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Ott DeFoe Explains How He’ll Fish the 2019 Bassmaster Classic

When Mossy Oak Fishing asked 33-year-old Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tennessee, who has won five Bassmaster tournaments in the past, how he was getting ready for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic on Fort Loudoun Lake near Knoxville, Tennessee, and where and how he’d be concentrating his efforts to win, DeFoe answered, “This will be my eighth Bassmaster Classic. Since it’s a prespawn Classic, I'll be looking for places where the bass will be staging before the spawn. The weather conditions aren’t really wintertime anymore and not springtime. Also, the bass will be between the deep water where they spend the winters and the shallow water where they move up to spawn. The bass are searching for deep-water security near shallow water where they can warm up, feed and create their beds. They’ll probably be spawning in another 3-4 weeks after the Classic. But right now, I expect them to be in that in-between water from deep to shallow.” 

Ott DeFoe

Last week at the end of February, we had 70-degree weather one day and 20-degree weather the next day. If very cold weather hits before or during the Classic, that cold weather will back those bass away from the shallow water even more. Then those shallow parts of the lake that don’t have deep water close to them probably won’t be holding very many bass. That’s why I’ll search for deep water within a cast of shallow water. The bass probably won’t move to really deep water, if the area has cold weather. More than likely, they’ll move back to 8- or 10-foot deep water. 

Before I arrive at the Classic, I hope to have at least 50 spots picked out that I want to try and fish during the practice days. I may fish some of these places multiple times in one day, but other locations I only may fish one time during the entire Classic. There are two reasons I’ll fish the same spot several times during the day. If I find an area of the lake where I've caught a good bass or had quite a few strikes or have seen bass on my depth finder, then I know bass are there. If I don’t catch bass the first time I fish there, they just may not be biting. So, I may return one or two more times during that same day, hoping to arrive when the bass are biting. I fish Fort Loudoun, Douglas and Cherokee lakes quite a bit, and I consider these my three home lakes. 

I've had more than a few people ask me, “How will you overcome the curse of fishing your home lake?” I know that you can fish places fished in the past. However, if past history isn’t producing bass in the size and numbers I want to catch, I’ll have to be open-minded enough to just go fishing and start looking for bass in spots I haven’t fished before and try to catch them. When I've done well in tournaments that I fish on these three lakes, I've taken my history of fishing those lakes and combined that with the current conditions on the lake during a tournament. In other words, if I develop a pattern on one part of the lake, then I know I generally can duplicate that pattern and should be able to catch bass in other similar sections of the lake. Using that system, I can make my history of that lake work for me. However, if I say to myself, “I caught a lot of bass on this location several years ago, and according to water and weather conditions they should be in that same place during this tournament,” and I go to that spot and don’t locate bass, then history isn’t working for me. It’s working against me. 

I think another aspect of the home-lake curse is that all your family and friends will be in the audience each day that you come to weigh-in and all hoping that you'll win. No one wants to disappoint our family and friends. However, I feel very fortunate that my wife Jennie helps me. She spends time with my friends and family and helps them understand that I've got to keep my head in the game to try and win. That takes a lot of pressure off me and lets me stay focused on the task at hand. 

Another big distraction of the Classic is Media Day. Many anglers feel like they need to be working on their tackle rather than working with the media, but they realize the media is important to their sponsors and fan base. Because I don’t live far from where the tournament is being held, I won’t even think about my tackle on Media Day. I’ll do the best I can to work with the writers and reporters at Media Day, but when I leave that event, I’ll go home, sit down and prepare my tackle for the first day of competition.

A question I'm often asked is, “How many pounds of bass do you believe an angler will have to catch for three days to win the Classic?” I believe the winner will have to catch 48 pounds or more to be crowned as the 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion, a daily limit of five bass that weigh a little more than three pounds each. As far as the biggest bass caught in the tournament, I think a 7-pounder may be brought in, and I'm pretty sure someone will catch a 6-pound-plus bass. I’d be really surprised to see an 8-pounder brought to the scales. 

Ott DeFoe Bassmaster Classic

I try not to look at the Classic any differently than I look at another tournament except for my line. In most tournaments, if I practice fish with line, I don’t worry about fishing the tournament with that same line. However at the Classic, I’ll put fresh line on each rod and reel before the Classic starts. I hope I only have to put new line on about only three rods, but I’ll have 15 rods ready to use if I need them. 

In this Classic, I expect to catch the bass in water 10-feet-or-less deep. I don’t believe the bass will be holding in 15-feet-deep water. I don’t think this tournament will be won by only fishing one secret lure. I think the person who wins this Classic will fish a wide variety of lures, including soft plastics, crankbaits and spinner baits. I think each contestant will have to adjust his lure selection every day to catch the size and number of bass required to win. 

Another trait to look for in the competitor who wins the Classic is how he deals with his emotions. Being positive and thinking you can win is always a good mindset. However, when things go wrong, you miss fish, you lose fish, or a big one gets off your hook before you can bring the bass to the boat, those things happening can shake your confidence. The angler who can overcome adversity, which we’re all going to have, either will place real high in the event or win it.  

Winning the 2019 Classic would be awesome for me. But at the same time, I know that losing this Classic won’t make or break my career. At the end of the day, winning the 2019 Bassmaster Classic isn’t the most important thing in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to win it, but keeping everything in perspective helps me keep my mind right. 

I’ve been asked what could cause me to win, and what would cause me to lose. One of the advantages I have is that I’ve fished this section of the Tennessee River for many years under various water and weather conditions. I believe I have a grasp on where the bass will be holding no matter what fishing conditions we may have. But I also must greet each day as though I’ve never fished there before. History probably will be my ally or my enemy. 

Personally and professionally a Classic win would mean so much to me and my family. For my business of being a professional angler, a Classic win would be huge and an event around which I could build a career. If I were 10 pounds behind on the last day of the Classic, I’d plan to fish the section of the lake that I thought would give me the best chance to catch a five-fish limit of 25 or 30 pounds, and I’d fish with larger lures. If I were two pounds in the lead on the last day, I’d fish about the same way I’d fished on the other days of the tournament. I’d feel like I should be able to catch another 16 pounds of bass on the last day and have a good chance of winning, unless someone’s caught five bass that have weighed 25 pounds that last day. 

This year’s Classic will be a great one with 52 of the best bass anglers in the world having an opportunity to win. I’ll work and fish hard and give my best effort to make the podium on the last day.

For more coverage of the Mossy Oak Fishing Team at the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, read:

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