VanDam's Florida history includes an affinity for the swim jig - Major League Fishing

VanDam’s Florida history includes an affinity for the swim jig

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He's caught fish in Florida on a wide variety of baits, but the swim jig is Kevin VanDam's Sunshine State go-to. Photo by Alan McGuckin. Angler: Kevin VanDam.
May 20, 2024 • Alan McGuckin • Bass Pro Tour

It was a 19-hour drive in his Toyota Tundra from Kalamazoo to the highly familiar waters of Florida’s Kissimmee Chain, but Kevin VanDam is feeling very much at home this week as he takes a tiny break from his pro tournament retirement to advance to the Knockout Round at General Tire Heavy Hitters presented by Bass Pro Shops, an event he qualified for last season.

“I’ve probably competed in about 30 events in Florida throughout my pro career. I’ve always enjoyed this state because the lakes are expansive and full of so much vegetation,” VanDam said.

He actually notched one of his 29 mindboggling career victories on Kissimmee’s Lake Toho in March of 2008 by ripping a Red Eye Shad from the submerged vegetation he treasures, and the underwater salad has certainly been in play through his first two days of qualifying competition at Heavy Hitters: a Strike King Thunder Cricket vibrating jig helped VanDam land 20 bass totaling 60 pounds, 15 ounces, second only to Jordan Lee in his competition group and more than enough to advance to the Knockout Round.  

However, when asked to name his alltime favorite lure over 30 years of fishing in Florida, VanDam chose a swim jig.

“It doesn’t matter where you go in Florida, from Okeechobee to the St. Johns River and the Kissimmee and Harris Chains in between, a swim jig has proven to be my alltime best lure for covering a ton of water and catching above-average-sized fish in this state,” VanDam said.

Sure, a soft stickbait like a Senko or Strike King Ocho catches thousands of Florida bass each year, but VanDam says that the snag-free speed and efficiency a swim jig makes it his all-time favorite lure for the Sunshine State.

White, along with black/blue, are the two swim jig colors he leans on most, with green pumpkin sunfish serving as a backup option. If he’s trying to keep the jig super shallow around lily pads or Kissimmee grass, VanDam uses a lighter 1/4 ounce, but if he wants it to hunt slightly deeper over submerged eel grass, he’ll tie on a 3/8 ounce.

A Strike King Rage Craw matched to the color of the jig skirt is always his trailer. He spools up with 50-pound braid, on a somewhat speedy 7.5:1 Lew’s reel and 7-foot, 4-inch medium-heavy action rod.

“I can’t say a swim jig will be my primary lure this week on Kissimmee, but you can bet I’ll have a couple ready to go on the front deck,” VanDam said. “It’s truly a lure that works in every season of the year in Florida. I’m definitely going to miss competing in Florida now that I’m retried. This state’s been special to me.”

It sure would be wildly special if “The GOAT” found a way to win this – his final ever pro level event – in a state that’s been as much a treasure to his unparalleled career as the swim jigs he’s often counted on to carry the load in the Sunshine State.