This week marked the last regular season event for the B.A.S.S. Elite tour, resulting in the Top 50 moving to the AOY Championship. Ott DeFoe took down the title, as everyone involved in pro fishing knew he eventually would.
I remember meeting Ott years ago at an early FLW event; my first impression being surprised at how mature he was for his young age. Friends and cohorts of DeFoe will tell you he’s a hammer in the bass arenas, despite his laid-back demeanor, and will end up being one of the sport’s legends. From what I’ve come to know, I have to agree.
So my congrats to Ott DeFoe; you’ve officially earned your stripes. But the big story of the Plano B.A.S.S. Elite on the Mississippi River may have been that of the first runner-up.
Seth Feider accomplished the unthinkable, at least when you see it from the inside. By finishing the tournament in 2nd place, Feider locked up the final qualifying spot for the year-end AOY Championship this week.
What’s so remarkable about finishing in 50th place in the points? Consider the situation.
Although Feider’s roughly the same age as DeFoe, his road to the top hasn’t been quite as smooth. Fishing his second year on the Elite tour and sitting in 69th place for the season, Feider was as close to mathematically eliminated for the year-end championship as possible. Going into the Mississippi River event, Feider would need to have the best finish of his young career to make the post-season.
Add to this that Feider would be competing in his backyard, on waters he intimately knew, and such compounds the pressure rather than relieving it. For certain, all of his friends and family expected the moon, yet Feider had lived the bass pro dream for 2 years now, realizing disappointment comes far more often than greatness.
Even more pressure was built in, as the final event – the AOY Championship – would take place on Feider’s favorite lake, and one he had already pre-fished for dozens of days last fall. Missing the tournament meant another considerable loss on investment.
But when the pressure was on, Feider delivered.
With such a stellar performance, Feider placed himself inside the cut and kept the dream of qualifying for the 2017 Bassmaster Classic alive. While the possibilities may be slim, at least there’s a chance, and that’s all a guy could ask for.
So an established veteran wins again, a new kid stays alive, and all is good in the world, right?
Maybe. But a few fans have mentioned DeFoe’s win might come with an asterisk, at least in the privacy of back-room conversations.
You see, DeFoe got help. Not the kind we continuously hear scuttlebutt about, like locals escorting pros to their hotspots, or spectators yelling out tips. Instead, DeFoe gave credit where it was due, admitting fellow competitor Gerald Swindle aided him the final day by revealing a location and lure to catch a quick limit after DeFoe had struggled throughout the morning. Heeding the advice, DeFoe put a few fish in the boat from the G-Man’s location and cooled his jets, later adding more bass from various locations and compiling the winning string.
A few fans cried foul over the occurrence, stating that Feider deserved the win. In fact, Feider mentioned that his close friends “now hate Gerald Swindle," although Feider himself feels no qualms. “It was meant to be for Ott,” he stated. “He’s been doing it a long time.”
So is this type of thing wrong, and just how often is it going on?
I asked DeFoe about bass pros helping each other out. “It goes on a good bit,” he mentioned.
In addition, DeFoe said that nearly all touring pros have at least one confidant that they share fishing information with. “You’re crazy if you don’t have one,” he said, "but you’re stupid if you have two.”
DeFoe works closely with roommate Andy Montgomery, and has seen the relationship go both ways. In the end, the point is to each get paid, DeFoe said, and putting their heads together has resulted in a lot of $10,000 checks going to an otherwise struggling fisherman.
Early on in pro fishing, Rick Clunn adamantly stated that getting help from anyone simply takes away from a fisherman’s chances of truly unlocking the lake. Yet, in today’s age, it may be necessary, especially if everyone else is doing it. Think about it: Would you rather have to beat Ott DeFoe, or Ott DeFoe and Andy Montgomery?
We see this team mentality in other sports, most notably NASCAR, where drivers have been known to nudge competitors into the wall, ensuring victory for a teammate. Thankfully, we haven’t seen that level of aggression in bass fishing, but it brings up an idea: Will the “team” concept ever truly materialize?
I’ve often thought close-knit sponsor groups, like those at Strike King or Berkley, might result in a competitive super-power if all teammates worked together. However, for it to happen, each member of the group would have to believe in a positive result.
It’s funny, after considering the pros and cons of competitors helping competitors, I posed a question to runner-up Feider. Had he ever been given direct information from another Elite pro while in a tournament?
“Just once,” he admitted. “From Ott DeFoe.”
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)