The Engineering of a Bass Pro: Meet JVD


Genetics are often defined as units made up of a sequence of DNA. These “genes” are the fundamental building blocks of all life. Families pass on their unique genetic coding from one generation to the next. Over time, certain characteristics are added and subtracted. This is called “evolution.”

Evolution through genetic inheritance is widely documented and often regarded to be responsible for the success of many living things. When certain genetic traits are identified, they can be paired with other genetic traits in order to produce a superior offering. This theory is proven daily with such examples as hunting dogs, race horses, giant whitetail bucks, champion bucking bulls, etc. Can this same theory be applied to humans as well as animals? The short answer is absolutely. Look for example at Bobby and Brett Hull. Both are hall of fame hockey players. How about Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr? Then you have the Andrettis and Earnharts in auto racing. Other shining examples are Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning in the NFL. These are but a few of the countless examples that suggest that genetic inheritance has a significant influence on athletic ability.

One other commonly accepted variable in the equation of a successful athlete is environment. If a potential athlete is nurtured in an environment that promotes the successful development of his or her skill, they are much more likely to succeed.

So, we’ve determined that both genetic inheritance and environment independently provide a strong foundation for success. We must also then concur that combined, these two variables must even further elevate one’s chances at achievement. If this is understood to be the case, then I would like to introduce you to what might be pro angling’s next superstar, Jonathan VanDam. As if being blessed with the most sacred name and genetics in pro fishing isn’t enough, Jonathan, also known as JVD, has been reared in an environment that promoted his success and ability. Jonathan grew up immersed in the world of fishing, hunting and sporting goods. He spent his youth split between his dad’s sporting goods store, D&R Sports, in Kalamazoo, MI and fishing with his grandpa, dad and uncle. This laid a solid foundation for his interest in the outdoors and tournament fishing in particular.

KVD is not the only VanDam who can catch ‘em. Randy, Jonathan’s dad and Kevin’s brother, is also a very accomplished angler in his own rite. His most notorious angling exploit is probably catching the Ohio state record smallmouth of 9 lbs. 8 oz. Randy has also won a few state championships at the federation level. It is rumored that back in the day, big brother might have been the better angler of the two. Nevertheless, Randy has gone on to run one of the most successful sports shops in the country and Kevin has gone on to pretty much dominate the sport of bass fishing. In the meantime, young Jonathan has been taking it all in.

Jonathan is fresh off of his rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series at the young age of 23. He says that he is “pleased with his first season on tour,” which included two top 10 finishes, but “hopes to be more consistent next season.” His biggest goal for 2012 is to qualify for the Bassmasters Classic. Jonathan feels that his upbringing has prepared him for the pro tour but he said “It was honestly harder than I expected. Not that I am taking anything away from the greatest anglers in the world, but what I mean is that these guys break a lake down fast! They don’t miss anything. If you go out there and find one thing that you think is off the beaten path, don’t worry, someone else has found it too.”

Regardless of his last name, JVD’s tournament results speak for themselves. He is a self-described “power fisherman” but is also handy with the finesse techniques that most northern anglers are known for. He cites his lack of experience on southern waters as his biggest current weakness, but based on the fact that 4 of his 6 top 10 finishes have come south of the Mason Dixon line, he seems to be working through that.

As you might expect, Jonathan is constantly asked how much Uncle Kevin helps him out. He does credit KVD with giving him advice in regards to confidence, on which he wrote the book, as well as the business side of fishing. He says that KVD also talks with him about what the fish are doing where they are heading next and general stuff like that but honestly doesn’t get too in depth. “He never really gives me spots. He’s really good about letting me figure things out and kind of grooming my abilities but he’s always in the background. I feel like most people think that he does more for me than he really does,” says JVD.

Aside from getting a full-time lesson in fishing on the Elite Series, Jonathan is furthering his education in the classroom as well. He is currently taking a full course load at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and also takes some classes at Western Michigan. His major is marketing, which also adds to his value for his sponsors. He knows his formative years spent in a tackle shop lend him to having a broad knowledge of tackle and the fishing industry. “I’ve been able to see and try out just about everything out there from proven stuff to the little known underground niche stuff. This allows me to be well versed in tackle design and application,” JVD says. Jonathan, who has grown up using Strike King products, also goes on to say “I don’t mean to take anything away from the veterans, but I grew up in a generation whose focus has been on advancement of technology. I believe I bring a younger, and possibly different, perspective to Strike King in terms of lure ideas and design.”

From a childhood that revolved around the outdoors, to an education in marketing and the fishing industry, to a little genetic favor, Jonathan VanDam has all the ingredients necessary to be among the top tier in this sport. All it’s going to take now is time and based on his attitude, drive and determination, it’s not going to take much of that before the next VanDam is knocking on the door of angling stardom.

This story originally appeared on

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