It seemed scripted from the day it was announced that Knoxville, Tenn., would host the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods. Sure, Ott DeFoe would be the favorite to win on the waters of the Tennessee River and lakes Fort Loudoun and Tellico. He’s been winning tournaments here since he was a kid.
And in retrospect, too, it appears the $300,000 winning check had DeFoe’s name on it from the start – that it was simply meant to be. For example, on Thursday’s Media Day, many of the anglers were asked to predict the winning total weight for the three-day tournament, not necessarily their total weight, but just what it would take to win. DeFoe’s prediction: 49 pounds, 7 ounces. His winning weight: 49 pounds, 3 ounces.
“It’s a dream come true,” DeFoe said Sunday. “That’s the only way I know to describe it. I still feel like I’m going to wake up in a little bit. It’s all very surreal.”
However, this tournament didn’t go as planned for anyone, including DeFoe. All seemed in order when DeFoe took the first day lead with a 20-pound bag. But the last thing DeFoe said when leaving the press conference that evening was, “The thing I know best about this lake is how fickle it can be.”
It was fickle for everyone during the Classic, even DeFoe, as demonstrated by his 10-pound, 5-ounce limit that dropped him into fourth place on Day 2 and seemingly opened the door for anglers like Jacob Wheeler, Mark Daniels Jr., and Chris Zaldain, all of whom moved in front of DeFoe in the standings.
Ultimately, that became a blessing.
“Having that really bad day allowed me to fish a lot freer and not have anything to lose,” said DeFoe.
And consider this: If DeFoe had left the water on Day 2 and stayed frustrated, he might not have listened when fellow competitor Keith Poche spoke to him that afternoon. DeFoe was on the way to a port-a-potty in the boat yard, before the anglers weighed in, and Poche was “pulling his hair out,” in DeFoe’s words, about the frustrating day he’d had while missing several bites near the Fort Loudoun Dam Marina. As is legal within the rules, fellow competitors can exchange information. The conversation, when Poche told DeFoe that he should try that area, came before the anglers weighed-in, and before Poche missed the Day 2 top 25 cut.
The Fort Loudoun Dam Marina where DeFoe decided to start on the final day and where he caught most of his title-clinching 18-14 limit.
“A full bladder and divine intervention (in the form of Poche),” is how DeFoe humorously summed up his day. Where would he have started, if he hadn’t talked – and, most importantly, listened to Poche.
“That’s a good question because I really don’t know,” said DeFoe, taking a moment to ponder it. “I have no idea. I probably would have rotated back through some of those places where I caught a 4-pounder late (Sunday). I would have fished a lot of those places I’d been fishing, those shallow, offshore places. But who knows? I’m glad I don’t have to worry about it.”
As you can see in the totals below, the tournament waters, and we’re talking mostly about Fort Loudoun Lake where the majority of anglers concentrated, fished about the same overall on all three days. But individual performances were up-and-down. That too proved to be a blessing for DeFoe.
“The first day was magic,” he said during the final hours of competition Sunday. “The second day was humbling. Today has been special. Sometimes it takes a little humbling to realize how special the special ones are.”
Ott DeFoe was born in Knoxville and has spent all but about three of his 33 years on this earth with a Knoxville address. Just over a year ago, DeFoe, his wife Jennie and their three kids moved to Blaine, a small town located 30 minutes from downtown Knoxville. DeFoe started fishing tournaments with his father here when he was 9 years old. He joined the East Tennessee Bass Anglers Club when he was 12. He and various partners have won who-knows-how-many small local tournaments here.
Some of DeFoe’s significant success as a pro has come at nearby Douglas Lake. He won a Bassmaster Open there in 2014. But Fort Loudoun Lake is where he feels at home, and they’re two different fisheries.
“As a young angler, fishing a lot of tournaments, Douglas was actually a thorn in my side,” he said. “I’d always go up there and get beat by people fishing deep, and I hated fishing deep. That’s why I’ve always liked Fort Loudoun, where you fish in the dirt all the time. The fish live shallow down here.”
DeFoe detailed all the various “wildcat” one-day events when he’s won money over the years at Fort Loudoun.
“This was the lake where I could come fish a wildcat tournament two or three times a week, and I was going to make a couple hundred bucks every time I came down here,” he said. “That’s what I loved about it.
“What I also liked about it was every day is different. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. You just never know what this place is going to put out and how you’re going to catch them. It’s a place that has shaped me as an angler.
“The last time I fished down here was not last fall, but the fall before. I took (his son) Parker. We went up the river and won that tournament.”
DeFoe paused and smiled before adding, “I’ve had pretty good success in my last two tournaments here. This one was just a little bit bigger.”
Yes, this one was just a little bit bigger. Ott DeFoe is now in the record book as a Bassmaster Classic champion.
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Bass weighed 217 213 91
Total wt. lbs./oz 501-15 508-10 227-13
Ave. weight lbs. 2.31 2.39 2.50
Big bass 6-0 6-3 6-2
Anglers/limits 52/30 52/33 25/13
Limits percentage 57% 63% 52%
Angler Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Total
1. Ott DeFoe 20-00 10-05 18-14 — 49-03
2. Jacob Wheeler 14-11 17-11 12-15 — 45-05
3. Jesse Wiggins 10-11 15-15 17-04 — 43-14
4. Mike Iaconelli 9-02 19-07 14-00 — 42-09
5. Mark Daniels Jr. 14-08 17-06 9-14 — 41-12