PELL CITY, Ala. — Ott DeFoe had something totally unique planned for his tournament strategy at Bass Pro Shops Southern Open #3 on Logan Martin Lake.
That’s nothing unusual in the world of lure secrecy and obscure techniques that are routine part of tournament game plans.
The approach would be different this time for DeFoe. A secret lure wasn’t part of the plan. Nor was a new twist to a proven post-spawn fishing technique. Instead, his strategic move involved the very boat used to gain entry into the top 12 championship round.
A Nitro Z-9 is DeFoe’s primary rig for tournaments. Spanning nearly 21 feet in length, the big boat keeps him competitive in the Bassmaster Elite Series.
It’s not the boat he used each day at Southern Open #3.
The official B.A.S.S. rules for the Open circuit give pro anglers the option to change boats, assuming the alternate rig meets all safety and rules requirements laid out in the B.A.S.S. rulebook. Of course, the angler must notify B.A.S.S. officials of the change in order for the boat to be inspected before use in the competition.
DeFoe fished from the Nitro Z-9 on Day One. In a deliberate move, he fished the second day from a Tracker Grizzly 1860 SC aluminum rig. The boat measures 18 feet 4 inches in length with a 7-foot wide beam. DeFoe has it tricked out with all the electronics and other features needed to stay competitive with the spacious fiberglass rigs.
Sacrificing size wasn’t a tradeoff for DeFoe, considering where he fished on Day Two. The destination was Chocoloca Creek, a 35-minute run from the weigh-in site at Pell City Lakeside Park. The area is dangerous water for fiberglass rigs. Its water is shallow and filled with sharp boulders, hidden shoals and swift current.
Before DeFoe made the run to the skinny water there was work to be done in the main lake.
“I had some bedding fish near the weigh-in area lined up for the first day, he recalled. “There weren’t a lot of them, though. I thought those fish would get caught pretty quick and be gone. And they were gone by the end of Day One.”
DeFoe caught what he needed to break into the top five. With 15 pounds, 12 ounces of spawning fish to his credit he was ready for the boat switch. And with that a total change in his fishing strategy.
“I practiced out of the Grizzly every day up the creek,” he said. “I caught some decent fish in there and didn’t want to stay too long. I wanted to leave it for the second day.”
DeFoe traveled to Chocoloca Creek and left the competition behind. He skillfully navigated through a 100-yard stretch of swift current broken up by big boulders. The kind that could put a nasty gash in a fiberglass rig or take out a lower unit.
“This boat is a tunnel hull design,” noted DeFoe. “It can run on plane in 4 inches of water in the way it’s set up.”
Once past the rocks and the rapids there was an easier one-mile run to his fishing location. It would have been impossible to make the run in the Nitro Z-9. The aluminum rig not only provided reliable transportation but the piece of mind DeFoe needed to get the job done.
It was worth the gamble. On a second day when weights went down in quality Defore came back with a limit weighing 11-7. A combined weight of 27-3 put him inside the cut in 11th place.
DeFoe would make a game-time decision about which rig to use on the championship round. After a night of heavy rain he decided against making the long run up the creek. It would likely be too muddy and the current too swift to effectively work a lure.
For the grand finale it was back to the Nitro Z-9. Yet DeFoe forgot to charge the batteries for the long day ahead. So instead he fished from the Grizzly for the championship round.
DeFoe’s aluminum boat has been called up to serve in the line of duty before. He’s safely run it through a maze of cypress trees in Lake Seminole and through the skinny backwater of the Arkansas River.
When the going gets tough, the Grizzly ready stands up as a backup boat for DeFoe.