Ott DeFoe of Blaine, Tennessee, is 33 years old, has earned $1,249,514 fishing in Bassmaster tournaments and is in fourth place going into the Angler of the Year tournament at Georgia’s Lake Chatuge on September 20. Last weekend DeFoe fished the Bassmaster Eastern Open on Douglas Lake in the greater Knoxville, Tennessee, area and won.
I knew I’d have to fish the three rivers that fed into Douglas Lake, and that at this time of the year in early September, Douglas Lake would become very difficult for catching bass. But by moving into the shallow rivers at the head of the lake, I knew I’d find some current there. I realized before I fished the tournament that getting into that shallow water that had the most current was the key to winning. I’d need a shallow-draft boat. So, I borrowed an aluminum boat with a 150 horsepower motor from one of my friends that only drafted about 14 inches of water. When I got the boat up on plane, I knew it would run in only seven inches of water. That was my game plan for this tournament.
Of the three rivers that fed Douglas Lake - the Nolichucky, the French Broad and the Pigeon - I primarily fished the French Broad and some, too, in the Pigeon during this Bassmaster tournament. I fished three baits:
- 1/2-ounce Terminator Pro jig in black and blue with a Bass Pro Elite Chunk in green pumpkin with blue flake on its back on 20-pound-test XPS fluorocarbon line on the first tournament day
- Terminator Walking Frog Jr. in a smoke, silver-shad color on 50-pound-test Bass Pro Braid line
- And on the final day, a Bass Pro Shops Magnum Fin-Eke worm in green pumpkin, Texas-rigged with a 3/16-ounce Swagger Tungsten weight and a No. 3/0 VMC heavy-duty wire hook on 17-pound-test XPS fluorocarbon line
The water depths fished and the lures used played major roles in my winning. But the real key to my success was knowing when to switch the kinds and colors of lures, depending on the changing conditions in the lake. The only constant when you’re fishing a river is that there will be change. Rivers go up and down, and they’re either becoming more clear or more muddy. The two rivers I fished were steadily dropping. Typically when a river’s water falls, that water becomes more clear. That’s why I had to change my bait selection and the style of bait I was using.
The first day the rivers were up, and they were the dirtiest they’d be during the tournament. That was the day that the jig produced best for me. On the second day, the rivers started falling and clearing up somewhat. That was when I switched to the frog. The final day, the rivers dropped even more but didn’t clear up much. The bite on that final day was very difficult. So, I had to finesse fish with the worm. I caught some of my bass in 1 foot of water and the rest of them in water as deep as 2-1/2 feet. However, all the bass I caught were in skinny water less than 3-feet deep.
On the first day, one other angler was fishing where I was. But on the last two days, I had that shallow water all to myself. The majority of the anglers in the tournament didn’t have a boat shallow enough to get into the skinny water where I was fishing. I’ve learned that oftentimes to get to a place where bass are holding, especially in hot weather, you may need a very shallow draft boat. Knowing that helped me finish first and added $50,000 to my winning total for the year.
I leave on Tuesday, September 18, to go to Lake Chatuge on the North Carolina/Georgia border to fish in the Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship. Currently I’m in fourth place for AOY. Mathematically, although I’m in fourth place, there’s still no way I can win the title, even if I win the tournament. The first-place angler is more than 50 points ahead of me in the standings for the Elite Field for 2018. I possibly could finish third for the year, but the first and second place anglers are too far ahead of me in points for me to catch them. However, unless I sink my boat on the AOY tournament’s first day, I feel I’ve got a comfortable opportunity to fish in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.