While all this was happening, Tennessee’s Ott DeFoe would calmly munch on a Pop Tart like he didn’t have a care in the world. His steady disposition is surely a big part of the reason for his bass fishing success.
One lure accounted for the bulk of the bass that carried DeFoe to fourth place at the Classic. It was a Rapala DT-6, custom painted by Gordon Monroe to resemble a pumpkinseed sunfish.
Over the first two days, DeFoe slowly ground the DT-6 over riprap along causeways. He eased his boat down the riprap within a few feet of the rocks and cast the crankbait close to the shoreline. Then he held his rod low and close to the riprap so he could slowly work the crankbait into every crevice.
He paused often to let the crankbait float up out of trouble. Even though DeFoe fished with delicate precision, he snagged frequently. However, he never showed any irritation. It was all in a day’s work.
DeFoe started out cranking riprap on Day 3. He quickly boated a keeper, but had nothing else to show 4 hours later. It was time to punt.
DeFoe fled the riprap and motored to a grass ridge on the main lake that was 4 to 6 feet deep. The grass was just beginning to grow there and stood only 8 to 12 inches tall.
It was slow going, but DeFoe was relentless. He tried a variety of lures, including a small swimbait and a jerkbait, but the DT-6 did most of the damage.
Only six bass got a tour of DeFoe’s livewells that day, including his last bass, an 8-pounder. One more like that and DeFoe would have been the champion.
“I was sitting in about 10 feet and casting over the grass,” Tharp said. “A Rapala DT-6 was strong in practice, but an XCalibur Xr50 caught 90 percent of the bass I weighed in.”
The Xr50 is a lipless rattling crankbait. Tharp fished it in the Royal Shad color and retrieved the bait very slowly. When it contacted the grass, he would pull it through the vegetation and let it fall.
“That’s when most of the bites happened,” Tharp said.
After catching a good limit from the grass, Tharp would run back close to the official ramp and work riprap banks with Spro’s McStick 110 in the Blue Bandit color. This allowed him to cull at least one fish each day.
“I know the key places on those long straightaway banks where the bass pull up and feed,” Tharp said.
Late on the final day, Tharp knew he needed one or two kicker bass to have a shot at winning the Classic. He almost pulled it off by pitching a jig into wood cover off the main lake. He hooked and lost three bass, including a giant largemouth that hung up in a limb and shook free.
Tharp will never forget that bass.