Elite Series Sunshine Showdown

TAVARES, Fla. -- It's been said that the best lessons are the hardest ones learned.

If that's true, Jonathon VanDam went to school in his debut Elite event. His mistake didn't cost him cash or a cut, but it did wake him up to what could be lost in the high-stakes events.

Jonathon VanDam (JVD) has the confidence of a 10-year veteran, and he seems to have the skills to back it up.

In 2009, he won a Northern Open on Lake Erie, where he beat out 104 anglers for the title. He qualified for the Elites through the Southern Opens in 2010, where he scored a Top 5 finish at Lake Seminole and finished 13th overall in points.

In his first Elite Series event, he placed fifth out of 99 of the world's best anglers, and one place behind his world-famous uncle Kevin.

Though he finished nine pounds behind Kevin, the younger VanDam fell prey to unpreparedness. With 20 minutes until his 4 o'clock check-in time, he depressed the 'start' button on his Triton, but the only sound that his Mercury made was 'click.'

The cranking battery was dead. VanDam rigs his boat from top to bottom by himself in an effort to prevent foul-ups by inexperienced hands. Rigging his own boat also makes it easier to pinpoint problems when they arise.

So, when VanDam's cranking battery wouldn't turn the outboard over, he sprang into action. In the best-case scenario, all he would have had to do was connect the starting battery to the trolling battery via jumper cables. But, jumper cables were nowhere to be found.

With box wrenches in hand, he unscrewed the nuts holding the power cables to the batteries, slashed at them with a pocket knife and rigged up a new system that managed to eke out enough power to turn the big Merc over. He arrived at the ramp two minutes late, costing him two pounds.

If the lesson "carry jumper cables" didn't set in by then, uncle Kevin noticed his tardiness and piled on.

"You weren't late, were you Johnny?" Kevin said.

"Yeah," JVD sheepishly replied. "My cranking battery was dead."

"Dang it, Johnny," Kevin scolded. "Don't you have jumper cables? No? How come? Do you have a spare trolling motor? Prop? I carry a spare everything. How did you have the thing wired? Get the service crew to look it over before next week."

The verbal spanking lasted no longer than JVD's late penalty, but in that time, valuable lessons were learned -- not from the best angler of all time -- but from hard knocks.

And you can bank on his Triton carrying some jumper cables for his second Elite Series event.