The Kevin VanDam Big Bass Classic presented by Explore Branson will take over Missouri’s Famous Table Rock Lake on March 24th and 25th, and anglers who hope to be in the top ten overall at the end of the event will need to focus on the lake’s abundant largemouth population. Smallmouths and spots certainly have a chance at hourly checks, but they simply don’t grow to the same size as their green cousins.
“It’s a lake where you can really fish very diverse conditions,” VanDam said. “There’s the clear lower end of the lake, and then there’s the river arms and the creeks which can get some color on them. I know that I’d spend my time targeting largemouths in the dirtier water with a large crankbait like a Strike King 4.0, a ½ or ¾ ounce big willowleaf spinnerbait, and a jig.”
After a winter where fishing has generally been tough, the fish have moved to the shallows big time, and “they’ll be focused on some stage of the spawn,” VanDam added. “If you catch a big spot or smallmouth, that’s kind of a bonus.” He should know about the caliber of the lake’s fish, as he’s caught a Table Rock largemouth of over 9 pounds, and knows of several others over 10. “You’ll need at least a 4 or 5 pounder to win the hourly money, and a 7 pounder has a good shot of winning the whole thing.”
Those numbers seem to be pretty much on the mark. Last year it took a bass between 5.24 and 5.89 pounds to qualify for the top ten, and the lowest money winners in each period ranged from 3.26 to 4.12 pounds. In 2016, the overall catch was better, with a tournament-best 7.56 pound largemouth weighed in, as well as another over 7 and four more over 6. In one period, though, it only took 2.97 to get a check, so there are opportunities for everyone to score. “There will be lots of strategy involved,” he said.
One other strategy that VanDam believes a gambling angler could employ is to look for pre-spawners in the clearer water “throwing a big swimbait like we’d use in California.”
Table Rock legend Stacey King, one of VanDam’s close friends and competitors, stressed that recent weather has made this tournament one to circle on your calendar. The lake came up about 8 feet in recent weeks, he said, and with it came hordes of bass eager to bed and eager to feed.
“Now that the water level has stabilized, there are lots of different ways to catch fish,” King said. “But I’d expect that it could be won with an Alabama Rig.” He fished a team tournament last week and despite weighing in 19 ½ pounds, with two bass over 5 pounds in their livewell, he and his partner still came in second, missing out on the win by a pound. “There were two or three over 6 pounds and one about 7 and a half,” he said, and then reinforced the point made earlier by VanDam. “None of them were smallmouths or spotted bass.”
PRO TIP: While VanDam stressed the lake’s 50,000 acres of diverse habitat and his preference to fish up the tributaries, that presents a conundrum for river rats. Do you make the long run if that’s where the best fishing might be, and, if so, how do you time your trip and back to the weigh-in? This one might necessitate a milk run of spots, either far up the lake first and then down, or vice versa. King said that the sudden influx of warm fresh water a few weeks ago turned the river arms on first, but now that things have settled “the main lake is going to keep getting better.”