KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Along with the title of best angler, Ott DeFoe gets the “best dad” award.
The DeFoes’ youngest daughter said it on stage after daddy won the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Good two weeks ago.
“I wanted him to win because I think he’s the best daddy in the world,” Lizzie said to emcee Dave Mercer’s query.
The entire DeFoe family, which is one of strong faith, provided Ott the mental support needed to lead, fall and then get back up with the biggest bag on Championship Sunday. Possibly sleeping in his own bed and following his daily routine allowed him to bear the cross of the pressure-cooker.
His wife, Jennie, spoke of his work ethic and motivation. Despite that desire, bass fishing’s biggest stage didn’t stop him from taking care of his family. On the morning of Friday’s final practice, Ott went about business of being dad.
“He’s just so driven and committed,” she said. “It’s just fish, fish, fish. If he’s not fishing, he’s in his boat working. At the same time, when he’s not fishing, he’s an awesome dad – Bassmaster Classic home lake, and he was taking the kids to school on his way to practice.”
To school? On the morning of the first official practice?
Yes, she said. With the time change and later morning light, he was just a little late to launch. It was all good, apparently.
“He wanted to take them,” she said.
It’s what real champions do – keep an eye on the prize while also attending to your flock. In the hubbub of the Champion’s Toast, the DeFoes’ oldest daughter gave her assessment of dad’s big victory.
“I think it’s insane,” Abbie said. “I’m just so proud of him. It’s unbelievable. He works super hard for everything.”
Ott was about her age when he attended his first Classic and the ember was lit. His fire was fueled further by witnessing winners in the eight more championships, which he attended with his parents and brother.
“Going to those Classics, watching those guys win, watching it change their lives, watch them live their dream of being a professional bass angler, that’s what made me have that dream and want to do this my whole entire life,” Ott said. “That’s what I worked hard for.”
During a walkthrough before this Classic, he even imagined his name being announced along with the words, “Bassmaster Classic champion.” Envision it, then it can happen.
Like so many other youths who dream big – like hitting the winning home run, basket or touchdown – Ott pretended he was fishing the Classic during the local tournaments in his youth.
“I had a vest,” he said. “We’d go to the Classic, and I’d get all the patches from every company that would give me one.
“I didn’t ever hold anything over my head. Probably (pretended) the blastoff as much as anything. That’s what I got to do fishing those local tournaments. But it wasn’t just a weekend tournament – it was the Classic.”
Fulfilling that vision, and having his name etched alongside the 38 others who’ve hoisted the trophy, left him searching for words, but the ones he found said it all.
“It’s extremely, extremely humbling, this dream come true,” he said. “I don’t know what else to say. I’ve been working this way my whole life. It’s all I ever dreamed of.”
Classic experience is wunderbar
Of the 258 credentialed media covering the Classic, two from Germany left saying the event was “Ehrfurcht gebietend,” or awesome.
Christian Biereth, who runs S.W.A.T. Fishing, and videographer Etienne Wuerth, were posting news and videos for their 10,000 social media followers, which is a good reach in the country that doesn’t have black bass.
“We are a distributor for fishing tackle, and we are crazy fishermen,” Biereth said. “We follow the bass scene for many years.”
Both were wide-eyed at Media Day, taking in the enormity of a Classic, the first for Wuerth.
“Our mission is to follow the event and show the German people how tournament fishing works in the U.S.,” he said.
They hope to show Germany what tournament fishing can be as current laws there are restrictive. An angler must pay an exorbitant price to even fish – something like $400 to fish an 10-mile section of river. But the idea behind B.A.S.S., its conservation practices and tournaments is the message they’re trying to share.
“We use a lot of tackle that is basically made for bass fishing, but we adapt it to our species,” Biereth said. “We fish for European perch. They can get really big, like 6, 7 pounds. And we have Zander, which is the big brother of the walleye. We have big northern pike.
“We basically release, but in Germany it’s really difficult by laws. We are not allowed to go fishing for fun. You have to have a reason.”
Another reason they came was to cover Italian qualifier Jacopo Gallelli, who had hoped to fare better than his 49th as the first European to fish a Classic.
“He’s a good friend of mine. I fish against him. We are so proud of him to be fishing in the Classic,” Biereth said. “We don’t have black bass in Germany, so we have to travel to Italy, Spain, Portugal to fish tournaments.”
Sponsors make the Classic go round
Chase Anderson, Executive Vice President/Director of B.A.S.S., knows it takes partners to put on the huge show of a Bassmaster Classic, and his home city made him proud.
“It’s so special being here in Knoxville. I think there’s been a lot of pent-up demand here for the Classic,” he said. “What a great fishing community here in East Tennessee. The crowds are amazing. The records at the takeoffs, records at the Expo, and the weigh-ins as well. It’s a memorable Classic, a record-breaking Classic.
“I have a lot of family and friends here. When they heard the Classic was coming to town, everyone in Knoxville was talking about it. This community has worked tirelessly with our team to bring this event to town. Our organization is just so happy to be here.”
And vice versa. The Classic set the attendance record for all the venues at 153,508, eclipsing last year’s previous mark by some 10,000.
Anderson said it wouldn’t be possible without the work of the partners. He thanked them all at Media Day, starting with GEICO, which has been the title sponsor of the Classic since 2014. Then there was presenting sponsor DICK’S Sporting Goods, which again played a major role and helped make the Bassmaster Classic Expo a huge success with vendor sellout and record sales.
A big shout out was given to platinum sponsor Toyota, which Anderson recognized for everything it does for bass fishing, and Power-Pole, which put on Media Day and has been title sponsor to Elite events and more.
Chase sounded a bit like an angler running down his sponsor list when he addressed the media and sponsor luncheon, but he didn’t stumble or strain – he was smart enough to write them down. And the list of premier sponsors read like a who’s who in the sport – Abu Garcia, Berkley, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Skeeter Boats, Talon, Triton Boats and Yamaha.
“I’m thankful I had to look down at the list,” because it was so lengthy, Anderson said.
Then there were partners from Knoxville, like the TVA, Calhoun’s on the River, Pilot Flying J Travel Centers and Visit Knoxville.
“The real reason we’re here is to celebrate the super bowl of bass fishing,” he said. “We are happy to provide (the competitors) the opportunity to fish.”
Careers made, lost on Classic
Bob Cobb, the longtime editor of Bassmaster Magazine who went on to head Bassmaster TV, said the Classic is incomparable in how it has historically built the careers of many tournament bass anglers.
“Careers are made and lost on Classic wins and losses,” said Cobb, who was in the B.A.S.S. booth at the Expo promoting his new book, The B.A.S.S. Story Unplugged. “If you go back in the history of our sport, the first classic in 1971, there was no such thing as a bass fishing pro. But it became a recognized sport in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. (Pulitzer Prize winning writer) Red Smith started coming to cover our tournaments to see what the evolution in fishing was about.”
Evolved it has. From Bobby Murray’s prize of $10,000 to DeFoe’s $300,000 first prize. But it’s not just about the money. There are now 39 anglers who know what it means, what validity it provided them in the fishing world. Wherever they go, they’re introduced as “Classic champion.”
Cobb, who entered the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in its second induction class in 2002, takes to heart how four-time winner Rick Clunn assessed the championship.
“Clunn said, and others have said, that the Classic was worth five years of a successful career,” Cobb said. “If you could win the Classic, then it maybe wasn’t a big return on a paycheck that day, but your career was multiplied. You got sponsors. You got recognition. You moved up the food chain.
“That was all based on one thing, the big stage called the Bassmaster Classic. And if you’re not on that stage, you’re left out, in my opinion.”