“The no brainer for me is a Strike King KVD Elite jerkbait, which comes standard with Mustad KVD Triple Grip Trebles," VanDam said. “Jerkbaits are a year-round bait, but they’re definitely dominant in winter and the spring prespawn."
“In cold water, this jerkbait imitates an injured baitfish with a ton of action, but you can keep it in the strike zone for a long period of time. It looks exactly like what a lot fish are targeting in a lot of different fisheries during the cold water period.”
Noting that a jerkbait performs in clear to stained water, in any region from Florida to California, VanDam said he’d suggest a variety of sizes with suspending and sinking models. Ideal for modern forward facing sonar, the latter is a good bet for deep brush and standing timber.
With any size or model of jerkbait, VanDam said the right hooks are critical.
VanDam believes that driving compact baits like a Strike King Punch Bug, Rage Bug or Menace through heavy cover is a technique all bass anglers should learn. His choice for this rigging is a 3/0-4/0 Mustad Alpha-Grip Flipping Hook.
"You can’t beat the AlphaPoint hooks because they’re so slippery, the hook point is so sharp, and the hooks are so strong, it’s something you have to have in your arsenal,” VanDam said. “It takes a special touch when you’re flipping those baits; you don’t want to jerk on that hook set; you just kinda lean into them. That AlphaPoint hook is designed with the (chemically sharpened needlepoint), which penetrates so easily with less pressure. You land more big fish in heavy cover with that style of hook.”
Contrasting the heavy duty punching technique, VanDam suggests stuffing stockings with a selection of dropshot baits. He’s fond of Strike King’s 5-inch Filler Worm, which he Texas-rigs on a Mustad Alpha-Grip Finesse hook. This setup, VanDam said, allows him a weedless presentation for fishing over deep brush, timber and other snag-prone cover.
For more open areas where entanglements are less common, VanDam recommends a baitfish style dropshot bait such as the Strike King Dream Shot or Baby Z-Too. For this traditional dropshot presentation, he’ll go with a Mustad Apex Dropshot Hook.
VanDam concludes by saying that crankbaits will be a most welcome stocking stuffer. His top pick would be a Strike King Gravel Dog, fitted with Mustad KVD Elite Series Triple Grip treble hooks.
“A crankbait is a deadly bait in the wintertime,” VanDam said. “Water clarity determines color, but there will always be a population of fish that live on riprap, and rocky shorelines. I’ll fish parallel to that zone, bouncing off the cover. Those AlphaPoint hooks are very important here because they are super durable in that habitat.”