As one of the most successful anglers competing on the Bassmaster Elite Series, Ott DeFoe enjoys many exciting moments on the water.
So it was telling that one of the most exhilarating things he’s experienced recently came courtesy of his caller ID.
“When the number popped up and it said the call was coming from West Point, Mississippi, I knew it could only be one thing,” DeFoe said. “Everyone who loves the outdoors knows that’s where Mossy Oak is located. It’s iconic.”
And so it was that Mossy Oak officials were on the line, and they were eager for DeFoe to join the Mossy Oak Fishing Team. The squad already included Elite Series stalwarts Kevin VanDam and Gerald Swindle, while Jordan Lee and Brandon Palaniuk would come aboard soon thereafter.
For DeFoe, it was a thrill to be a part of that talented group of bass pros, but it was just as important to be part of what could be considered a paradigm shift of sorts in the wide world of outdoors gear.
Mossy Oak already was a heavyweight in the hunting world, winning an untold number of loyal customers with its line of camouflage patterns. The company practically revolutionized the industry when it was founded in 1986. But now, Mossy Oak was expanding into fishing with the introduction of its Elements Agua camo pattern. That made it advantageous to gather a team of superior bass anglers who could test the product, utilize it in early action on the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series and provide feedback to Mossy Oak.
The reports are nothing but positive, DeFoe attests.
“Image is extremely important,” he said. “My truck and my boat have to lot of the Agua Elements pattern in it…and so do the sleeves of my jersey. I worked with them on it for about a month. It looks good and people recognize it.”
But there’s much more than a sharp-looking fishing jersey and a slick rig at play here, DeFoe said. Mossy Oak not only brings camouflage cache as the official camo pattern for B.A.S.S., but the company also is a presenting sponsor of an Elite Series event on the Upper Chesapeake Bay in July. And showing a nod to the future of professional bass fishing, Mossy Oak is title sponsor of the 2018 Bassmaster High School Series as well as supporting sponsor of this year’s Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops.
“The company as a whole gets it,” DeFoe said. “They know they have to put back into it, to promote conservation and the lifestyle, if we’re going to continue to enjoy the resource and have our kids enjoy it in the future.”
Birth of a line
The Elements Agua pattern line of clothing was introduced at ICAST in Orlando, Fla., last July.
Like all camo, the pattern is designed to conceal, but Elements Agua also aims to be a visible expression of the lifestyle of anglers, boaters and anyone else who loves the water. Elements blends Earth’s three core elements (wind, water and earth) and, according to Mossy Oak literature, fuses them together in “three layers of multi-directional, photo-realistic images that actively disrupt the human outline at any distance, in any light spectrum.”
The Elements Eclipse Agua Seawater pattern is a shimmering array of blues, greens, silvers and more that very much blend into either water or sky. Other varieties include Blacktip, Crimson and Agua Manta (grey) and are useful in different locales and at different times of year.
The pattern made its debut on a wide variety of clothing at the Huk booth in Orlando, and people were drawn to it.
According to Mossy Oak Director of Marketing Dustin Whitacre, the line will be available to the public beginning at the 2018 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods when it is held March 16-18 on Lake Hartwell in Anderson and Greenville, S.C. And it won’t be relegated to clothing alone. As a license-based company, the Elements Agua designs can, and will, eventually wind up on a list of “hard good” items ranging from fishing rods to seat covers and tackle boxes.
Whitacre said the creative process at Mossy Oak can be frenetic, but the results have proved all the hard work worthwhile.
“We have three, four, five graphic designers go back and forth,” he said. “They’ll get feedback from within the company. We all look at how the pattern prints. Does it have ‘shelf appeal?’ Does it have the look we want?
“When we were working with Huk (on the Elements Agua clothing line) it was a four- or five-month collaboration,” Whitacre said. “But when we’re creating a camo pattern for many different companies and many different products, you have to work with them on their schedule. We may develop a pattern, and they’re two years out from having a product ready. Still, we have to meet that deadline.”
Watchful eyes of big bass
As leader of the company’s fishing team, you might expect Kevin VanDam to say good things about Mossy Oak.
But VanDam went well beyond simply offering praise for the company’s dedication to outdoors conservation (Mossy Oak also is the official camo of Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Quality Deer Management Association among many others).
VanDam said he firmly believes that, “What you wear when you’re fishing can affect what you catch.” And when you’ve won four Bassmaster Classic trophies and been Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year seven times, people pay attention when you talk about bass fishing.
“You don’t want to be seen in numerous situations when you’re fishing,” VanDam said. “If you’re in clear water or sight fishing in shallow water, you want the element of surprise. It’s important. The same would be true if you’re on a trout stream or if you’re fishing flats. Is every experience like that? No. But a lot of them are.”
Swindle, who has a pair of Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles to his credit, agreed wholeheartedly with VanDam. Both men are avid hunters, as well, and said they’ll use any advantage they can get whether in a bass boat or a deer stand.
“People laugh sometimes and say you don’t need to wear anything special to hunt or fish,” Swindle said. “Look, you can kill a deer in a flannel shirt. But if I have choice that I can kill one or two (a season) that way or I can kill 10 in camouflage, I’m gonna’ do the camo.
“Same thing with fishing,” he said. “If I can put my Talons down and get 3 feet closer to a 7-pound bass on a bed and not spook it because of (Elements Agua camo), then this camo has done its job.”
Whitacre said a downward trend in the number of hunting licenses issued annually in the U.S. wasn’t the reason Mossy Oak is entering the water camo market. Instead, he said steadily increasing interest in fishing nationwide, especially among youth, was noteworthy.
A number of organizations that track fishing-related trends say 46 million Americans bought fishing licenses in 2016. The number of youths ages 6-17 with licenses also grew by more than 1 million from 2011 to 2016, as well.
Those figures, and more, put B.A.S.S. square in the Mossy Oak sights.
“Anywhere you go, there’s a lake that’s big enough to fish,” Whitacre said. “The kids are interested in it. Being involved with helping carry on a lifestyle and a heritage is important to us, and that’s what being involved with the high school series does. It’s keeping a tradition alive. And B.A.S.S. is not only the pinnacle of the bass fishing world, but it shares in the message of conservation. We’re both trying to give something back.”
That resonates with DeFoe, and it’s one reason he jumped at the chance to join Mossy Oak Fishing.
“The times I spend with my kids on the water are some of the best I have,” DeFoe said. “I wouldn’t trade anything for that. And being involved with a company that understands that really is exciting.”