By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Of the nine MLF Bass Pro Tour anglers who competed against Ott DeFoe in the Championship Round of the recent event at Sam Rayburn Reservoir, only one had a smaller "big fish" for the day – and that by only an ounce. That statistic was a microcosm of the quantity-over-quality approach that carried the Tennessean to a March victory for the third consecutive year.
Had it been a five-fish limit tournament, DeFoe would not have spent his time where he did. But since every 2-plus-pounder he caught added to his total under the catch-weigh-immediate release format, the northern portion of the venue was viable during a time when the renowned Texas lake fished tougher than many had anticipated.
"It was part of my thought process before I left the house," DeFoe said. "I'd only fished one other tournament there – the BASSFest in 2017 that (Brandon) Palaniuk won, and other than that I'd only had a day here and a day there for filming and stuff.
"I knew that some people had done well in some tournaments up north and a lot of those were lower-weight events. You could catch plenty of fish, but you wouldn't catch the 30-pound bags."
DeFoe almost gave up on the northern part of the lake on the initial practice day.
"At one point in time, it was about 10 o'clock, I was going down a line of bushes and I saw some schooling fish chasing baitfish," he said. "I caught two shorts and two that were maybe scorables, but by 12:30 or 1 I hadn't had another bite. I'd caught four fish off one point and that was it.
"I moved shallow and started throwing a swimjig and I caught a 4 1/2- to 5-pounder and 10 minutes later I caught another one that was 2 1/2. I cut the hook off the swimjig and I got a lot of good bites that I thought were scorable."
He had to spend only three days on the water during the event as he won the two-day Group A Qualifying Round to advance directly to the finals, bypassing the Knockout Round. His daily averages were in the neighborhood of 13 scorable fish for 30 pounds.
He used a wide variety of offerings throughout the derby that included a Rapala DT4, a homemade square-bill crankbait, a Bass Pro Magnum Fin-Eke Worm, a Bass Pro Wacky Stick-O worm, the swimjig and a frog..
He had one key place that was fruitful throughout the event that he described as a little gap in some scrubby trees. The bottom was muddy, the left side was a hard line of bushes and there was some primrose in the back. It was perhaps the size of two boats and the water was dirty (perhaps of foot of visibility).
His boat was in less than four feet of water and he was casting to less than two feet.
"I think the deal why it was so good was it was an exit route for fish that had been in there spawning," he said. "The vast majority of the fish I caught were post-spawn – basically every scoreable bass."
He found two small groups of fish late on day 2 of his Qualifying Round and visited them three times in the Championship Round. The first two occasions produced nothing, but the final foray late in the day resulted in the three fish that allowed him to overtake eventual runner-up Luke Clausen.
The second of those fish, a 2-12, put him in a tie with Clausen, although no one who wasn't in his boat knew about it immediately because he'd gone outside the connectivity range for ScoreTracker. The final one, a 2-13, provided him with his margin of victory.
Winning Gear Notes
> Cranking gear: 7' medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Cranking Stick, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum casting reel (6.8:1 ratio), 14-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT 4 (penguin) or custom-painted homemade square-bill.
> Bladed jig gear: 7'3" heavy-action Bass Pro Shops Cranking Stick, Bass Pro Shops CarbonLite casting reel (7.5:1 ratio), 17-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS flurocarbon, 3/8-ounce homemade bladed jig (chartreuse/white), Bass Pro Shops Super Shad trailer (white ice).
> Worm gear: 7'1" medium-action Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum spinning reel, 10-pound Bass Pro Shops Hyper Braid (main line), 12-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon (leader), size 1 VMC Weedless Neko hook, Bass Pro Shops Wacky Stick-O (black/blue).
> Swimjig gear: 7'1" medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum rod, Bass Pro Shops Johnny Morris Platinum casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 50-pound Bass Pro Shops Hyper Braid line, 3/8-ounce Terminator Heavy Duty swimjig (black/blue/chartreuse), generic craw-style trailer (green-pumpkin/blue flake).
> He threw a Terminator Popping Frog (cocoa camo) on the same gear that he used for the swimjig.
> He added a couple of fish on a bone-colored walking bait.
> DeFoe's heaviest fish in the Championship Round weighed 2-15.
> He won the BPT event at Lake Fork (also in Texas) a year ago this month and the Bassmaster Classic in March 2019.