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Learning from the Fishing Pros

J.D. Blackburn

As a quick intro, in 2006, at the age of 31, I decided to start a small business working in the fishing industry. Since childhood, I have been fascinated by professional angling and the guys who made tournament fishing their career. So, it made sense to meet some of them and try to figure out how I could add value to their livelihood.

My first event was the 2007 Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, where I met a lot of pros, guys I had grown up watching, and some of the new guys in the one-year-old Bassmaster Elite Series. I met Mossy Oak pro Bill Lowen, then of North Bend, Ohio, and was impressed. Like everyone who meets him, I found him very down-to-earth.

Bill Lowen

Fishing with Bill Lowen

Fast forward to the first Elite event that season, and I'm now in the boat with Bill for a practice day. (A future rule change ended this opportunity.) I wanted to get to know Bill, take a few photos, learn some new tricks, and enjoy the day. Maybe in the back of my mind, I was curious if I could "hang" with a pro. After all, I did grow up bassing from the time I could walk and was certainly not a neophyte to the sport.

Billy caught 15 that day, and I caught two. He "shook off" the first one I caught (it was small) and told me to throw back in there. 

That day I accomplished all four goals; I got to know Billy, took some photos, learned a ton, and confirmed I had not missed my calling to be a professional angler.

Bill Lowen

As I raved about how good he was, Lowen humbly laughed it off but at one point shared a story about a friend who shared the back of his boat one day. Billy caught a dozen or so fish on a bank, and his friend caught zero behind him. Finally, his friend bet dinner that night that if he turned the boat around and fished back through the area that Lowen wouldn't catch another bass – because he had caught them all already! 

Lowen accepted the bet. And he paid for their dinner that night. He couldn't buy another bite and anecdotally proved that he had already caught every fish on the bank. After my experience, I believed that story completely.

What I learned from Ott DeFoe

I've also been fortunate to share the boat with other pros, none more so than Mossy Oak Fishing pro Ott DeFoe of Blaine, Tennessee. In addition, I have watched hundreds of hours of Ott fishing on his Go Pros for his YouTube channel. One key takeaway from watching is how important lure presentation is to catching bass. His casts are on the money 95% of the time. The average angler might be on the money 50% of the time, and a newbie might be on the money 5% of the time. The 5% of the time Ott's casts aren't on the money, he reels it up lightning-fast and puts the next one on the money -- and the next 18 after that.

How the lure enters the water is the start of the game to tricking the bass. Ott is also a master at finding the right cadence of whatever bait he's using to get bites. So many times, I've watched him vary his retrieves and angles to finally have that "light bulb" moment that starts the bass catching for that particular day. 

Ott DeFoe Bassmaster Classic

I've also watched him make some crazy presentations of his baits around boat docks, limbs, trees, etc. On Kentucky Lake one year, there was a particular spot on a floating dock holding a wad of bass, but on the second morning a pontoon boat was tied up to the dock. Ott fished around it without success but then trolled up next to the pontoon, gave it a push with his hand, backed out of the way, cast into the slip, and pulled out a solid three-pound fish. Once the pontoon floated back into the spot, he did it again and caught another keeper. 

Another time, Ott wanted to film a video on a section of a river he had never fished, so we headed out exploring. Recent rains made for challenging conditions, so we tried a few boat ramps and finally decided to run a long way in his river jet boat. He dodged boulders and rapids until we finally pulled up to a steep bank. I got my cameras ready and figured he would motor on up and get closer to the bank to start the day. 

As he put the trolling motor down, he picked up a baitcaster and fired a cast a country mile that landed softly right by some weeds on the bank and made zero splash. 

I literally laughed out loud, and Ott turned around and asked what was so funny. I told him he just made a cast that 99% of the people in the world couldn't make if you gave them 50 tries and unlimited warmups. 

Ott DeFoe casting in the rain

He's a casting ninja. 

Experiences like these have made that decision back in 2006 very rewarding. Working around pros like Lowen, DeFoe, and hundreds more has been a joy, and I appreciate and respect every opportunity and every professional angler out there.

I'll conclude my first blog with this: if you genuinely want to become a professional angler, you can. However, your level of success will be severely, and I mean severely, impacted by the quality of anglers you'll be fishing against. These pros can catch every bass on the bank and will move whatever stands or floats between them and the fish.

For the past 16 years, I've learned that I didn't miss my calling to be a great pro, but it might be yours. Watch Ott DeFoe's videos here on Mossy Oak Go, and read the articles with the pros. You'll pick up some excellent knowledge, and maybe I'll ride in the boat and learn from you one day!

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