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Ott DeFoe’s Journey to Becoming the 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion

Before the 2019 Bassmaster Classic began, Ott DeFoe of Blaine, Tennessee, near Knoxville, was the hands-down favorite to win. The Classic was held on the upper reaches of the Tennessee River at Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes. DeFoe had won several big bass tournaments in that area in the past. The good news was that both lakes were riverine-type lakes, and DeFoe was known as a river fisherman. The bad news was that he was fishing against 51 of the best bass fishermen in the world, including other Mossy Oak Fishing Team Pros, four-time Classic Champion Kevin VanDam and back-to-back 2017 and 2018 Classics Champion Jordan Lee. We asked DeFoe how he caught more big bass over the three-day tournament than the best-of-the-best anglers. 

Ott DeFoe weigh inEstablishing a Pattern

After the practice days, I really felt good about my chances to do well in the 2019 Classic. I thought I had multiple, completely different patterns that I had established that would produce bass for me during the tournament. I was fishing the backs of pockets off the river in very shallow water and catching a good number of bass. I also had established a pattern on main lakes, bars and points where I could catch bass. 

I had a couple of good bites during practice fishing docks, so I felt pretty confident that I knew where the bass were holding. I also understood how to catch them. I knew the week would have changing weather and water conditions throughout the tournament. My plan was if the weather or water conditions changed, and the bass I was catching quit biting, I had two other patterns I could fall back on and still catch bass. 

I also had picked out three lures to fish. During practice, I fished a Storm Arashi Vibe lipless crankbait in a color called Rusty Craw, and that was my key bait. My number-two lure was a 3/8-ounce chartreuse and white bladed jig. I caught a few bass on a spinner bait during practice and one or two on a crankbait, but the first two lures were the ones I decided the bass really wanted. 

On the first day of competition, I was fishing shallow points and chunk rocks with grass and gravel around them. I also fished some wood in the water. I weighed-in four bass caught on the Storm Arashi Vibe lipless crankbait and one bass that I caught on a Rapala DT 4 crankbait in the dark brown Craw color. My biggest bass of the day, a 6-pounder, was caught on the Storm Arashi Vibe lipless crankbait and was one of the biggest bass I'd ever caught on this section of the Tennessee River. 

I was the leader at the end of the first day, although I only caught eight keeper bass. The biggest bass I culled didn’t weigh 2 pounds. Even though I had a good day and was in the lead for the tournament, none of the bass I caught were easy. Since I finished the day with a total weight of 20 pounds, I felt good going to sleep that night. 

Disaster Strikes on the Second Day

Ott DeFoeThe second day of the 2019 Classic started off really good. I thought I had the bass figured out, and I felt like I should be able to put a good limit of five bass in my bag to take to the weigh-in. I started off with my Storm Arashi Vibe lipless crankbait fishing in the same area where I’d fished before. The first bass I landed weighed 3-1/2 pounds and shortly after that I caught my second keeper bass. In less than an hour, I caught another keeper. By about 10 a.m., I had three bass in my livewell. But after I put the third bass in the boat, I hit a brick wall. I couldn’t get a bite. I started fishing water I’d fished before and fishing new water I hadn’t fished. I just couldn’t put any more bass in the boat. Then, I decided to abandon my game plan and go to a bunch of rocks where I’d fished in previous years and caught some good-sized bass there. All I needed was two more keeper bass to finish off my five-bass limit. 

I also went in Turkey Creek and fished some shallow docks and shallow pilings with my 3/8-ounce chartreuse and white bladed jig. I finished my limit quickly fishing the docks and caught one bass big enough to cull one of the smaller bass I’d caught earlier. I think the changing weather conditions and the switch in wind direction is what caused me not to be able to catch bass toward the end of the day. I was so frustrated on the second day. I got mad when I couldn’t get a bite or catch a bass. I felt like I was giving the tournament away to another angler. 

I’d had a big first-day catch and thought, “If I can have two fair days now, I can win the Classic.” I was fishing as hard as possible yet couldn’t catch a keeper. I realized that other contestants probably would catch bigger limits of bass than me on the second day. At the end of the second weigh-in, I dropped from first to fourth place and was about 2 pounds behind the leader, Jacob Wheeler from Harrison, Tennessee. Jacob is a great fisherman and usually catches numbers of bass on this section of the Tennessee River. I wasn’t terribly discouraged, because I already knew about struggling to catch bass on this waterway. I made up my mind that I would work as hard and fish as hard as I ever had fished before on the last day of the 2019 Classic.

The 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion Lives Here

My plan for the last day of the 2019 Classic was to fish the historical places where I’d caught bass before on this body of water. I planned to go farther down the lake than I’d been fishing the first two days and fish new water that I hadn’t fished on the practice days or on any of the tournament days. I planned to fish past history. These places downriver were areas I’d fished in other tournaments and done well. I planned to take the patterns I’d learned in practice and fish those same patterns in this new water. 

I didn’t get a bite the first place I fished. The second place I stopped was one of my favorite points on the lake, and I hadn’t fished it previously on the Classic practice or competition days. I caught two keeper bass with a jerkbait – a 2-pounder and a barely keeper bass. I hooked a third bass, but it came off my hook before I could get it in the boat. I bounced around and caught quite a few small bass fishing docks. But the sun was starting to get high, and I still only had two bass in my livewell.

The wind wasn’t blowing at all, and I felt certain that the rest of the day would be pretty tough to catch a bass. With no wind and bright, bluebird skies, bass fishing can get tough anywhere. But those conditions were what I had in the middle of the day on the last day of the 2019 Classic. Suddenly, I felt a slight breeze and noticed it pushed a ripple across the water. I looked over at a point where I’d caught bass on the first day of the Classic, and didn’t catch any the second day of the tournament, but had caught bass there in other tournaments. 

Then the Good Lord said to me, “You’ve got to fish that point. You're about to end your day. You’ve got to give this place another chance. It’s not done yet.” There was no doubt in my mind that the Good Lord was talking to me. I’d heard that same voice on the first day of the tournament after I passed by a big rock and didn’t get a bite. “Remember, you didn’t think there was bass around that rock, and you caught bass there. Turn your boat around, go back, and fish that rock again.” 

I did as I was told, and that’s where I caught the 6-pounder on the first day of the tournament. When the Lord told me to go fish that point, I followed His instructions. I pray for God’s direction every single morning. Some people call these kinds of happenings a gut feeling or intuition, but I know where that direction comes from, and Who is speaking. Anytime I hear His voice I know He's poking me, prodding me and telling me I need to go do something. I caught some good bass over there. 

I also remembered when I came in from the second day of the tournament, one of my fellow anglers told me about a big marina near where I was fishing. When he was fishing around the marina, he’d gotten a couple of good bites. Since I was in that section of the lake, I decided to run to that marina and fish it for 5 minutes. I hadn’t been fishing the marina for 2 minutes when I caught a 2-1/2 pounder and then a 4-pounder. I finished my limit and was able to cull a few bass, because I caught those heavier bass around the marina. 

As soon as I got back to check in, and before I put my boat on the trailer, I called my wife Jennie who was at the arena watching the weigh-in. Calmly she said, “Well, looks like you won,” I knew that she wouldn’t say that to me if I weren’t close to winning, or if she was unsure whether I’d won or not. “You really don’t know but looks like you’ve done it,” Jennie said.  

Ott DeFoe 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion

Of course, I really didn’t believe that I would win, or that it was happening, but she made me feel much better anyway. When I finally realized I had won, I had the biggest feeling of relief that I could remember. I’d caught a good number of heavy fish, I didn’t have a breakdown, I got back on time and didn’t miss my deadline. And I’d controlled everything I could control in the tournament. I felt as though the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. 

Professionally, winning the Classic means everything to me and my family. I know that winning this one tournament can make my career as a professional angler. On a professional level, winning the Classic is everything I could ever ask to have. Personally, my Lord is everything, and He's number one. My family is number two, and fishing is number three. 

One of the neat things that happened during the Classic was that my 7-year-old twins, Lizzie and Parker, were at our house playing near the driveway. My daughter Lizzie wrote on the driveway with some sidewalk chalk, “The 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion Lives Here.” My oldest daughter, Abbie, is 11. 

I also want to thank Mossy Oak for all they’ve done for my family and me. Over the years, Mossy Oak has changed from being just a sponsor for me to being a part of my family. My family is very thankful for the company and all its people.

For more information on Ott, go to and visit him on Facebook.

For the full coverage from Mossy Oak on the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, read:

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