manufacturer's soft-plastic jerkbait Caffeine Shad and its Red Eye Shad, which he used to win the 2010 Bassmaster Classic.
Then he won the 2011 Bassmaster Classic on a crankbait he put a lot of time and effort into with Strike King artificial-lure designer Phil Marks.
That was the KVD Pro-Model Square Bill Crankbait that racked up quality bass after quality bass in that memorable Classic on the Louisiana Delta, the championship he captured while targeting bass on Lake Catouache a few long casts away from New Orleans.
In fact, look at the Strike King Lure Company catalog and you will see one of the color schemes for the KVD crankbait is the "Catouache Special," which has a black back and chartreuse body.
VanDam talked about the KVD crankbait in early September while driving back to Michigan after a weekend appearance at a Bass Pro Shops event in Missouri. The impetus behind the lure was that he wanted a crankbait for every depth, for every condition.
"I wanted to have a shallow-power crankbait with triggering action for inactive fish," he said. "Even in a straight retrieve, they wander and kind of jump around. They're erratic — you don't have to bounce it off a stump to change direction."
VanDam, who has made a B.A.S.S. record 16 straight Top 50 cuts and finished in the money 93.3 percent of his tournament entries, and lure designer Marks worked together and came up with at least 10 prototypes before settling on the final model "to get it exactly the way we wanted it" in 2010.
The first one on the market was the KVD 1.5, he said, followed by the KVD 2.5 and, recently, the shallow-diving KVD 1.0.
There are many crankbaits on the market, as bass anglers know. VanDam said he likes his because of its distinct design.
"The way we designed it — weight and balance — was to have action that was unique," he explained. "I have not seen any other baits at all similar to that type of action.
What causes it to "wander," as he alluded to earlier?
"The way we built it, the balance and internal design is a little bit off-balance, so it's trying to find center," VanDam. "It may go off (track), but it's trying to find it."
The wandering capability sells it, he said, adding that it has been "selling really well all over the country. It's really popular. Winning the Classic gave it a lot of publicity. A lot of people gave it a try."
VanDam has won beau coup Classic and Angler of the Year titles with his bass-fishing experience and expertise, which he applied to the KVD crankbaits. He uses the KVD crankbait line whenever the conditions are ripe for such a lure.
"I used that one an awful lot," he said. "It just depends. Every body of water is different, and there are different types of cover. I've always got one tied on."
KVD crankbaits come in a wide variety of colors. During the 2011 Classic, VanDam said he used the black/chartreuse model because of the stained water clarity.
The crankbait's body is made with a quality plastic so it's ultra-durable, he said. With its square bill, it is designed to deflect off cover and avoid snags more often than other crankbaits.
"You know, they're pretty tough. We wanted to make it durable. When you fish it around cover and rocks, you don't want it to be breaking," he said, noting he hasn't even broken one. "You know, after a while, you can wear the bills down a little if you're fishing a long time around rocks."
It also features top-notch hardware, premium components like extra sharp black nickel hooks and O-rings, plus a strikingly realistic paint job.
"It's got good hooks, hardware and paint job —the whole deal," VanDam said.
A KVD crankbait also has no rattles for a silent approach, but it does have a distinctive wobble that throbs the tip of your fishing rod when you retrieve it.
About having a crankbait named after him, VanDam said, "It's pretty flattering. I have quite a few lures under my name. I have to fish with them for a living, so I want the best I can get. I design the lure.
"It's gratifying when I talk to fishermen and they say, 'Hey, I caught (fish) on yours.' I like to help people catch fish."
I've caught many bass on the KVD 1.5 in the sexy shad color combination since I was first given one by Lafayette-area bass fisherman Jeremy Moore in the winter of 2010-11. I still appreciate that gesture from a good basser and unselfish person.
Since then it has been one of my go-to baits while tournament fishing and pleasure fishing in and around the Atchafalaya Basin. Try it. You'll like it.
For more information on the KVD line of crankbaits and other Strike King Lure Company products, go to www.strikeking.com or write to 466 Washington St., Collierville, Tenn., 38017-2748.