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by Andrew Buss

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Jonathan VanDam JVD Pro Bass Angler D & R Sports Center Kalamazoo MichiganAny look into sports history tells us that following a legend is a challenging, if not impossible endeavor. Whether following a coach like Bob Knight or athlete like Michael Jordan, there are more examples of failures than success. These circumstances typically create unrealistic expectations and mountainous pressure which can consume a mere mortal. For some, though, there is no other option.

Consider Jonathon VanDam’s situation for a moment: his uncle, Kevin, is the greatest bass fisherman in the world; his father owns the Ohio state smallmouth bass record with a 9 pound, 8 ounce behemoth; and his family has owned and maintained D & R Sports Center in Kalamazoo, MI, arguably the best bass boat marina in the state, for over 25 years. The very name “VanDam” is not only the baddest name in bass fishing, but nearly synonymous.

Call him cold-blooded, merciless, or the second-coming, but JVD stepped up to the batter’s plate in his first BASS Open tournament January 17, 2008 on the St. John’s River in Florida and crushed one over the center field wall. With a third-place finish, the statement was clear and assuredly sent chills up professional anglers’ backs, “I am JVD, and I accept this challenge.” Full steam ahead. Perhaps, JVD is not a mere mortal and possesses the same supernatural abilities as another in his family?

Jonathan VanDam JVD performs his bass fishing seminar at the 2008 Lansing fishing showIn between attending classes at Western Michigan University, earning his degree in business, and preparing his next assault on Santee Cooper in May, the nineteen year-old JVD took time to answer several questions about himself and why no one should mark him down as a typical prodigy.

Q: What was your first BASS experience like? Did you expect to finish 3rd?

A: My first BASS experience was so cool. I was definitely not expecting to finish as high as I did, but I was confident in my abilities to do well. That feeling was one that I cannot describe and this is an experience I will always remember no matter how successful my career is.

Q: What did you learn that will help you in future events?

A: I learned that you cannot let the pressure get to you.

One of the biggest lessons that Kevin taught me was that no matter what you are doing you must have confidence; especially on new water. One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they get information on a place they have never been to and that is all they focus on. They fish in the past, and I am sometimes just as guilty, but you must be able to drop the information you get if it doesn’t work. Then all you have is your own abilities.

Q: Did being a “VanDam” alter the way people viewed/treated you? Extra pressure?

A: It definitely had an effect on how people viewed and treated me. With the last name of VanDam in this industry you are going to have that, but most of it is going to be positive. My hat goes off to the Elite series anglers; they all have been a huge influence in the start of my career. I fished some co-angler Elite events last season, and I got to hang out with the biggest names in the industry and I have learned so much from them that I think I did get different treatment than most would get.

As for the extra pressure, its there, but I’m not KVD, I’m JVD, so I try not to let the pressure get to me and just do my own thing.

Q: How do you prepare for a multiple day event?

A: I usually look online and study maps to learn as much as I can before I even get to the body of water. But nothing beats time on the water - I try to spend as much time as I can prefishing. And of course, I always have a bunch of the lucky cookies with me as well!

Q: What about Santee Cooper (next Southern Open 5/8-10)?

A: I am looking forward to Santee here in a couple weeks. I am leaving to go down early for about five days to get a look at the lake and to have a more defined plan when I return for the official practice days and the tournament.

Q: What motivated you to jump to this level?

A: Well, this has been a lifelong dream of mine to follow in my uncle’s footsteps and become a professional angler. I competed at the state level and again fished a few co-angler events and I felt that I was ready to make the next step.

(Short excerpt from Jonathan VanDam's 2008 Lansing fishing show – part 2 below)

Q: How did you know you were ready to compete at this level?

A: I didn’t know that I was ready to fish at this level. I definitely wanted to, and I was confident in my abilities to do well at this level.

I was doing very well at the state level and local level and I even had some success at the co-angler events. So at these events, especially the co-angler events, I tried to gauge my skills to that of the pros that I fished with, and I was very competitive with them; and in some cases out fished them. So I felt ready to start out my professional fishing career.

Q: What are your strengths?

A: Well, with the last name VanDam, most of you already have an idea of what my strengths are and they are right on the money: I am a power fisherman. Power fishing is definitely my biggest strength.

Q: Weaknesses?

A: Right now my biggest weakness is the lack of experience on the southern waters. I have never seen the lakes that I fish in the Opens. I have a lot to learn about them and what the fish do in these lakes given the time of year. The good thing is that I can only get better as I gain more knowledge and experience in these lakes.

Jonathan VanDam JVD spends his spare time at his father - Randy Vandam's store - D & R Sports Center in Kalamazoo Michigan Q: Did growing up around D & R Sports Center help you develop? Explain.

A: Growing up in my father’s sporting goods store was a huge influence on my career and the development of my skills. I was fortunate to have a boat at my disposal since I’ve been able to drive. I could just hook up to a bass boat and go fishing any time I wanted to.

I spent a lot of time on the water over the last few years developing a database. Also, working in the store as a salesman, I learned a ton about the industry and how it works; which will be very beneficial to me when I work with sponsors and promoting their products. Also, while working in the store, I got very good at communicating with customers; which, again, helps me with the fans I may have.

Q: What are your future aspirations in bass fishing?

A: To fish the Elite series. But the biggest dream of mine is to win the Bassmaster Classic. That is the ultimate goal. I want to be one of the very best - up at the same level as Kevin and Skeet (Reese). I know those are some huge goals, but I’m driven and I feel that I will make it there.

Q: What are your future aspirations in bass fishing?

A: To fish the Elite series. But the biggest dream of mine is to win the Bassmaster Classic. That is the ultimate goal. I want to be one of the very best - up at the same level as Kevin and Skeet (Reese). I know those are some huge goals, but I’m driven and I feel that I will make it there.

Q: What kind of advice did Kevin give you about competing at this level?

A: Kevin told me that the biggest thing I can do is believe that I can win every tournament. If I don’t, then I’m just competing for second. Also, have confidence in everything that I am doing. But, most of all, fish your strengths on new water.

Q: How does living in a region with ice 4-5 months a year, help you as an angler?

A: Most people would say that it is a huge deficit, but it definitely an advantage. We here in Michigan, see the entire cycle of the bass in a much shorter time span so we are more adaptable than most of the southern fisherman.

Q: What did you do to make sure this (ice season) didn’t hinder your development?

A: What I did was very simple: I was on the water as much as possible. I was out there when not many others would be, like the worst cold front, rain, snow and other crazy weather patterns. And, yes, many of those days were unsuccessful, but I eventually learned how to catch the fish in the worst of conditions. There have been many days where I had to break ice with the boat to go fishing but those are some of the best times.

Q: Since your region lacks huge reservoirs how did your local lakes help you prepare for this level or were you forced to travel?

A: The great thing about Michigan is that we have so many different lakes. You can find all kinds in a 30 mile radius.

We have reservoirs, natural lakes, man made, river systems, and all the types of structure you will find around the country right here in our own back yard. So I have spent a lot of time learning the differences in these lakes and how to catch fish in them. Also, we have some of the best local anglers. Most of the guys I’ve fished against are the best in the area and that competition is what makes you advance as an angler.

(Part 2 – Excerpt from Jonathan VanDam's 2008 Lansing fishing show)

Q: Just to stir the pot, I gotta ask who’s a better fisherman; Kevin or your dad?

A: Well everyone tells me that back in the day my dad was much better than KVD, but now my dad doesn’t get to go as much as Kevin. So Kevin is now much better. But he is still really, really good.

Q: Would your dad agree?

A: Yes, I think that he will agree with this statement.

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