ODESSA, Texas — Andy Ortega recalled with a laugh the moment that sparked his dream of becoming a tournament angler.
The 8-year-old was channel surfing when the remote control found The Bassmasters TV show. The wide-eyed youngster watched as a boisterous, animated Michael Iaconelli landed an 8-pound largemouth from Lake Amistad.
“He banged his head against the dashboard and just went crazy,” recalled Ortega. “I thought that was cool, seeing him get so excited about just catching a largemouth bass.”
The “going Ike” moment led to the purchase of a Batman rod-and-reel combo by his parents. Lucy and Andres Ortega then took their son to a local pond and he caught a catfish. He was hooked but wanted more. Ortega seriously wanted to catch a largemouth. That would come soon, at state record proportions.
Fast forward to 2017. Ortega, a senior at Permian High School in Odessa, was granted his wish of being home schooled to free up time to compete in the 2017 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Opens.
He finished ninth at the final event on Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees. After taking the lead on Day 2, numerous well-wishing pros approached him at the weigh-in. All recognized that success is in the near future for Ortega.
Ortega spoke with the same detail and clarity as a seasoned pro when describing his pattern at Grand Lake. Keep in mind that he is only 18 years old, and started tournament fishing just four years ago.
“In practice I set out to catch resident largemouth in the backs of creeks on a buzzbait,” he said. “I expanded my pattern to pea gravel shorelines for catching schooling fish during an early morning bite.”
Ortega discovered during the tournament that his buzzbait moved too quickly through the strike zone.
“The largemouth were there but the bite was off,” he said. “The fish needed a slower moving lure to stay longer in the strike zone.”
He switched to a 6-inch Evergreen Shower Blows 105. The pencil design and unique action does everything from walking the dog to chugging. Ortega slowed his presentation to keep the lure moving sideways instead of forward.
Recognizing slower was better became a wise move that put him in contention to win. On Day 2, Ortega took the lead with a limit weighing 12 pounds, 7 ounces, for a total of 28-6.
Watch him describe his Day 2 in this video.
There is more to home schooling than freeing up time for the tournaments. The nearest suitable bass fishing water is four hours away at Lake Amistad.
“After Andy did so well in junior tournaments we had to make a decision on how to enable him to keep fishing,” said Lucy. “We are so far out in West Texas that we might be away from home for several days, just so he can get in the practice time at Lake Amistad.”
Ortega is unhindered as an aspiring tournament angler living in a world surrounded by oil fields and few placed to go bass fishing. The workaround began in the days of the Batman pole and push button spincast reel.
Lucy Ortega discovered the Bassmaster CastingKids program and it’s connection with the San Angelo Bass Club. She entered her son in the 7-10 age group of the national flip, pitch and cast competition.
What was lost in fishing time was gained with the mechanics of making baits land on the bull’s-eye of a casting target. Ortega took third place at the national finals held at the 2009 B.A.S.S. Federation National Championship.
Ortega joined the junior club and finally caught his first largemouth. Tears of joy streamed down his face after landing the prized catch. Yet distance to fishable water continued to be a handicap. Ortega made the most of every trip.
“I had trouble catching bass, but I just loved the competition,” he recalled. “It was a competitive thrill, and I just kept going for it with every trip.”
Eventually, success came in multiples. Ortega won four junior club angler of the year titles over five years in the 11-14 age group of his club. To keep the competition fair for other members the tournament director moved Ortega up to the next age group. He won the 15-18 year old angler of the year title in his first season. For the next three seasons he qualified for the state championship, coming in second place each year.