MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Friday, on the eve of their faceoff Saturday on the Alabama River, Gerald Swindle jested that Ott DeFoe “ought” to go down river, instead of up river where DeFoe’s been smashing big bags of bass each day of the Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship.
But DeFoe, the 25-year-old rookie phenom from Knoxville, Tenn., stuck to what brought him here. He worked upriver shallow water near current and deep water to trounce the Warrior, Ala., pro by 6 pounds, 11 ounces, and advance to the final round. Swindle, on a day that seemed to go wrong no matter if he fished up or down the river, managed 5-5 to DeFoe’s 12-0.
DeFoe’s final All-Star opponent will be Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., who beat Casey Ashley of Donalds, S.C., for the right to fish another day. Ashley had 8-0 to Evers’ 14-0.
Evers and DeFoe were the last two standing in the July 23-31 Toyota Trucks All-Star Week. It began July 23 on Lake Jordan with 12 anglers. Eight advanced to the Alabama River for three days of match play. The prize is $100,000, winner take all.
“I survived another day, I’m excited to be fishing against such a good angler,” Evers said. “And he’s a really good fisherman, so I’ve got my work cut out for me. It’ll be a shootout.”
Evers is shooting to get the better of DeFoe, but he’s also out for a bit of redemption on the Alabama River. He was second to Kevin VanDam on the river in the 2010 postseason, a finish that cost Evers the 2010 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. VanDam didn’t advance to the river this year, but Evers is just as intent on a win now as ever.
But yesterday, when he brought 9-6 to the scales, he thought his postseason might be over.
“I was disappointed. I didn’t think I’d be standing up here now,” he said on stage Saturday. “This is a nerve-wracking format.”
He turned it around Saturday with 14-0, the heaviest bag of the day. It was anchored by a 3-9, his second keeper of the day.
“It took me a little while to catch one, but then I caught them pretty quickly,” he said. “That big one clued me into what was going to happen the rest of the day.”
DeFoe, who won the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year honors as well as a postseason berth, is looking for his first Elite level win. He checked in a few minutes early Saturday, a fish-care strategy that paid off.
He had most of his fish by 11 a.m. His first stop was a return to his hottest spot, an area 8 to 10 feet deep near current that produced his three largest bass of Friday. The spot was still sweet Saturday, yielding four spotted bass.
“Today when I went there, there wasn’t any current, so I used a soft jerkbait. They bit really good again,” he said.
His largest, a 4-4, was a largemouth from a different area. But it wasn’t one of the big ones he could see Friday but couldn’t coax into biting.
“Maybe I’ll get them Sunday,” he said.
On Sunday, one Bassmaster fan virtually paired with the champ will win, too. Through an online sweepstakes, 12 fans were hooked in name only to the 12 pros who started out in Toyota Trucks All-Star Week on Lake Jordan.
As the pros were eliminated, so were their fan pairings. The fan whose All-Star pro is the champ will win a Triton 18XS bass boat with a Mercury 150 OptiMax engine. All 12 finalists will win a tackle pack of Berkley and Havoc products.
The two fans that remain standing are Cynthia Bryan of Farmerville, La., and Sean Graves of Spofford, N.H., paired respectively with DeFoe and Evers.
Toyota Trucks All-Star Week will wrap up Sunday under the Union Station Train Shed in downtown Montgomery. The College Classic weigh-in between Auburn and Alabama begins the fishing action at 4:15 p.m. Then the Bassmaster Legends will take the stage at 4:30.
Hooked Up! begins at 5 p.m. and leads into the weigh-in between DeFoe and Evers. All All-Star events are free and open to the public.