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Entries in Kevin VanDam (9)


Pitch Those Plastic Baits Properly

I never tossed used plastic baits into the water. It just didn’t make sense to me. They are no more food for fish than the wrapper from peanut butter crackers or a soda can.

But I saw other people do it, including friends and even some professional anglers. If those discarded baits were in reach before they sank, I’d nonchalantly pick them up and stow them to throw away later on shore. Yet I never said anything to them for a number of reasons, including the fact that often I was fishing out of their boats.

Others, I suspect, have had similar experiences with their fishing buddies.

Why do people who wouldn’t otherwise litter think that it’s okay to pitch used baits into our lakes and rivers? I don’t think that they do. I believe that they just don’t think about it at all. It’s part of the age old problem that we have with using our public waters for trash receptacles--- out of sight, out of mind.

But those discarded baits show up eventually. They’re washed ashore. They’re exposed on the lake bottom during low water. Or, less commonly, they’re found in the stomachs of fish.

When people who don’t fish see this plastic litter, they shake their heads in disgust and view all of us as thoughtless slobs, even though in reality, only a few are responsible.

Still, this is an anglers only problem. We are the only ones who use those baits, and, consequently, we are the only ones who discard them.

And if we don’t take care of the problem on our own, non-anglers will, with possibly catastrophic consequences for those of us who love to fish. Foreshadowing of what could lie ahead nationally occurred in Maine last year, with an attempt to ban soft plastic baits.

Here and there, a few conscientious anglers have addressed the problem in recent years. Up in Minnesota, Mickey Goetting of the Minnesota B.A.S.S. Nation melts and molds used baits into new ones. Carl Wengenroth at Lake Amistad does the same with River Slung Lures.  And in Florida, state conservation director Eamon Bolten has founded ReBaits, a recycling program that he hopes to expand.

But we’ve needed more, and now we have it, thanks to Keep America Fishing (KAF), the grassroots angler advocacy arm of the recreational fishing industry. The new national campaign is labeled, appropriately enough, “Pitch It,” and it has no less than Kevin VanDam as a spokesman.

“There’s no excuse for throwing anything in the water that isn’t going to break down immediately,” said VanDam. “A crusty sandwich is one thing, but old plastics, fishing line, or any tackle should be carried to shore at the end of the day.

“We have to lead by example.”

Industry leaders at the American Sportfishing Association recognized the need for a national effort because of what happened in Maine, according to Liz Ogilvie, KAF director.

“However, we would like to extend the campaign beyond soft plastic baits to address trash of any type littering our nation’s waterways.

“Our industry has stepped up to take the initiative to tackle this problem head-on and demonstrate that recreational anglers are --- as always--- the best stewards of our nation’s waterways.”

Anglers also buy more than $490 million worth of soft plastic baits a year, nearly double the amount of the next most widely sold lure type, according to Southwick Associates. Additionally, more than 57 percent of those who bought lures in 2014, included soft plastics in their purchases. In other words, plastic baits are indispensable for both fishermen and industry.

On the negative side, University of Wisconsin students in 2009 calculated that 25 million pounds of baits end up in lakes, rivers, and streams annually, while Maine Inland Fisheries put the amount at 20 million pounds.

Both the positive and the negative stats underscore the importance of anglers supporting the Pitch It campaign. Please, go to and pledge to dispose of your used baits in a recycling canister or the trash, instead of the water.

And if you see someone throwing baits in the water or on the ground, speak up. We’ve been silent about this long enough.

(This column appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.) 


Join the Pitch It Campaign to Keep Plastics Out of Our Waters


Please pledge to “pitch it” in Keep America Fishing’s (KAF) new campaign to prevent used plastic baits and other trash from littering our waters and  shorelines.

KAF says this:

“What happens when soft baits get torn or worn out? Too often, they are ending up as litter at the bottoms of ponds, lakes and rivers and that’s causing problems. Recently in Maine, a bill was introduced that would have banned the sale and use of soft plastic lures.

“That’s why Keep America Fishing created the Pitch It campaign to talk to fishermen about the proper disposal of worn out soft baits. By standing up against litter, we can protect our precious natural resources while taking away a powerful argument from those who want to regulate the contents of our tackle boxes. That’s a win-win!”

Go here to take the pledge and hear a short video by Kevin VanDam in support of the effort.

By the way, I started warning about the problems caused by discarded plastic baits back in 2011, first in B.A.S.S. Times and then at Activist Angler. Angler Joe Ford, who caught a large bass with a stomach full of discarded baits, and Carl Wengenroth at The Angler's Lodge on Lake Amistad first brought this issue to my attention. Here are a couple of those early articles:

Discarded Baits Could Be a Killer; Put Them in the Trash

We Have a Problem


Fish Talk . . . Really!

Who knew?

Fish talk. And often they talk about sex.

Of course, they don’t “speak” in words because they don’t have vocal cords.

Rather, they are “soniferous,” meaning they make sounds. They use their teeth, bladders, and other means to grunt, croak, click, drum, and squeak, saying things like “Swim over here, fishy, fishy” and “Get outta here, you fat flounder. This is my nest.”

Up to 1,000 species of fish are believed to be chatty and, yes, the sunfish family, which includes bass, is in the conversation. In fact, hydrophones were used to study bluegill courtships sounds more than 40 years ago.

“Some centrarchids do make noise,” said Gene Wilde, professor of fish ecology at Texas Tech. “But it seems to be only during breeding season, and we’re not sure how they do it. Possibly by rubbing mouth parts together.

“Some species make sounds year around,” he added. “But most fish sounds are associated with breeding. For example, drum attract mates that way.”

The gizzard shad, an important forage fish, is one species that makes sounds year around, and what a Texas Tech graduate student recently discovered about those sounds when the fish are exposed to environmental stressors is significant.

“Gizzard shad are widespread, in about 2/3 of the country,” said Matt Gruntorad. “They produce calls when stressed, and these calls could be an early warning system when there’s a  (water quality) problem. They could help protect valuable game fish and water supplies.”

The Texas Tech researcher exposed the shad to various levels of salinity, pH, and toxicity (ammonia hydroxide). As levels increased, the fish became louder--- up to a point. At the highest levels, they were quieter. “There could be a threshold when they are too stressed to make sounds,” Gruntorad said.

Sounds made by fish of 2 inches or so were too soft to analyze. But 12-inch shad yielded strong signals for the hydrophones.

Even so, though, their calls would be difficult, if not impossible, for the human ear to detect.

“They don’t croak,” the graduate student said. “Their calls are very simple, very quiet. They release gas through the anal duct. It’s like a fish fart.”

Compared to saltwater, much work remains to be done to recognize and understand sounds made by fish in freshwater, Gruntorad said.

Wilde agreed, adding that drum make their unique sound by playing muscles against their swim bladders, while catfish create their characteristic “grunts” by rubbing the pectoral spine against the pectoral girdle. “Smaller fish click their teeth together,” he said.

The fish behavior expert also said that any fish sounds that an angler hears above the water is not the same as what would be heard under.

“It’s tough for people to hear fish noises (in the water),” he explained. “For schooling fish, like herring, sound is a close-range thing to keep the integrity of the school.”

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Wilde assured animal rights activists that fish do not scream when hooked. “We put a hydrophone in a phone where we catch a lot of bass,” he said. “And that did not happen.”

 Fish Sounds

 One of the reasons that the learning curve regarding soniferous fish has improved in recent years is that researchers have modified their diving gear. For years, they were unaware of conversations because sounds of bubbles released by SCUBA gear masked them, as well as frightened the fish.

Now researchers use self-contained breathing systems so no gas bubbles are released.

“Increasingly scientists are discovering unusual mechanisms by which fish make and hear secret whispers, grunts, and thumps to attract mates and ward of the enemy,” said

“In just one bizarre instance, seahorses create clicks by tossing their heads. They snap the rear edge of their skulls against their star-shaped bony crests.”

Meanwhile, the swim bladder, also used to control buoyancy, is one of the most common instruments for fish sounds. A muscle attached to the swim bladder contracts and relaxes in rapid sequence, causing the organ to produce a low-pitched drumming sound.

Some species use stridulation, pushing teeth and/or bones together. And still others use body movements to make sounds by altering water flow.

 Fish Hearing

 Yes, fish have ears --- of a sort. Actually they possess ear bones known as “otoliths.” Also used to age fish, they vary in shape and size according to species, just as human ears vary from individual to individual.

Only fish otoliths can’t be seen eternally.

Sound travels through water as waves or vibrations, and, because a fish’s body is of similar density, the waves pass through it. But they cause the ear bones to vibrate.

Additionally, a fish can sense vibrations and movement with its lateral line, which is a sensory organ consisting of fluid-filled sacs with hairlike cells, open through a series of pores along the side. And the swim bladder works in a similar fashion, according to Robert Castenada, founder of Livingston Lures, which mimic distress sounds from shad.

“A fish has three ways to pick up sounds, but only one way to see and smell,” he added. “That’s why, in my opinion, sound plays the biggest role in bass locating prey.”

But because sound travels farther and 4.4 times faster in water than in air, a fish can struggle to hear through the “clutter” of outboard engines and recreational activity, according to Hydrowave, which makes a sound device designed to attract bass and other game fish by imitating the sound of baitfish and predatory fish feeding on them.

“This speed, combined with the poor visibility characteristics of water is the reason that a fish is so dependent on vibration and water displacement . . . for location of prey,” the company said.

“The source of sound clutter is always present. This forms the basis of how fish have developed keen senses that allow them to specifically identify clutter from prey and feeding activities of other fish.”

Four-time Classic winner Kevin VanDam said that the Hydrowave works in two ways. “It excites the fish because they hear the sound of other bass eating,” he explained. “And it excites the bait. It draws it up.”

On the other hand, Castenada’s topwaters, jerkbaits, wakebaits, and crankbaits replicate the distress sounds that shad make when they are assaulted by bass. For years, anglers have used rattling baits. But the lure designer said those just make noise, while his make “an actual biological noise.” 

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)


Setting Hook Properly Is Key for Catching More Fish

Photo by Robert Montgomery

(Author's note: This article was written a few years ago for young anglers. But the advice applies to anglers of all ages who want to catch more fish.)

You feel the fish bite. It even pulls the line and bends your rod. But you don’t catch it.

What happened?

Maybe the fish was too small to get the hook in its mouth.  Maybe it bit and spit.

Or maybe you didn’t set the hook properly.

Along with mastering a level-wind reel, one of the biggest challenges for young anglers is learning how to set the hook.

Remember when you first went fishing? When you saw your bobber bounce that first time, you were so excited that you started reeling as fast as you could. Probably your dad or your grandpa or maybe even your mother was yelling, “Set the hook! Set the hook!”

You just kept reeling. You didn’t know what “set the hook” meant.

Now, you know that it means to pull back on the rod when you see or feel a fish bite, and that’s what you do. But still you miss bass. What’s wrong?

Maybe nothing. We all miss fish occasionally--- even professionals such as Kevin VanDam.

But you definitely can improve your catch rate if you will listen and learn from the best.

“With a Texas rig, you have to drive the hook through the plastic,” says VanDam. “I like to do it with a little slack line. I drop the rod tip and hit real hard.”

Others say to tighten your line all the way before setting the hook. The problem with that is a tight line can make it easier for a bass to feel you--- and possibly drop the bait--- before you set the hook.

Whichever method you use--- tight or a little slack--- act quickly when you feel a bite on a soft plastic. And jerk hard.

With another single-hook bait, the spinnerbait, you should pull more than jerk. “Let the rod load up and pull into the fish,” VanDam explains. “Reel hard and pull.”

“Load up” means the weight of the fish is putting bend into the rod, especially the tip.

Topwaters and crankbaits, meanwhile, make it easier to connect with the fish because they have treble hooks. But be careful.

“You want to let the fish load up on a crankbait or topwater,” says Florida pro James Charlesworth. “And then you want to do a sweeping hook set. If you set too hard, you can jerk the hooks right out.”

VanDam adds, “Today’s hooks are so good, so sharp, that you don’t need to set the hook hard.”

With a topwater, the Michigan pro advises that you wait until you feel the weight of the fish pulling down before you react.

It’s tough to do that when you see a big bass wallowing all over your bait. Your first instinct is to jerk as soon as you see the fish going after the topwater. Setting the hook too soon, however, will just pull the bait away from the bass.

If you’re fishing with a spinning rod, light line, and finesse baits, you don’t want to jerk at all. Doing so might break the line. Plus, you don’t need as much force to stick a bass with a light wire hook as you do with a big worm hook.

Instead of jerking, use a “reel set.” When you feel the fish, reel as fast as you can, allow the rod to load up and pull straight up and back.

“I do a lot of smallmouth fishing with a spin rod,” says VanDam. “With this hook set, if you miss the fish, you can let the rod back down, and the smallmouth will be right there to hit the bait again.”


Join KVD, Ike, and Other Pros in Supporting Autism Awareness

Here’s a shout-out to professional anglers Kevin VanDam, Mike Iaconelli, John Crews, Fred Roumbanis, Kelly Jordon, Edwin Evers, Bub Tosh, and Scott Martin. They all support autism awareness by displaying the “Fishin’ with a Mission” decal on their boats or tow rigs.

“Fishin’ with a Mission” is the creation of Eli Delany, a Massachusetts angler whose son Luke has autism. And he’s not the only one.

According to a pediatrics report at Talk About Curing Autism website, 1 in 91 children has autism, with a new case diagnosed nearly every 20 minutes. No medical detection or cure for the disability exists, which is why being aware of its symptoms, especially in children, is so important.

You also can support autism awareness by educating yourself at Delany’s website and buying a decal.

In a letter to the sponsors of the above anglers, Delany said, “In today’s very difficult times, your sponsored angler was willing to give away very valuable advertising space in support of children and families affected by autism.

“This shows true humility and a genuine willingness to give back to the sport and the community. You should be very proud that you sponsor such an individual.”