Four days on Lake Michigan produced four different tournament leaders at the Bassmaster Elite Series Green Bay Challenge. But it was the leader at the end of today’s final competition round who takes home the trophy, $100,000 in first-place prize money and an automatic berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. That distinction belongs to Jonathon VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., who bested 97 of the best bass anglers in the world with a four-day catch of smallmouth bass weighing 79 pounds, 2 ounces.
VanDam saved his best performance for the last round, boating a limit of five smallmouth that weighed 23-4 and edging ahead of Idaho’s Brandon Palaniuk, the tournament leader going into the final round, by 2-6.
VanDam fished a Strike King Dream Shot plastic worm in KVD Magic (green and silver with blue flake) on a drop shot rig above a 3/8-ounce sinker for the bulk of his catch. Though he struggled early, falling behind Palaniuk and others, he came on strong in the last couple of hours to claim the championship.
“I went through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows today,” VanDam said on stage moments before his uncle, legendary angler Kevin VanDam, handed him the tournament trophy and set a Green Bay Packers’ cheese head atop his fishing cap. “I didn’t have my first keeper until about noon. I was a train wreck, but I kept grinding, and it paid off.”
Along with the Elite Series win and six-figure payday, VanDam earns a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake out of Tulsa, Okla. It will be his first appearance in the championship that his Uncle Kevin has dominated with 22 consecutive appearances and four wins since 2001.
“Words just don’t describe what this means to me,” VanDam said. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment for a long time.”
The win is VanDam’s second as a B.A.S.S. pro and first at the Elite level. He becomes the second youngest Elite champion in history at 23 years and 10 months of age. Elite Series angler Casey Ashley was six months younger when he won on Smith Mountain Lake in 2007.
On the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year front, the race is close going into the season finale at the Oneida Lake Challenge, Aug. 23-26. Brent Chapman of Kansas leads the race with 566 points. Ott DeFoe of Tennessee is second with 553, and Todd Faircloth of Texas is third with 546. It promises to be the tightest AOY race in years and could come down to the final day of competition at Oneida.
Several anglers earned bonuses at the Green Bay Challenge:
* Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, which paid $750, plus another $750 if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing: Jonathon VanDam, who caught a 5-11 smallmouth on Day 4.
* Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Jonathon VanDam’s 23-4 on Day 4.
* Power-Pole Captain’s Cash of $1,000 if the winner has Power-Poles installed on his boat: Jonathon VanDam.
* Toyota $1,000 bonus to the leader in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Brent Chapman with 566 points.
* Luck “E” Strike Comeback Award of $500 to the most-improved pro in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Brandon Palaniuk.