PALATKA, Fla. — At just 19 years old, Jonathan VanDam has a command of the St. Johns River that would — and likely did — make veteran anglers rather envious.
VanDam, of Kalamazoo, Mich., took over the lead after Friday's Day 2 in the Bassmaster Southern Open with a big bag of 24 pounds, 1 ounce, for a two-day total of 40 pounds, 3 ounces.
VanDam, who moved up from third place, is the nephew of three-time Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam. The teenager admits his uncle, along with his father and grandfather, has taught him a lot about successful fishing.
Day 1 leader Chris Daniels of Panama City, Fla., stayed in contention, slipping to second with a two-day total of 37-1.
Hometown favorite Lee Stalvey of Palatka, jumped from ninth place to third with a two-day total of 29-5. Greg Pugh, of Cullman, Ala., is tied for fourth with Bassmaster Elite Series pro Peter Thliveros, both with a total of 29-3.
The top 30 anglers and co-anglers advanced to Saturday's final round of fishing.
VanDam fished a lot of areas all over the river, covering spawning fish and the pre-spawn and throwing deep-diving crankbaits in 2 to 13 feet of water. He found two areas that were particularly successful and said that in one of his favorite spots he was catching one on almost every cast.
This is VanDam's first BASS event as a pro, though he previously has fished BASS events as a co-angler. His big fish of the day, at 6 pounds, 13 ounces, nearly didn't make it into the boat.
"It was windy, and I kind of knew the area it was in, and I caught that one on a drop shot, actually," he said. "I was scared because I was only using 12-pound test on a spinning rod, with a Bass Trix minnow."
Thliveros, who caught 15-10 Thursday, used the same strategy for a second day, fishing the same seven or eight areas, but he caught smaller fish Friday and weighed in 13-9.
"These fish get really sensitized to baits, the longer you sit there it's kind of detrimental," said Thliveros, who used a Carolina rig Zoom trick worm, Okeechobee color. "You have to keep switching up and get them to bite something different.
A lot of these fish are schooled up, some of them are actually surface schooling. It's bad when you can see them and they won't bite."
Fred Hood of Georgia remains in the lead in the co-angler division with a two-day total of 18 pounds, 3 ounces. Florida's Trevor Fitzgerald is in second with 15-9.
Pro angler Brian Hatfield weighed in the Purolator Big Bass of the day at 8-1.
Live, streaming footage of the weigh-ins will be available on www.ESPNOutdoors.com. Real-time leaderboards can be accessed on the site.