New Elite: Darrell Ocamica and divine intervention

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Darrell Ocamica weighs in his nearly 17-pound bag on the final day of the Nation Championship with his sons on stage with him.
Tyler Wade McCollum
Darrell Ocamica weighs in his nearly 17-pound bag on the final day of the Nation Championship with his sons on stage with him.

FRUITLAND, Idaho — “It is unbelievable how many things have fallen into place,” said Darrell Ocamica, the final recruit for the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series. “You just wouldn’t even believe. This is meant to happen.”

The Idaho angler credits a higher power for the path that has seemed to just open up for him.

Ocamica earned his spot in the Elite Series with his top finish at the 2016 Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by MagellanOutdoors — but he wasn’t even supposed to be there.

“I had done really well on the first day of the Idaho B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier,” he said, referring to an event that took place nearly a year and a half ago. “But on the second day, my electronics failed and I slipped all the way down to 15th place.”

Only the Top 10 boaters make it to the B.A.S.S. Nation Western Regional.

But in a stroke of luck — or divine intervention — an angler on his state team had to drop out. The first alternate was called in; he couldn’t participate. Neither could the second, nor the third or the fourth.

Finally, one week before the tournament, the Idaho B.A.S.S. Nation president called him and asked if he could fill in and complete the state team on Lake Mead.

“I had to talk to my wife and my boss,” said Ocamica. “My wife was fine with it. My boss was, too, with one stipulation.”

His boss said if he was going to take the time off with such short notice, he definitely had to do one thing: “Win it.”

And so he did.

Then, he got to the championship and had secured a fourth-place standing at the end of Day 2. When high winds threatened the final day of the tournament, Ocamica was on the hook. Because only the Top 3 anglers would make it to the Classic, a final-day cancellation would have killed all his chances.

But then, it was postponed instead of cancelled, and his last-day showing got him into the Classic.

The Elite Series berth was offered to winner Ryan Lavigne, but when Lavigne declined, it went to Ocamica.

The high cost of traveling and entry fees — along with the surrender of a paying job — can be a hindrance for new Elite Series pros.

But — and this is what he means by things falling into place — it wasn’t for Ocamica.

Unexpectedly, after earning his Elite Series invitation, a person outside the fishing industry who wishes to remain anonymous approached Ocamica and offered to foot his entire bill for the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series.

And his boss told him she would contract out his job for the next year, and if he wanted it back in the next several months, she would be holding it for him.

“It feels like a dream,” said Ocamica, a member of the Boise Bass Busters, who usually spends his days fixing a sprinkler system that spans 27 acres at the property he maintains at work or supervising his large staff at the nearly 20-square-foot building.

“This is my time to step up to do this,” Ocamica said. “If this is my calling in life, this is my window of opportunity.”

Besides the job and the money issues that have been cleared up for him, there’s one other major obstacle that comes along with traveling with the Elite Series — time away from family.

“My wife, Marni, is my biggest supporter,” Ocamica said, “and she’s encouraging me.”

What’s harder, he said, is being away from his three sons, ages 10, 8 and 4.

“It’s going to be challenging,” Ocamica said. “But it will make them better men. I’ve always taught them to set goals, and if there’s something in life you want, go get it. I have to lead by example.”

Ocamica understands he has a lot to learn. Outside of Idaho, the only lakes he’s ever fished are Lake Mead, Oroville, Flaming Gorge Reservoir — all Western fisheries — and, of course, Lake Conroe, where he qualified for the Classic.

“I know how to catch cold-water smallmouth, so Cherokee should set up well for me, and the New York events, too,” Ocamica said. “I want to see how I stack up against the best in the world.

“For me, I’ve already won. If I happen to do well, great. But if I come in dead last, I still made it to the highest level there is,” said Ocamica.

“It’s up to me now to make the best of it.”