By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Ott DeFoe's 2020 Bass Pro Tour campaign included a victory, a 3rd-place finish and two other Top-12 showings in a season shortened to five events due to the coronavirus pandemic. Jacob Wheeler also had a win and a 3rd, along with a 9th and a 17th.
Ledgers like those often culminate in photos holding an Angler of the Year trophy. DeFoe and Wheeler were denied, however, as Jordan Lee claimed his first points championship, giving credence to the idea that the 29-year-old may have already compiled a Hall of Fame-worthy résumé in just 6 years as a pro.
The two-time Bassmaster Classic winner's BPT season was both consistent and spectacular as he ended up 9th or better four times (including a win in the Heavy Hitters event at Florida's Kissimmee Chain). Wheeler's otherworldly run in the three FLW Pro Circuit Super Tournaments (1st, 2nd and 2nd) and Justin Lucas' two wins in a 31-day span were the sport's biggest stories of the summer, but Lee's dominance across a schedule that, although abbreviated, featured drastically diverse fisheries in different parts of the country has to rank among the most impressive seasons in bass fishing annals.
Lee, though, is nowhere near ready to start considering his place in the history books.
"I haven't given it a whole lot of thought," he said recently. "My mindset is really that I just start every year off at zero.
"I've accomplished a lot more than I really could've ever imagined in just the few years I've been doing it full-time. It's been pretty awesome, but I don't take it for granted because I know how hard it is to win, so I try to enjoy the moment."
Pegged it on the Fly
Lee's stellar season wasn't the result of finding a ton of fish during the 2-day practice periods that BPT competitors are allotted, and then letting them carry him to the Championship Round. There were events in which he went into his first competition day without a lot of confidence.
"I took some gambles in a few tournaments and it seemed like every time I was able to get things going my way," he said. "There were a few where I wasn't really on them and I decided to do something the second day – really change things up. Those could've gone either way, but my decision-making ended up being pretty spot-on."
It started in the first event of the year at Lake Eufaula, where he barely made the cut to the Elimination Round. With the water level high, he went to an out-of-the-way backwater area that he hadn't seen since he fished a derby there as a co-angler a decade before.
Lee dominated the inaugural Heavy Hitters event in Florida, winning the tournament and catching the heaviest fish of the final round to earn $200,000.
He only caught six fish, but they combined to weigh 36 pounds, highlighted by a pair of 8-pounders. He ended up 2nd in the round and went on to post a 9th-place finish after weights had again been zeroed for the finals.
"That was one of the coolest moments I've had in fishing," he said. "That place is silted in at the mouth and you really can't get into it (under normal conditions).
"The lake was fishing tough and I wasn't going to get a lot of bites anywhere, and I told myself if I made it to the third day I was going to run up there because the worst I could do was fall back to 40th. It was like a dream deal."
Clutch when it Counted
Lee went into the final BPT event at Sturgeon Bay in Wisconsin with a 13-point lead in the AOY race. Fletcher Shryock, his closest pursuer at the time, had by far his worst event of the season (62nd) and was out of contention after the Qualifying Rounds, but DeFoe and Wheeler hung around and kept the pressure on him.
Lee wrapped things up by becoming the only member of the trio to advance to the Championship Round. He accomplished that via a 34-fish, 94-pound haul in the Knockout Round.
"If I'd had a bad day (in the Knockout Round) and Wheeler had an average day, he would've beaten me," he said. "He wasn't going to give it to me and it's always hard – it was going to come down to who had the better day.
"I had kind of a slow start, but I eventually got on them and started catching them really good. It was another one of those magical days."
> Lee has been a regular entrant in local tournaments this fall, mostly at Smith Lake near his home in Cullman, Ala., or at Lake Guntersville. "They're just little wildcat tournaments – nothing crazy, but they're fun and they keep me in the competition mode," he said. "I don't win too many of them; those guys usually put it on me."