Fall smallmouth bass will congregate around one small structure

Secret pro tactics for catching late-season walleye, bass, pike and perch


Top pro Kevin Vandam finds fish with a fast presentation, then slows down to cash in


I’ve been lucky to share a boat several times with legendary bass angler Kevin VanDam, the winningest pro in tournament fishing history. VanDam is renowned for his relentless style of run-and-gun power fishing, criss-crossing a lake at full speed, firing machine gun-like casts with fast-moving spinnerbaits, crankbaits and jerkbaits and retrieving them quickly on an erratic horizontal plane. One time, I watched him make four precise casts—count ’em, four—to each side of a standing flooded tree before pulling up the electric motor and rushing on. He fishes so quickly that you’re practically out of breath just watching him work.

Another time as VanDam prepared for a Bassmaster Classic—he has won four of them—I played a word association game with him and asked what popped into his mind when I said “shaky head,” a finesse presentation that’s the antithesis of his power style of fishing. “It is hard to beat, man” he said, laughing. “It is probably my go-to back-up to my power pattern. I’ve got a ton of confidence in it.”


You could have picked me up off the boat deck when he said that. I mean, that’s like mixed martial artist Conor McGregor telling you he enjoys ballet dancing between UFC title fights. What’s not surprising, however, is that VanDam has emerged as the consummate power-finesse angler. It sounds contradictory, but it’s the way you want to go about fishing in the fall for everything that swims. Essentially, power-finesse fishing is all about first finding and catching the fish with a fast presentation, then slowing down to catch even more.

Modify and speed troll a C90 Whitefish (inset) to quickly find northerns


For trophy fall northerns, for example, I like to speed troll a 1 1/2-ounce Williams C90 Whitefish spoon behind a two- to six-ounce bead chain sinker. I also remove the treblehook and replace it with a single siwash hook, which I dress with the likes of a six-inch white Twister Tail. It’s the most efficient way I’ve found to quickly cover water and find pods of big toothy critters.

After catching a behemoth, I’ll retrace my path in the confined area until the action slows down. Then I’ll stop, put down my bow-mounted electric motor, and catch even more pike with a white 10-inch Water Wolf tube or Bondy Bait. And if I see a fish show up below the boat on the sonar screen, I’ll drop down the bait and hop it to get the fish to bite.


The author trolls an Original Floating Minnow (inset) on leadcore to find walleye


I rely on a similar approach to catch fall walleye, but instead troll a seven-inch Rapala Original Floating Minnow (in black and silver) or Nishine Erie 95SD BPB Smelt on leadcore line. I got onto this pattern several years ago while filming In-Fisherman television shows with host Doug Stange on cold, wet November days on Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte. We’d troll until we caught a trophy-sized marble eye, then waypoint the open-water location and check the amount of line we had out to pinpoint the depth at which the fish was cruising.

To mop up, we’d then hit the Spot-Lock feature on the electric motor and cast one-ounce saltwater bullet head jigs dressed with six-inch paddletail swimbaits. Counting them down to the precise depth before swimming them home, we would quickly pull several husky walleye out of the tightly knit schools before the fish moved on. Then we’d repeat this one-two, power-finesse knockout punch throughout the day. The action was insane, yet we never saw anyone else stop trolling to cast instead.