VIDALIA, Louisiana – In a sport where secrecy about their gear is often the order of business for anglers, Strike King pro Kevin VanDam wasted few words in identifying the bait that he felt would be a key for him in the 2018 Lucas Oil Challenge Cup out of Vidalia, Louis./Natches, Miss.

“Strike King KVD 1.5 squarebill crankbait,” VanDam said simply when asked before the event to identify a bait for the week’s competition in the oxbow lakes of the Lower Mississippi Valley.

VanDam was true to his word.

As reported here previously (BAILY/RACHEL: Link to story about KVD 1.5), VanDam caught the majority of his fish in both the Elimination and Sudden Death rounds on his namesake squarebill. And when the call for “Lines in” went out in the Championship Round on Lake Larto, VanDam went right to the same squarebill and never put it down.

VanDam piled up 39 pounds, 14 ounces on the day (all on the KVD 1.5), easily besting Edwin Evers (26-5), Ish Monroe (20-2) and the rest of the field and claiming his third MLF Cup win in 12 Cup competitions.

“I knew based on a seasonal pattern that I would be important to find the baitfish quickly, and in those types of oxbow systems, shad will be the primary forage,” VanDam said. “For that time of year (early fall), a squarebill is just a great way to get bites. Some guys flip, some guys love to throw a chatterbait. I just happen to have a lot of confidence in a squarebill.”

Zeroing in on isolated pieces of wood just off the Larto shoreline, VanDam rang up SCORETRACKER in steady bursts throughout the Championship Round, catching 10 fish in Period 1 and adding six more before the lunch break. He was so efficient with the squarebill that his first fish of the third period – his biggest of the day, a 3-9 – gave him enough weight to win.

“Most everything in that area of the Mississippi River is really silted in with a soft bottom, so you have to find hard cover,” VanDam said. “I fished cypress trees, cypress knees, isolated laydowns, a few boat docks. Wood was the key.”

So was the color of the bait: VanDam fished a color called River Shiner, a pattern that Strike King lure designer Phil Marks created to imitate a variety of baitfish that can be found in river systems throughout the country.

“River Shiner is a color that really imitates a lot of the forage (on the Mississippi River system), and is really good in slightly stained water,” VanDam said. “Back when Phil Marks first showed me that color, I said ‘Man, that’s pretty’. It’s one of those colors that’s just a great baitfish imitator: it looks like a bluegill, a shad, a shiner. It’s very versatile.”