By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The fish that elevated Ott Defoe's day 1 of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic from good to great came from a location where he's gotten many bites over the years, but one that had never given him such a lunker.
"It's a place where I've caught a fair number of fish, but that's by far the biggest one," he said of the 6-pound largemouth he boated at approximately 10:50 a.m. "I ran past it today, but then I decided to turn the boat around and head back the other way."
The resident of Blaine, Tenn. has a tremendous amount of experience on Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes, where this year's Classic is being contested. He instantly became a heavy pre-tournament favorite when the venue was announced last April.
He now stands an excellent chance of winning what might be his final Classic, as he was one of 68 anglers from the 2018 Elite Series roster who've switched over to the new MLF Bass Pro Tour. He could get into next year's event with a victory this weekend, but that would be up to the discretion of B.A.S.S. officials.
His hawg, which earned him a $1,000 bonus as the heaviest fish of the day, was sitting on a relatively shallow sand bar just off the main Tennessee River channel. It was enticed by a custom-painted Storm Arashi Vibe crankbait in a red craw color.
"Honestly, I didn't think it was a bass at first," he said. "I thought I'd hooked a carp. It just kept pulling and lurching out to deeper water. Then I finally got a glimpse of it and I could see what it was. That's a really, really big one here."
He said the chances of repeating such a catch during the weekend are pretty slim – he's caught less than 10 bass that reached the 6-pound mark from the venue during his lifetime and his all-time best is 6 3/4, which came in a Sunday evening wildcat tournament in the summer of 2005. That one was enticed by a buzzbait.
"You have to take fish like that out of the equation," he said. "You recognize it for what it was – it was a gift. If I can catch five over 2 1/2 pounds over the next two days and mix in some 3 1/2 pounders, then I've done my job.
"You can't count on 5-pound-plus fish here. You accept the gift and go on about your business."
His bag contained three smallmouths, all in the 3-pound class. His other largemouth was also a hefty specimen – a 4-pounder. He said that all five came from similar places.
Now he'll see what he can do about backing up his stout stringer and possibly capturing the biggest victory of his career in front of a partisan hometown crowd.
"Personally for me, I think I'll be pushing the hardest knowing that this might be my last one. A lot of people have asked me about the pressure of being a local, but my family and friends are very supportive and nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself."