DeFoe leads Day 1

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Ronnie Moore
Ott DeFoe leads Day 1 of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on Douglas Lake with 17 pounds, 5 ounces.

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Bassmaster Elite Series pro Ott DeFoe proved there is no place like home on the first day of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open No. 3 at Douglas Lake.

DeFoe won the May 2014 Northern Open on his home waters of Douglas Lake. Today, he set himself up for another win by catching a 17-pound, 5-ounce five-bass limit to take over the lead in this year’s Douglas Lake Open.

“It was kind of a struggle in some ways today,” DeFoe said. “This time of year this lake is so tough. It is an amazing lake about 10 months of the year, but a couple of months of the year the fishing just gets harder.”

When the fishing gets tough in the fall, DeFoe heads upriver and runs his tunnel hull aluminum boat over the shallow shoals.

The Knoxville, Tenn., pro relied on his extensive knowledge of his home lake rather than practice for the Open. “I went last Friday to kind of boat ride and look around,” he said. He also wanted to test drive his boat to see if he could run the shoals. DeFoe discovered he could run as shallow as 7 to 8 inches to reach some of the same waters he fished when he won the Open in 2014.

The three-time B.A.S.S. winner noticed three other competitors in the same section of the river he was fishing. He said conditions are changing rapidly in the river with clear and dirty water mixing and the water level falling. “I am okay with that because it will make me readjust. I feel like that’s the best way for us not to ‘beat up’ the fish. If the conditions were very stable, the fish would stay right there, but with the water changing it makes them move around.”

Custom boat builder Mike Watson relied on one of his own custom-built aluminum boats to navigate the shallows of the river and take over second place with a 16-9 five-bass limit. “I just got real fortunate when I got on one hole, caught my fish and then bailed out of there by 11:30,” said the 51-year-old Watson. “I was concerned this morning because the flow had doubled from yesterday to today.”

The Bluff City, Tenn., angler left his spot after catching his limit and idled downriver to prevent running into any shoals. "I felt like in this tournament, if you catch 15 pounds, you need to get out of a spot,” Watson said. “It was a long day after I left there.”

Others in the Top 5 include Wil Hardy, Harlem, Ga., third, 15-7; Brian Latimer, Belton, S.C., fourth, 14-14; Drew Benton, Panama City, Fla., fifth, 14-9.

Taking over the lead in the co-angler division is Bobby Drinnon with three bass weighing 10-8. The 37-year-old machinist from Rogersville, Tenn., said he caught his limit within an hour after he and his partner, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Drew Benton, reached their first spot.

Chad Pipkens of Lansing, Mich., leads the pro division for the Phoenix Big Bass Award after the first day of competition with a 5-11 largemouth. Leading the nonboater division for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award is Chancey Hatfield of Mayking, Ky., with a 4-13 largemouth.

Friday’s takeoff and weigh-in, along with the final-day takeoff, will be held at the Dandridge Public Boat Dock, 100 Public Drive in Dandridge. Spectators will need to take a shuttle from First Baptist Church, 951 TN 92 S in Dandridge. Morning shuttles will run 5 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and afternoon shuttles will run 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

The final-day weigh-in will move to the nearby Bass Pro Shops, 3629 Outdoor Sportsman Place in Kodak, Tenn.

The event is hosted by the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County, Tenn.