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Rookie Sensations – Jonathon VanDam | Print |  Email
Written by Paul Strege   
Friday, 25 March 2011 19:36

When the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series tour commenced on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida on March 10th, several anglers realized a lifelong dream of competing on angling’s largest stage when they officially began their B.A.S.S. careers. As Elite Series newbies, they have many things in common. They have assembled sponsorship teams willing to invest in their potential as future tour anglers, they are preparing for the upcoming season with as much zest and drive as any tour veteran, and lastly, they are competing to secure their future positions on tour. For as much as they have in common, however, they are uniquely different.

The following perspective is that of B.A.S.S. Elite Series rookie, Jonathon VanDam.

Path to the Elites
Perhaps the most recognizable name on this year’s Elite Series rookie roster is Jonathon VanDam, nephew of six-time B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year winner Kevin VanDam. While sharing the same last name and hometown as his uncle, Jonathon VanDam, or “JVD” as appropriately nicknamed, has wasted no time in creating an identity for himself in three short years. In 2008, he captured third place in the B.A.S.S. Southern Open on the St. Johns River. It was his first tournament as a pro. One year later, he won the Northern Open on Lake Erie, and last year, he earned his B.A.S.S. tour card through the Southern Opens.

One would think the nephew of professional fishing’s all-time leading money winner would expect a spot in the national weigh-in line, but as JVD notes, he never took tour qualification for granted.

“Fishing on tour has been a dream of mine for a long time, so I am more excited than ever to start the season. I grew up fishing with my dad, watching Kevin fish, hanging out with Elite Series guys, and watching tournament coverage. This is all I have ever wanted to do as a career for as long as I can remember. I have been going to school, taking marketing classes and other related courses, strictly to develop my fishing career.”

Tour Schedule
As the season is set to begin, JVD is faced with quickly learning tour waters, not unlike any other rookie. However, there are a few venues that he feels will work in the favor of the inexperienced pros.

“The nice thing about the way the schedule sets-up this year is that B.A.S.S. visits places that they have not been to in a long time. Instead of guys just checking a bunch of waypoints, they are going to have to start at square one just like I am. I’ve been to some of the places before, like the St. Johns River, but not many others. I am definitely looking forward to going back there, and I like West Pointe Lake, too, because the tour hasn’t visited that place in years. That will probably level the playing field a little bit.”

While JVD plans to drive to the various tour stops in caravan with his uncle, he will room and compare notes with friends made on his own.

“I will be rooming with Casey Ashley and Marty Robinson. I’ve known those guys for quite a while and consider them friends. I don’t know how much note comparing we are going to do, but it will still be a lot of fun. Byron Haseotes is another real good friend of mine and we will be working together a little bit, but I am going to try and do my own thing as much as possible.”

Some fans may believe that he would undoubtedly rely on advice, receive pointers, and accept an occasional waypoint or two from his uncle, but JVD laments that it is not so.

“I do run things by Kevin, asking generic questions about a certain lake at a certain time of year so that I know what to expect, but I’ve never been one to use someone else’s waypoints or receive specific spots from anyone. In my situation, I didn’t want to qualify for the Elite Series doing that. I didn’t want to be at square one with nothing learned at the lower levels when I am up on the biggest stage in tournament fishing.”

Financial Support
While JVD limits on-the-water assistance, he freely admits that the VanDam name has helped initiate dialogue with some of his existing sponsors.

“One nice thing that I have benefited from is name recognition. That has certainly helped in getting my foot in the door with some companies, but I still am having a hard time getting deals sewn-up. I don’t have a title sponsor at this time. I have been working on a few things, but nothing has really come through. So, I am going to try and limp my way through the season with the money I have saved. My parents are helping me out quite a bit, too. I am just looking for that big title sponsor.”

Goals / ROY Race
JVD enters the 2011 season focused on two goals: capturing the Rookie of the Year title and making the 2012 Bassmaster Classic.

“Those two goals are really what I am concentrating on. I’d also like to be in the top-12 or so of the Angler of the Year race, but I know that is going to be tough to do as a rookie. I don’t believe many people, if ever, have accomplished that as a rookie. If you look at last year’s rookie class, no one qualified for the Classic. While this year’s class is going to really competitive, I feel confident enough that I can go out there and still do well. I am just planning on leaving everything out there on the water, and whatever happens, happens.”

Nephew of a Living Legend
Arguably, no other rookie is associated more with future potential than Jonathon VanDam. In being the nephew of a living legend and son of a highly respected regional angler, his angling resources are virtually limitless. At age 22 and one of the Elite’s youngest competitors, he also has the benefit of time – time to mature as an angler.

“Kevin has helped me a ton from the standpoint of non-tournament things like sponsorship. He has been a mentor in that way. Teaching me what to ask, what to expect, and stuff like that. The best piece of advice he has given me is that fishing is really a head game. I have noticed a lot of my friends that I fish the Opens with will see Mike Iaconelli or another big name, get psyched-out a bit, trying to cover too much water. I try to be prepared prior to getting on the water so that when I fish, I am completely focused on what I have to do. Even when things are not happening, I try not to get frustrated.”

The only downside to the VanDam association, as he identifies, is the expectation of living up to the name.

“Regardless of where I am at in my career, there is always going to be that added pressure being related to Kevin. It is going to be a feat, but I am just going to go out there and do all that I can to live up to those expectations. I am not going to put any added pressure on myself; I need to do as much as I can individually and see what happens.”

And, one can hardly wait to “see what happens” when a second VanDam – this time, Jonathon – hits the water for the 2011 season as an Elite Series rookie.

Jonathon VanDam - Bio
Hometown: Kalamazoo, MI
Age: 22
Qualification Circuit: 2010 B.A.S.S. Southern Opens
Titles / Honors: 2009 Northern Open Winner, Lake Erie, Sandusky, Ohio.
Career Winnings: $64,300

Last Updated on Friday, 25 March 2011 19:39

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