The Bass Pro Tour continued their evolution and innovation with a “Heavy Hitters” event held at Lake Palestine in Texas. This unique format took the weight on an angler’s single largest bass from each regular season event and added the best five of them up. The 32 anglers with the top cumulative weights qualified for this unique big fish event.
Once on site, the qualifiers had two days of practice to learn the lake, and then they were divided into Group A and Group B. Only fish 2 pounds or larger counted during the qualifying rounds, and then during the championship round bass had to be at least 3 pounds to be scorable.
Once again, the Mossy Oak Fishing team showed its mettle, with multiple-time winner and world champion Ott DeFoe adding to his trophy case and putting another $100,000 in his bank account. It wasn’t easy by any means, but the East Tennessee superstar rode a solid strategy and years of experience to the crown. Keep reading to learn about his historic victory.
Mossy Oak Fishing Lake Breakdown
- Host: Tyler, Texas
- Lake Description: Lake Palestine is rather small by tour-level standard, a mere 25,000+ acres, with a maximum depth of 58 feet. It was constructed by impounding the Neches River in 1962 and while it has some aquatic vegetation, much of the available shallow cover consists of wood, including standing timber.
- Navigation: Like many Texas impoundments, the prevalence of standing timber, some of it cut off at surface level, makes careful navigation imperative.
- Bass Species Present: While there are some spotted bass in Palestine, it’s the big largemouths that comprise winning tournament bags – particularly under the Heavy Hitters format.
- Other Species Present: White bass, hybrid striped bass, crappie, catfish
- Forage Species: Palestine’s bass grow big on a varied diet, including white bass, crawfish, sunfish and shad. During this event, there was something of a shad spawn going on, so some bass were keyed in on that species. Meanwhile, other bass were spawning, and didn’t have eating on their minds.
- Weather: While the temperature was generally comfortable during the tournament, several of the days featured extremely high winds. DeFoe said the lake was “absolutely rolling.”
DeFoe has historically done minimal pre-fishing, to ensure that he’s fresh and fishing in the moment, and this tournament was no exception to that rule.
“I didn’t know anything about Palestine,” he started off. “I’ve never been there before. We were supposed to fish the Redcrest there last year, and some guys went and pre-fished. While he appreciated the 2-pound minimum weight requirement of the qualifying rounds, he knew that a 3-pound minimum in the finals would prove challenging for all competitors. Indeed, it did, but that worked to his advantage.
“The great thing about it was that it made it to where everyone was always in it,” he said. He weighed in four bass for over 16 pounds on the final day, and also had a 2-14, 2-12, 2-5, and 2-pounder that didn’t count, so while some people said it was tough fishing, he took solace in the fact that his best five would’ve been over 19 pounds.
DeFoe utilized a relatively simple strategy to get to that weight. By the time he’d fished several days, he still had multiple rods on the deck, but two of them did the heavy lifting:
- TX-rigged Bass Pro Shops Magnum Fin-Eke Worm (Sooner run)
- 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Worm Hook
- 3/16-oz VMC tungsten weight
- 40-lb braid to 17-lb Bass Pro Shops XPS fluoro
- BPS Johnny Morris Platinum Reel (8.3)
- 7' 1" MH BPS Johnny Morris Platinum Rod.
- 4.5" boot tail swimbait (Mullins madness)
- VMC Tokyo Rig
- 5/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook
- 3/8-oz VMC tungsten sinker
- 40-lb braid to 20-lb BPS XPS fluoro
- BPS Carbonlite Reel (8.3)
- 7' 3" H BPS Carbonlite Rod
Even when he dialed in the right baits, it still wasn’t easy. He beat the runner-up by a mere 12 ounces with his 16-06 final weight, and that was only possible because he caught two quality fish – a 4-10 and a 3-10 – in the last hour of competition in Saline Creek.
At a mere 36 years old, DeFoe continues his incredible career with yet another win – a resume that now includes a Bassmaster Classic championship, Opens wins, Bass Pro Tour victories and now this additional title.
“They’re all pretty special in their own way,” he said. Of course, while the Classic victory was on home waters of the Tennessee River in front of droves of friends and family, Texas has also been quite good to him. He’s previously won tournament on Lake Fork and Sam Rayburn.
“I don’t have a great answer for why I’ve done well in Texas,” he said. “Of course, Texas Parks and Wildlife does a fantastic job with their lakes. The places I’ve won on have been shallow water times of year when I can fish the way I like. Some of been similar to East Tennessee, some not.”
Repeat for Mossy Oak
In 2020, Mossy Oak pro Jordan Lee won the Heavy Hitters event on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida by the narrow margin of a single ounce. He also won the Berkley Big Bass Bonus in that event, for a total of $200,000 in winnings. Despite contending with a 3-pound minimum weight, he scored 52 pounds 9 ounces of bass in a single day and won by nearly 20 pounds.
Mossy Oak in Action
DeFoe wore his MLF-provided tournament jersey during the tournament, but one piece of unheralded clothing that made a big difference in his sight-fishing success was his BUFF UVX mask in a Mossy Oak Elements pattern. It allowed him to see the fish while blending into the sky above. The Mossy Oak Fishing neck gaiter is a good option too.
Top Lures at Palestine
DeFoe relied heavily on a pair of soft plastics to earn the vaunted title, but other competitors used a variety of shallow water tools to claim top finishes. They included swim jigs, creature baits and frogs. As the bass spawn transitions into the shad spawn and bass guarding fry, flashy spinnerbaits, topwaters and wake baits should be on the deck of every Palestine angler’s boat.