LA CROSSE, Wis. — Ott DeFoe maintained his lead for the third day in a row to earn his first career regular-season Elite Series victory at the Plano Bassmaster Elite at the Mississippi River presented by Favorite Fishing.
DeFoe, of Knoxville, Tenn., produced a five-bass limit that weighed 12 pounds, 1 ounce on Championship Sunday, moving his four-day total to 63-10. DeFoe’s performance barely ousted Minnesota native Seth Feider, who weighed in 13-8 for a total of 62-7 to finish second.
DeFoe’s victory earned him a $100,000 paycheck and a title that he has been striving for since his rookie season in 2011 — the same season the now 31-year-old pro was crowned Bassmaster Elite Series Rookie of the Year.
“I’ve done well in La Crosse before,” DeFoe said. “It’s an amazing fishery, and I feel very comfortable fishing here. I felt that I located the right fish during practice that might keep me competitive during each day of competition, and I’m thankful the pattern held up.
“It’s hard for me to put into words what winning this tournament means. To beat 106 of the world’s best bass fisherman is something that I don’t take lightly, and it’s something me and my family are very proud of.”
DeFoe spent the entire tournament fishing Pool 8 of the Upper Mississippi River. He started his mornings in front of a low-head dam/spillway where Pool 7 slowly dumped into Pool 8. That created a turbulent flow, which attracted baitfish and bass alike.
“The spot is no secret. In fact, I had several other anglers fishing it with me,” the five-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier explained. “But that didn’t bother me because I knew I was fishing it differently than they were, and I could still go behind them and keep catching fish.”
He caught his bass below the spillway on an unweighted swimbait that was retrieved at the speed of the current. He used a 7-foot Fenwick Elite Tech rod in a medium/heavy action matched with a 7.1:1 Pflueger Patriarch baitcasting reel loaded with 15-pound Berkley fluorocarbon.
The swimbait would tumble through the rapidly moving water, providing the feeding bass with a realistic meal that imitated a struggling or dying baitfish being washed downstream in the current.
During Friday’s competition, DeFoe caught the tournament’s Phoenix Boats Big Bass from that very location. The largemouth bass weighed 6-1 and earned the angler a $1,500 bonus.
“I fished that spillway for most of each morning,” he said. “Then I headed to the southern end of Pool 8 and fished in the grass flats near Stoddard, Wis. I worked a small area of matted grass with a punch rig to catch largemouth, and that spot helped me cull up my weight each day.”
DeFoe’s punch rig consisted of a 1 1/2-ounce tungsten flipping weight, a 4/0 VMC heavy duty flipping hook and a 4 1/2-inch black and blue creature bait. He had that rig set up on a 7-foot, 8-inch heavy action Fenwick World Class Rod paired with a Pflueger Patriarch in a 7.9:1 gear ratio that was loaded with 65-pound Trilene braided line.
The final event of the regular season leads into the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship to be held this week on Minnesota’s Mille Lacs Lake. The Top 50 in AOY points advance to compete for a $1 million purse and berths to the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.
Feider, of Bloomington, Minn., had a lot on the line coming into this tournament. He needed to finish in the Top 4 if he were to have a shot at fishing in the championship.
His come-from-behind performance not only earned him second place but also locked in one more tournament appearance on his favorite lake, Mille Lacs.
“There have been many times over the past two years that I wondered if I was actually good enough to compete on this level,” Feider said. “I learned a lot about myself at this tournament, and a lot about tournament fishing in general — I’m very happy with my finish this week. You can bet that I’ll be fishing very differently from here on.”
Rounding out the Top 12: Alton Jones (61-14), Jordan Lee (61-8), Skeet Reese (58-5), Edwin Evers (58-0), Takahiro Omori (57-0), Mark Davis (54-14), Jared Lintner (54-9), Casey Ashley (54-1), Randy Howell (53-11) and Gerald Swindle (52-13).
After his sixth Top 12 finish of the season, Swindle, of Guntersville, Ala., maintains an AOY lead of 43 points ahead of Keith Combs of Huntington, Texas.
Swindle was awarded $1,000 for leading the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race at the end of the event.
Jones earned the Power-Pole Captain’s Cash award of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered, eligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.
DeFoe earned the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500 for leading on the second day.
Lee won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program. The second-highest-placing eligible entrant, Evers, received $2,000.
The Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award of $1,500 was presented to DeFoe for weighing in the overall biggest bass of the event — a 6-1 bass caught on Friday.
Jones earned the A.R.E. Top Angler Award of $1,000 for being the highest placing angler using A.R.E. products.
Dick Cepek Rolling Forward Award of $1,000 will be presented to the angler who makes the largest gain in Toyota Angler of the Year points from tournament to tournament.