Ott's tunnel vision
DANDRIDGE, Tenn. -- Find Ott DeFoe anywhere but a lake when home in east Tennessee. Smallmouth fishing in the upper reaches of lakes and swift moving, rock-filled rivers is where he likes to go fishing for fun.
He's turned fun into serious business this week at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open. DeFoe is fishing on Douglas Lake from his customized Tracker Boats Grizzly 1860SC.
The boat has a modified tunnel hull for running in extremely shallow water. It's a tricked out aluminum rig best suited for navigating where no fiberglass boat can venture.
"Some of the places I'm fishing are normally accessible in a bass boat, so it's set up really well for me this week," he said. "I'm here to swing for the fence and win, nothing else."
Going into Day 3 DeFoe is 8th place with 33 pounds, 11 ounces. He acknowledged that knocking friend David Mullins out of the lead is a long shot. Even so, the aluminum alternative got him to a second consecutive Top 12 at an Open on his home lake. In 2014 he won the tournament using another modified hull Grizzly.
The current rig has many of the features of his NITRO Z21 with a performance twist. The 18-foot boat is powered by a 90 h.p. Mercury FourStroke. There's a 10-inch ATLAS Jack Plate, hydraulic steering and Lenco Trim Tabs.
Trim tabs on an aluminum boat? You bet.
"An aluminum boat is like a pendulum in the nose rides up or the back rides down, or the reverse," he explained. "What the trim tabs do is balance the hull so it runs flat."
The Grizzly is designed to do that anyway, except DeFoe needs to take that handling to the extreme.
"It's not at all about speed, getting a quick hole shot and trimming the hull out of the water," he said. "It's about making the boat run flat so it'll skim over obstacles."
After the hole shot DeFoe raises the jack plate up high and lowers the trim tabs and gives it the throttle. The result is a boat that will run in about 7 inches of water. Top end speed is about 33 mph.
"At times you are running obstacles the width of the boat on plane at 25 or 28 mph," he said.
Obstacles? Those are rocks, some the same size of the boat. And the distance is not from each side of the bank but between the rocks, he emphasized.
The boat could run even shallower with a jet drive, although that's not an option under B.A.S.S. rules. DeFoe likes the tradeoff of using a prop on the outboard.
"That's where you have an advantage over a jet drive," he said. "The handling is better with a prop because you get a solid bite for handling in tight turns."
As a result the hull slides very little. That's a good thing when you are shooting rapids between boulders against the current of a swift moving river.
Inside the rig has a custom front deck extending to the console. Between that and the bow is plenty of storage, including a rod locker that holds up to 20 rods up to 8-feet long.
"On the inside the rod box is the most important feature, obviously," he said. "It's the first thing I added."
Another important feature is the Minn Kota Fortrex 112 trolling motor. Over one hundred pounds of thrust on an aluminum boat seems like overkill. It's not when you spend most of the time fishing in current.
For stopping and holding power there are twin Minn Kota 10-foot twin Talons. Using a 36-volt Lithium Pros trolling motor battery reduces weight.
DeFoe has a jet-drive powered rig, too. He uses that to compete in local tournaments with friends and family.
Points race update
Who wins the tournament will be determined on Day 3. Meanwhile, another competition brews in the point race for invitations to the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series.
Likely candidates for the invitation list are Jesse Wiggins, Mark Rose, Mark Daniels, Jr., and Stetson Blaylock. He led the point standings prior to this tournament and finished just outside the Top 12 in 14th place. Wiggins, Rose and Daniels made the cut and will improve their weight on Day 3. Jacob Wheeler and Dustin Connell are other possibilities, although they missed the cut.
Blaylock and Rose remain uncommitted, pending sponsor discussions. Connell is a definite, should he make the cut and secure sponsorships. Wheeler already has the sponsor power, namely from Academy Sports + Outdoors, to join should he qualify. Wiggins and Daniels have work to do in securing sponsors, although the early ending of the Southern Opens season gives them more time.
Invitations go to the Top 5 although that is an ambiguous number. Accepting the invitation, tie-breakers in the total weight and other factors are part of determining who the five invites ultimately go to.
High school mentor
Eddie Johns is fishing this week as a co-angler. Back home in Jacksonville, Ala., the retired high school vocational teacher stays busy spreading the word about bass fishing.
"No teacher likes to retire," he said. "So I teach bass fishing."
Johns retired from the Calhoun county school system after 20 years. He's fished local and regional club tournaments for 31 years.
Johns visits area high schools several times each month. He makes a lesson plan for every session he teaches. Handouts, audiovisuals and hands-on demonstration are the teaching techniques.
Videos posted to his social media pages are cleverly titled with a ".edu" acronym. That's how most educational institutions are assigned a domain name for their websites.
"It's easy to remember when you name a topic," he added.
Conservation, tournament and fishing etiquette, and of course, patterns and lures are part of the lesson. Johns teaches it all from beginning to end.
"I'm a one-man show," he said.
He also takes that show on the road when fishing as an Opens co-angler. Prior to arriving at the tournament host town he makes contact with the schools to volunteer his time and share the program. Talking teacher to teacher he's usually successful.
At the Southern Open held in Jasper, Ala., he taught bass fishing to an audience of 600 at the local career center. This week he visited Sevier county vocational high school.
What is rewarding most of all is experiencing the return and feedback of his students.
"My goal is for the students to be better anglers and enjoy bass fishing for life," he said. "For them to out fish me in a bass tournament is even better."