By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Jonathon VanDam will have a little less on his mind next week at the Sabine River than he did during the Bassmaster Elite Series season opener at Lake Martin. It remains to be seen whether that's a good thing – he fished pretty well at Martin under the duress of imminent fatherhood.
The entire time he was in Alabama, he never knew whether his next cast would be his last for that event. With the possibility that wife Arika, back at home in Michigan, could go into labor with their first child at any moment, he was prepared for the phone call that would've brought an abrupt end to his tournament.
The call never came and he went on to record a 9th-place finish. Counting last year's Angler of the Year Championship event (which featured only 50 competitors), it was his third straight single-digit placement and his fifth dating back to the end of last April. He'd gone the entire 2016 season and through the first three events of 2017 without a top 10.
"It was definitely difficult to concentrate," he said of the Martin derby. "I had my phone on the whole time and there were a couple different plans, based on whether something happened or not or when it happened. It was tough to sleep not knowing if I'd be driving home at 2 (o'clock) in the morning and while I was fishing it was hard to focus on any pattern intricacies and pay attention to the smaller details.
"Luckily, I didn't end up having to deal with any of that other stuff. With the way our Series is anymore, just the amount of skill, you can't afford to (collect zero points for) a tournament and still have a chance to make the Classic."
So Far, So Good
VanDam's son, Matthew Jacob, was born on Feb. 20 – nine days after the conclusion of the Martin tournament. He said everything at home has progressed as smoothly as possible to this point.
"He's sleeping really good and he's healthy, so it's not going too bad," he said.
Now he's eagerly anticipating his return to competition after a seven-week break that encompassed the Bassmaster Classic, which he attended as a sponsor representative after a 42nd-place finish on last year's points list left him one spot short of qualification. His life is different now, but he hopes to continue churning out the same type of results on the water that have been his trend since late last spring.
"I'm trusting my instincts more, but still maybe not as much as I'd like to. It's something I'm going to work even harder at this year."
A major adjustment at Martin was the impetus for his high finish. He went to the venue with the notion of fishing for dep-water spotted bass the entire time and focused his practice on locating wads of such fish.
"I didn't have a great practice. If I'd stayed deep I probably could've caught 10 pounds a day and maybe gotten a check, but there's no way I was expecting to be in a top-10 position."
Revelation on Day 1
VanDam's fortunes at Martin turned for the better at about the midway point on day 1 of competition.
"I ran into a creek where I'd been catching some out deep and I caught a limit real quick, but they were all small," he said. "On the way back out I ran by one bank that I'd passed 10 to 15 times and I thought looked good, but I never took the time to fish it. I went down it with a crankbait and caught two 3-pounders and that clued me in.
"It was kind of a transition bank and in my mind, I knew there should be fish there. The creek ran up next to the bank and there was some good chunk rock with deeper water close by. It kind of necked down and with the (recent) rain, there was new current rolling through. All the scenarios were right for that time of year. I was able to get one or two fish there every day that were better than average, even though I didn't get that many bites."
If the Sabine fishes like it has historically, nobody will get all that many bites. But he'll at least be able to focus on getting as many as he can without worrying about a phone call that could get him an early start toward home.