By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
A shining testament to persistence.
That'd be one way to describe Ott DeFoe's victory at the third MLF Bass Pro Tour event of the season in Texas. The former Bassmaster Classic winner committed himself to fishing offshore during the 10-angler Championship Round at Lake Athens after the first five rounds of the derby had played out at Lake Fork.
It looked like a faulty strategy for much of the day, but the latter half of the final period was absolutely glorious.
Over the final 75 minutes of the day, DeFoe boated 17 fish that weighed well over 3 pounds apiece on average. He finished the day with 69-12 (23 fish) to win by more than 28 pounds over runner-up Alton Jones Jr.
The big blow was a 9-06 bruiser – a fish that was 2 1/2 pounds heavier than any other caught during the day – with 32 minutes remaining that gave him the lead. He added a 5-03 just a few minutes later, and then the rout was on.
He could've finished with more than 75 pounds, but he slow-played a 5-06 that he hooked in the final seconds because he didn't want to boat-flip it and possibly break off his Rapala DT 10.
He saw the 1,800-acre lake's offshore potential during his visit a couple of days earlier. To capitalize on it, he had to get through Monday's Knockout Round, which he barely did as the 8th-place finisher.
"It's pretty incredible that it ended this way," he said. "With an hour to go, I was 20 pounds back. I knew I had to keep staying the course and it paid off.
"I'm just so thankful that I made it through yesterday. That was such a stressful day."
Jones finished 2nd with 41-09 (13 fish). Mark Daniels, the leader for much of the Championship Round, managed just three scoreable fish in the final period and ended up with 13 for 39-02.
Brent Chapman was 4th with 37-13 (13 fish), followed by Brandon Coulter with 28-01 (12), Keith Poche with 21-09 (nine), Jeff Sprague with 20-06 (seven), Andy Montgomery with 11-05 (five), Justin Atkins with 11-01 (four) and Bryan Thrift with 10-08 (four).
DeFoe, who's finished 3rd, 12th and 1st in the three tournaments this season, will supplant Jacob Wheeler as the leader in the Angler of the Year points race. It was a year ago this week that he won the Classic on his home water (the Tennessee River out of Knoxville, Tenn.), and three months later he underwent surgery to repair a torn mitral valve in his heart, causing him to miss the BPT regular-season finale at Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin.
His late rally at Athens, during which he used a bucktail jig, a jerkbait and a Neko rig in addition to the DT 10, bordered on the ridiculous. He'd have won by a double-digit margin with only the fish he caught between 4:45 and 6 p.m.
Alton Jones Jr.'s 2nd-place finish was his best ever at the tour level.
"I was committed offshore – I wasn't going to come here and beat the bank," he said. "I saw the potential the other day in the places where the fish were grouped up and there was no way I could compete going down the bank if I could get this going. I just didn't think it was going to be so hard; I was rather disappointed in my morning.
"I thought I could catch a hundred pounds on this deal and if I could've gotten on them earlier in the day, I would have. I had a place in the back of the creek where I thought I could catch 60 pounds in the first hour, but I only caught three for 8 or 9 pounds; I just couldn't get them fired up. Still, I knew I had to stay in an offensive mode and just keep pushing."
Jones had an excellent final period of his own (seven fish for 25-05) to register his best-ever tour-level finish. It was his second single-digit placement of 2020 – he was 4th at Lake Eufaula.
Chapman, who was 6th at Eufaula and 24th at Okeechobee, will slot in directly behind DeFoe in the AOY standings. He tallied 19-05 in the third period on seven scoreables.
Daniels, whose Group A qualifying win allowed him to bypass the Knockout Round, had an advantage of almost 13 pounds to start the final period before his action dried up. His quick start was buoyed by a fish that was just a couple ounces shy of 7 pounds.
He targeted spawning fish – some that he could see and others that he couldn't.
"I think the storm that came through last night messed things up," he said. "On my practice day I had so many bites that it was unbelievable and I'd anticipated catching a lot of fish today, but it didn't take long to realize that something wasn't right.
"When they pull off (the beds), they get goofy and when that happens it strengthens the offshore deal. I think that's what ended up happening."
Full details of DeFoe's winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published in the coming days.
1. Ott DeFoe -- 23, 69-12 -- $100,000
2. Alton Jones Jr. -- 13, 41-09 -- $42,000
3. Mark Daniels, Jr. -- 13, 39-02 -- $30,000
4. Brent Chapman -- 13, 37-13 -- $24,000
5. Brandon Coulter -- 12, 28-01 -- $18,000
6. Keith Poche -- 9, 21-09 -- $16,800
7. Jeff Sprague -- 7, 20-06 -- $15,600
8. Andy Montgomery -- 5, 11-05 -- $14,400
9. Justin Atkins -- 4, 11-01 -- $13,200
10. Bryan Thrift -- 4, 10-08 -- $12,000