It’s hard to tell who exactly was the star of the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
Was it Kevin VanDam, the now four-time Classic winner, who threw 69 pounds of bass on the scales to crush the dreams of 49 other anglers?
Or was it the Lake Cataouatche Tank Pond, a non-descript rectangle of shallow water that delivered lunker after lunker for each of the top three finishers?
“If you could design an optimal lake for bass, that would be it,” said second-place finisher Aaron Martens, who finished with a day-three sack of 24-14. “It’s got stumps, hydrilla, bait. It’s just a bass factory.”
VanDam used his legendary skills to narrow the pattern in the area, and set an all-time Bassmaster Classic record with 69-11 for the tournament. He beat Martens by more than 10 pounds.
Click here for final standings.
The Kalamazoo, Mich., angler said he won the tournament on day two when a change he observed in the fishing pattern on day one began to get solidified. On day one, he had all of his success on a 3/8-ounce spinnerbait fished very slowly.
“Two hours into day one, I saw the change begin to happen,” he said. “Aaron and I pulled up the first morning in the fog, and had the area pretty lined up. Aaron caught two 4-pounders back to back right off the bat. The fish were just crushing the spinnerbait. They wanted the bait real slow.
“But by the end of the first day, the spinnerbait bite was ending. On the second day, we had only a short time to fish (due to the fog delay). I got five hits on the spinnerbait, but three of them missed it, and I knew it was time to make a change.”
That change was to a KVD 1.5 square-billed chartreuse/black back crankbait.
“When bass get (in spawn mode), they don’t like bluegill around them, so you really want to fish chartreuse/black,” he said.
VanDam said his technique was to motor within casting range of a group of stumps, and put his PowerPole down. He’d then fan cast to the stumps.
“On my first big fish (Saturday), I made multiple casts to same stump before he hit,” VanDam said. “I thought, ‘Mmm, hmmm.’ I’d mark a stump with my eyes and just make multiple casts to it.
“I was ripping the grass off the bait constantly. I was using the bait to feel for stumps and feel for grass. I culled several 20-pound bags to catch what I caught (Sunday).”
The Tank Pond anglers had determined that the bass lived in the main part of Lake Cataouatche, and moved into the Tank Pond to spawn. The Classic happened to coincide with a full moon during a significant warming trend.
“The fish don’t live in there,” said third-place finisher Derek Remitz. “It’s more of a spawning area.”
“In practice that place was impossible,” he said. “A cold front would have ruined it for us.
“We hit it the best week we could have had (the tournament). If it had been two days later, it might have been a little better. The severe cold fronts of the previous few weeks were unusual. These fish wanted to spawn. When that happens — when fish are eager to spawn but something won’t let them — it makes for above-average fishing when they do finally get to spawn. Today was probably one of the best days of the year to be fishing on the delta.”
VanDam knew the instant he lay eyes on the Tank Pond that it would deliver the goods in the warming temperatures.
“The delta is just mud everywhere; (the bass) need hard bottom to spawn,” he said. “(The Tank Pond) has lots of hard bottom. I checked it two times in practice without a bite. On Wednesday (the final practice day), with the full moon coming, I said, ‘This is the place to fish.’ I got three bites, and one was an 8- or 9-pounder. It was lights out. I knew I’d made the right decision.”
VanDam’s final-day sack of 28-00 was bested only by the 28-13 pounds caught by Boyd Duckett. That sack was buoyed by an 8-15 that was the big bass for the tournament.
On the final day of the tournament, 24 of the 25 anglers caught five-fish limits.
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