Pro angler Ott Defoe has been at it for a while, but he filled us in on what a Classic win would mean to his career.
Now that the Bassmaster Classic preparation has neared its end, anglers like Ott Defoe are ideally in the zone. They've studied the water, got some practice in, and have entered the mindset they know they'll need to have a chance at the biggest reward in pro bass fishing.
After talking to Defoe a couple days before the Bassmaster Classic in Oklahoma's Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, he certainly followed that formula, and is poised for a run at being the last man standing on the stage when the winner's announced Sunday.
At age nine he fished his first tournament, and now at 30 he feels his experience and knowhow will help him at this season's Classic. We caught up with him on the cusp of the tournament and talked about his career, his charity work, and what a win would mean to him.
Wide Open Spaces: What does a pro angler have to do to truly be prepared for the Bassmaster Classic?
Ott Defoe: It all starts as soon as you qualify for it. You start thinking about the lake, and it being Grand Lake this time, you start thinking about what you know about the lake. Having fished the Classic here a couple years ago, I have at least a little bit of experience here around the same time of year. For me, that's the first thing I start thinking about: the lake, and what the fish could be doing, and how the weather could affect that one way or another. Making sure you cross all your t's and dot all your i's, and get everything in line before this week gets here as much as you can. This week is always kind of crazy, it has its own bit of issues that you just have to deal with as they come.
Have things lined up like you expected in terms of weather, conditions, and your feelings headed into the tournament?
Yeah, the weather's definitely good. We've had pretty stable weather, what I would call fairly mild. Our first day of practice was really cool, but it's been nice. The weather is really what you'd ask for, and looking forward it kind of is too. It's Oklahoma in March, so there's gonna be some wind, but other than that it's shaping up to be pretty good. The lake had a lot of major flood conditions back in the December and January timeframe, and it's still showing a lot of effects of that. It's not high and flooded anymore, but it is still very off-colored, much more so than it should be. So that's kind of the biggest thing that's different; that's not normal, and certainly not what it was last time when we were here.
How is that going to translate to some of the gear you'll be using out on the boat?
As far as gear, it makes your selection a little less I would say. You've kind of got to streamline stuff a little bit. When you've got clear water, or at least a range of visibility, it just allows you to use all the different techniques, where you really can't in this stuff. A lot of it is under two feet of visibility, and a lot of it's around a foot, so it really just makes your bait selection go way down, or it does for me anyway. I have to use stuff I would use when I've got three to five feet of visibility. So you're going to use those things that those fish can find more by feel than by sight.
The Classic is probably not the best place to try something new, especially when you have a narrow choice as it is.
Yeah, absolutely. Rapala just released a new bait, it's a jerkbait called the Shadow Rap Shad. In some of those little bit cleaner areas, it's definitely a bait I'll have tied on and be using, because it's an excellent bait I've had since back in the fall and have a lot of confidence in. Yes it's new, but I've already had it and played with it some, and kind of learned its ins and outs. But yeah, the Classic is not a place I'd take something out of the box and say "Well, I've never caught a fish on this... Let's try it today!" That's not gonna happen.
With the live stream and added spectators watching the Classic, does anything change on the boat, or is it just business as usual?
If I get in one of those situations where I get a live camera, I'm going to try to make sure that it's business as usual. I've not been in that situation yet to get to have one of those [during the Bassmaster Classic], but I think that would definitely be the goal: business as usual. You do your thing, the camera's there and rolling, but you're trying to do your duty, which is to catch the next fish. That's all that really matters. The times that I have had cameras, and I've certainly fished a good bit with a cameraman and all those things, you just do what you do. And they're good at doing their job at making sure you look good, so you just have to worry about catching the next fish.
Do you think the live attention is a good thing, is it helping grow the sport?
Yeah, absolutely. It's great that we've got the live feed and the live coverage, and the way that it's growing is a great thing. It's something that I'm really glad that B.A.S.S. has worked so hard and put so much effort into. To do that, to grow that, and to be able to show it to people, that's great and I hope they do more of it. It's interesting, I've watched some of the tournaments that I didn't make the final day in. I've gone back and watched some of it, and I thought "Well, this will get old after a few minutes. It'll be like a YouTube video, you'll watch ten minutes then turn it off." But, even for me, it's not. I'm so intrigued by it, and they do some replay stuff and things to keep it interesting during those slow times, but it's very well put together, and it's very easy to watch for an extended period of time.
The pro bass fishing season starts with a bang, but stretches all summer long. Can you talk about the daily grid?
Yeah, it is kind of tough, because the Classic appears as where our season starts, but I've already fished the Southern Open, worked some fishing shows and boat shows, and different things already. So from the first weekend in January I'm on the go, and it's really not a lot of fishing until the Classic starts. Then once the Classic hits, it's fishing wide open, the Elite Series, the other Opens that I fish, and Major League Fishing thrown in there as well. It makes it a very full schedule. I think between now and around the first of June I can count on one hand the number of weeks I'm home, so it's very, very busy. My family gets to travel with me a good bit, not as much as they did a few years ago, but still a good bit, and I treasure those tournaments that they get to come to. It's a lot of fun for us as a family. That's what you've got to do, you've got to figure out a way to have a balance. I'm very fortunate to have a great wife and three great kids who get it and understand it, and I love when they come to events and get to be a part of it. My wife manages the schedule, she just tells me where to be.
You do charity events and are active in your church, why do you make it a point to give back?
I just feel like it's the right thing to do. The event I've done the last few years, the charity tournament, it's not huge by any means, but it does mean a lot to our community. It's fun to do, and the people there enjoy it and appreciate it. The emails and the phone calls I get after the fact, "Hey man, we really appreciate you doing this, it means a lot." They show their appreciation for the time put in, and so for me, it's just putting a little time in to give back to those people in my community where I grew up fishing. And of course being a Christian, the church we go to now has a really great youth program for our kids, and that's something very important in our lives. Actually my wife, I'll have to put it on her. I'm glad she did, but she got us involved singing in the choir. So that's definitely been a lot of fun, it's something we enjoy, and lets us spend more time together back home.
If you could describe the 2016 Classic winner's strategy, what would you predict?
I really think it's going to be one of those deals. You know, last time we were here, the fishing was fairly good, but Cliff Pace won without even having a limit on the final day because he had such a big lead going in. I truly believe you could see that again, that a guy could win here without having a limit every day, just because of how tough the fishing actually is. Grand has got some really good quality fishing, and under the conditions we've got, when you get a bite it's typically a quality fish. I've caught far fewer under two and a half pounds than I have over. If you get a bite, it's usually at least a two and a half pounder. I don't think you're gonna win this event without having a limit any day, but you could certainly have a four-fish day and still have 12 to 15 pounds, and still have other days that are better than that. I think with the conditions we have, it's gonna be tough to get by. If you can capitalize on the ones you get, it's gonna be important. If someone can figure out a way to catch a limit quick and then go fish for those big bites, that'd certainly be a big plus as well. I don't know if that pattern is out there, but maybe it is, and maybe we'll get that dialed in on Wednesday.
If it's you standing on stage when they award the Bassmaster Classic winner, what would that mean?
Career-wise, you know, it's everything. I told someone I interviewed with before that I wouldn't let it change my life, but career-wise, it really makes your fishing career that much smoother. The following year is always certainly crazy, but being able to have that title beside your name, just really puts your place in the sport. You can always be called a Bassmaster Classic champion. For your career, that's a very large accomplishment. Sponsor-wise, it really means a lot for them, so it goes a long ways on the business side of your career, and the longevity you get because of it.
Defoe will be competing on Friday, March 4 and if he has his way, into Sunday the 6th for a shot at the 2016 Bassmaster Classic victory.