Family business supports Ortega’s fishing

Andy Ortega inspects the pressure safety valve on an oil pipeline.

Editor’s Note: In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re shining a spotlight on inspiring anglers like Andy Ortega.

Andres Ortega launched his family-owned Lobo Valve Services four years ago in the petroleum-rich swath of West Texas known as the Permian Basin. Why the 30-year oil field tradesman started his business has little to do with gaining financial wealth, and much to do with a dream inspired by his only son, Andy, who fishes the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens.

“Andy is the one who motivated me,” said the soft-spoken father. “I saw the passion he had for bass fishing, and knew the only way he could succeed was to start our own business.”

Risking his family’s financial security and quality of life was not an option. The Ortega’s are firmly rooted in their commitment to instilling strong family values through honest, hard work.

As a youngster Andy was introduced to tournament bass fishing watching TV episodes of The Bassmasters. He was mesmerized watching the pros catch a fish unknown to him, watching the excitement and drama of the competition unfold, and the anglers hoisting the winner’s trophy.

Andy begged his parents to take him fishing. That was a tall order in Odessa, Texas, where the nearest known bass fishery is 250 miles away at Lake Amistad. Using a Batman rod-and-reel combo Andy caught a catfish from a local pond. He was hooked and seriously wanted to catch a largemouth bass. That would come soon, at state record proportions.

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 skillfully aiming baits at the bull’s-eye of a casting target. Andy, age 9, took third place at the 2009 B.A.S.S. Federation National Championship.

Andy 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.  

Lucy, Andy and Andres Ortega.

“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. Andy 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 Andy 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.

Success also came outside the tournaments. At the age of 11, Andy caught a 10-pound largemouth from O.H. Ivie Lake that qualified as a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Catch and Release state record.

Fast forward to 2017. Andy, 18, a senior at Permian High School in Odessa, was granted his wish of being home schooled to free up time to compete in the 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 was in the near future for Andy.

After the Opens season concluded Andy went back to work for the family business. The Permian Basin covers western Texas and southeastern New Mexico, an area larger than South Dakota. The region is experiencing a gusher of production growth epic by even the outsize standards of the Lone Star State.

Andres, Lucy, their two daughters and Andy make up a staff of 12 at Lobo Valve Services. Andres said they could nearly double the staff, but that goes against his style of running the business.

“I am picky about who we hire, just like Andy is about his fishing,” said Andres. “It is very dangerous work, you must be smart, pay attention to the details.”

Lucy and Andres got married when he was 18. The next year he became an oil field technician in New Mexico. Children came next and the family moved to West Texas. Andres continued developing his trade skills and became successful in his work.

“I had been making other business owners successful, and mechanically there was nothing I can’t do out in the fields,” he said. “So we started the family business.”

Lobo Valve Services specializes in preventive maintenance and repair service of oil and gas transmission pipeline valve systems. Business is booming and 12-hour days are routine.

Carhartt work shirts are tucked inside pants of field technicians as a company rule. The business is driven by the family’s passion for producing quality work and attentive customer service.

“We believe our customers come first, and looking and acting professional is important to us,” added Lucy.

Andres runs his own service truck and joins his crews to cover a 300-mile radius of Odessa.

“I can’t let them do all the work by themselves, I’m out their with them,” he said. 

So is Andy, who works up to 70 hours for weeks at a time. Now 19, he started working in the field two years ago. Andy is responsible for testing and certifying pressure safety valves that connect to high-pressure petroleum transmission lines. Those are located at compressor stations that generate up to 1,100 pounds of pressure per square inch through a single pipe.

A pressure safety valve protects the pipe from excessive internal pressure. When a system reaches a predetermined pressure the valve opens, a portion of the petroleum discharges, and the pressure inside drops to a safe limit. Once the pressure reaches the valve’s reseating set point, the valve closes.

The valves are located at the highest point so flammable gases can escape. That means 100-foot ladder climbs wearing tools and carrying a nitrogen-charged hose to perform the tests. The work is dangerous.

Andy balanced work, fishing the 2018 Central Opens and also winning Texas B.A.S.S. Nation West Region Angler of the Year. He fishes the state championship in October with a shot at the 2019 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in view. Andy wants that and more.

“I want more time on the water because there is nothing better if you want to do this full time,” he said.

Andres agreed to the idea with one condition. He wanted Andy to prove himself as a trusted and respected crew leader of a field truck.

“I wanted him to prove to me that he was capable of taking care of the customers, his team and show leadership,” explained Andres. “Prove that he would be okay being out on his own.”

Testing and certifying 200 valves in one month was the call. Andy answered by making the deadline, completing the certification paperwork and building his already amicable relationships with the customers. After about six weeks Andy and his crew completed 500 tests.

“Andy is very popular with our customers, they want him over everyone else on their job sites,” added Lucy.

Through his outgoing, engaging personality Andy is developing a cult following among oil field workers, from roughnecks to plant managers, petroleum engineers to executives. They seemingly live their lives through him.

“Fishing is our universal language and it’s opened doors for me as a salesman,” he said. “You can go a long way in business by starting the conversation with fishing.”

Even with the practically round-the-clock demands of running their business, Lucy and Andres find time to support Andy at his Central Opens tournaments. Find them each morning at the daylight takeoffs and back for the weigh-ins. They know his day will come regardless of which direction his career shifts.

“One of these days I want him to run the business, and when he does Andy will be very busy,” said Andres. “He has proven he can handle it.”

Andy wants to be successful at both. A college education is another next step. Whichever way he goes the certainty of success is firmly grounded in a nurturing family who believes hard work and devotion to their children matters the most.