By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Anyone who's paid even a moderate amount of attention to the Bassmaster Elite Series over the past couple of years knows that Ott DeFoe has been one of the circuit's top performers since transferring over from the FLW Tour in 2011. A hard look at his numbers might leave some even more impressed than they were already.
For instance, the 27-year-old has missed exactly one money cut in two Elite seasons (that was by an even pound at the Arkansas River last year after he'd come in a fish short of a limit on day 1). Or how about this: During a span of 10 derbies from June 2011 through the end of the 2012 campaign (including this year's Classic), he finished 7th or better five times.
Only Kevin VanDam, who's made 20 straight Elite 50-cuts dating to April 2010, has bettered that level of consistency over the same time span. Unquestionably, the soft-spoken Tennessean has elevated himself from a solid points-getter and occasional Top-10 threat to a week-in, week-out force.
When asked to pin down the reasons for his transformation, he responds with an answer that he admitsh as become cliché.
"You hear a lot of people say it, but it's about on-the-water decisions and fishing what I see right now," he said. "Over the last couple of years I haven't taken a lot of huge risks in tournaments, but if something's not working real well, I'm not going to die by what happened in practice or on a previous tournament day. I've been willing to make changes on the fly.
"At almost every tournament over the last 2 years, there was rarely 2 days in a row where I knew how I was going to catch them. It seems like almost every day I was having to figure out things about the places I was fishing, or else go and find new water."
Goals won't Change
DeFoe has been a threat to win tournaments on several occasions over the past 2 seasons and has been a major factor in both Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) races in which he's participated (he ended up 4th in the points during his debut Elite campaign and was 2nd to Brent Chapman this year). He badly wants to notch both a victory and a points title, but he's not going to change the way he goes about his business in a quest to make them arrive as soon as possible.
He won the Toyota Trucks All-Star event in 2011, but he doesn't quite put that on par with a full-field victory.
"Winning is definitely important, but I can't just go out and make myself win," he said. "And if you're not fishing on Sunday (day 4), you're not going to have a chance to win.
"When the opportunities do come, I want to push for it and try to make it happen. But at the same time I don't want to take too many risks because then you can knock yourself out of any chance you have."
If there was one event this year in which he wishes he'd been a little more adventurous, it was the Douglas Lake tournament, which took place within a half-hour drive of his home in Knoxville. He ended up 7th, but feels he could've done a bit better.
"I know that lake better than anyplace we'll ever have a tournament – I fish it all the time. I knew it was going to be won on the lower end, but each of the first 3 days I started up the lake. Some big fish live there, but I was trying to catch 12 to 15 pounds real quick and then go after the bigger ones.
"I wish I hadn't done that, and that one does kind of bite at me."
Classic sets up Well
Just as he improved on his final AOY position in his second Elite season, DeFoe is hoping to better his Classic finish in his second go-around this February at Oklahoma's Grand Lake. Four places better would be perfect.
DeFoe thinks Oklahoma's Grand Lake, site of the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, might be similar to a couple of lakes near his Tennessee home.
He's never been to Grand, but he likes what he's heard about the place.
"It should be kind of like Douglas or Cherokee, which are lakes that I like fishing around here," he said. "The banks are clean – there's a lot of gravel and rock and not much grass or timber. It should be a good time of the year to catch big ones, although probably not numbers, unless it's warm."
He hasn't yet made up his mind about whether to take a pre-practice trip before the lake goes off-limits on Dec. 10.
"I don't have anything written on the calendar yet, so I can't say for sure whether I'm going or whether I'm not. If I went, I'd fish some, but that wouldn't be high on the list. I'd just try to get the layout of the lake and figure out what kind of baitfish we'll be dealing with.
"We'll get 4 days of (official) practice overall, and it's not like it's a treacherous place to get around like the Red River was this year. You can just put your boat in the water and take off."
> DeFoe and his wife recently returned from Italy, where he and a Tracker Marine executive comprised one of 30 teams in a tournament put on by the Italian B.A.S.S. Federation Nation (they finished 4th). It was held on Lake Bolsena, which is about an hour and a half north of Rome. "The grass and subtle structure kind of reminded me of Lake St. Clair, but it was real, real clear," he said. "When the wind wasn't blowing, you could see the size of the rocks on the bottom in 25 feet of water."