Local fishing legend Ott DeFoe proves that persistence pays off big time.
According to Ott DeFoe, the key to staying humble and grateful is giving God the glory for the talents and opportunities He has given him. For one afternoon, Cityview reeled him in for an interview on faith, family, & fishing.
Nathan Sparks: When is your earliest memory of fishing with your dad?
Ott DeFoe: Maybe five or six years old up on Douglas Lake. I can remember fishing off of a pontoon boat we had at the time, and I can remember catching a carp up there off the bank.
N: That’s so exciting! Your first big fish.
O: Yeah exactly. The pull of that, you know, and just how exciting it was to catch something that was really hard to reel in. That was one of the first fish I remember catching.
N: Were you and your dad an inseparable pair?
O: Absolutely. The first tournament I ever fished was with my dad at nine years old and all the way up ‘til I was in my early twenties or so.
N: Were you competing at that age?
O: Yes. I was fishing local team tournaments. The first one was at nine years old and that was on Cherokee Lake. The very next year at ten or eleven years old we fished around 40 or 50 tournaments.
N: Did you win one that year?
O: No. It was a long time. I think I was twelve years old before I won any money bass fishing, actually.
N: Tell us about that.
O: The first time was up in Kentucky on Cumberland Lake. I was fishing with a family friend, Billy Caldwell. I don’t remember for sure how many fish we had that day, but I think we came in second. Won like $150 or something.
N: A big deal?
O: Yeah, it was a big deal for sure.
N: Tell us when did you decided to do this for a living.
O: I knew at the age of nine that I wanted to be a professional bass fisherman. We took a family trip down to Lake Okeechobee, Florida. It was my dad and my older brother. We went down there and hired a guide at Roland Martin’s Marina and went out on that lake, which is a huge wide expanse of water. It was very early in the morning and we were running down these little boat trails, and, you know, I’m a kid from East Tennessee used to rocks and wood and clear water. And here we are in what looks to be a swamp, running through places where there’s alligators swimming everywhere and just grass; a total shock of an environment. But we stopped out there in seemingly the middle of everything else, the guide says, ‘okay, let’s fish here.’ We get up on the front and start fishing and start catching bass and that was it for me.
N: Now you know what you want to do as a career. What happened next?
O: When we came home from that trip was when we signed up to fish that first tournament at Cherokee Lake. It was just a few weeks or a month later; didn’t catch a single fish in that tournament. Caught a lot more in Florida than we did at home, but it was that experience of being out there very early in the morning when it’s still dark, you know you can’t see anything and just watching the world come alive. Watching everything wake up was really the excitement early on before catching a lot of fish really took place.
N: Was your dad ever with you when you won a tournament?
O: My dad and I have won some tournaments together, nothing real big. We fished some 30 to 50 local tournaments and stuff, but we have won a few tournaments together for sure.
Whether out on a boat, from a kayak, from the shore—in a river, a pond, or a lake…fish every single opportunity you get because every time you go, you’re going to learn something.
N: You’ve got three kids. Do you think any of them have the bug?
O: They all enjoy fishing they really do. Abbie is our oldest at eleven. Then we’ve got Parker and Lizzie that are twins who are seven, and they all enjoy fishing. Living on the river like we do, they like to go out there behind the house, if it’s for five minutes or for a couple hours.
N: Talk a little bit about the biggest fish you ever caught in a tournament.
O: The biggest bass I ever caught in a tournament weighed ten-pounds nine-ounces. I caught it in a Bassmaster Open down on Lake Kissimmee. It was a fish I actually caught off the bed. I could see that fish down under the water and that particular day I had already caught an eight-pounder earlier that morning. It was up in the day in the afternoon, I already had a good stringer of fish, and I’m just trolling around out on this big flat looking in the grass. I see this big white spot where this fish had made a bed and it looks like a log laying in the middle of this white spot. I told the co-angler who was with me, I said, “Man, that fish is that long.” You could see it down in that black water. I eased back off of it and fished and fished and about 10 or 15 minutes into it I get a bite. I caught the male, ‘bout a two-and-a-half-pounder and that’s not the fish I’m fishing for. Let it go and fish and fish and fish and finally I said we got to leave to get back to check in on time. Minutes later at 2:13 I caught that fish, just before we had to leave. I eased the bait to the bed and I feel a bite and I’m like, ‘I already caught the male so surely it’s not the male again.’ I set the hook and the fish was maybe 20 or 25 feet away from the boat, but I can remember seeing the mouth open, that big white mouth back and forth out of the water. I knew as soon as that happened that I had the right one.
N: How did it feel trying to land that fish knowing it’s probably the winning fish?
O: Once you hook that fish, that’s just the first part of the battle, and you have to land it for it to count. It’s a very stressful, very tense moment, but as you become more experienced as a angler you learn to control yourself in those moments and not over horse the fish or break your line and those types of things. It’s controlled chaos. That’s the best way to describe it.
N: What’s your most memorable moment in a tournament?
O: One of my most memorable moments would be in the Bassmaster Classic in 2017 down on Lake Conroe, Texas. On the final day, I had kind of a tough morning and I was sitting in decent shape in the tournament. I wasn’t leading, but I was within a few pounds and really just needed a big final day to have a shot at it. I’m fishing on this bank throwing a Topwater big popper style bait, and as I’m easing out there there’s some little sticks and stuff sticking up. I throw that bait up there and I’m working it back, working it back, and I actually start to reel it in because I’m fishing as far I need to. I turn the reel handle like two times and I see this fish swim up towards the bait so I stop and I go back to working the bait and keep working it. I can see the fish darting back and forth underneath the bait, kind of sharking it just back and forth. I just keep working and working, the fish drops out of sight, and immediately comes up and gulps the bait. The fish comes up and tail walks beside the boat and it was an insane fight, but I finally landed it. It weighed nine-pounds nine-ounces. It was a giant fish to catch on top water period, but much less on top water on the final day of the Classic.
N: What’s your favorite lure?
O: My single favorite lure? I’m a crankbait fisherman at heart. I always have been. I love to fish a crankbait. It’s a bait that anybody at any level of expertise can fish. You can give it to a child who just wants something to throw out and reel back. You can give it to very experienced anglers, but a crankbait is something I’ve loved to fish as a child and I still love to fish today. But, there’s nothing that beats a top water strike, whether it’s a buzz bait or walking bait, but a crankbait, day in and day out is something that I have a lot of confidence in and that I feel like I can catch fish with under most conditions.
N: I read in an interview about how you work a bait. Jerk jerk pause jerk jerk jerk pause…hook the fish, land the fish, and then something comes next…
O: Yep, thanking Jesus. For me, giving God the glory is everything. It’s what’s most important in this life. I’m very thankful for what I get to do for a living and the talent that He gave me. This talent of being able to catch bass the way that I do. That it is a God given gift and I use that gift and the platform that I’m on to try to give Him glory every time I get a chance.
N: What would you tell a young bass fisherman that dreams of being in your position?
O: Fish every chance you get. Whether that’s in a river, in a pond, in a lake, wherever it may be. If you get to go out on a boat, if it’s from a kayak, if it’s from the shore…fish every single opportunity you get because every time you go, you’re going to learn something.
N: What in this year’s tournament what was the most exciting point?
O: Really, I would say two particular fish I caught. The first day at about 10 o’clock in the morning, I caught a six-pound largemouth and I caught that on a Storm Arashi. Catching a fish like that on Fort Loudoun in this tournament, I knew would be the difference that could separate me. To catch a really big fish, one single really big six- or seven-pounder, because those fish are out there on this system but you can’t count on them. A four- or five-pounder is a good fish, but a six-pounder is definitely something that’s pretty special on this system. So, catching that fish that early on the first morning was definitely exciting. But, the one that I would say when I caught it I felt like I probably had a shot to win, was the very final fish that I caught in the tournament and that was a four-pounder that came just before 3 o’clock. I had to be in at 3:40 PM and I was still about 25 minutes away, so I was in the last 10 or 15 minutes of fishing time. I caught a large mouth that was just over four pounds right around Concord. When I landed that fish, I actually had just caught a drum. So, I fished around the other side of the point and I get this bass, and I’m fighting like it may be a bass or it may not. It kind of ran from me when I first hooked it, but when I got it fairly close I actually felt the head shake and I knew then that it was a bass. When I landed that one, I thought this was probably my turn.
N: What went through your mind when you held that trophy?
O: It was really just thankfulness. It’s unbelievable that it all happened the way that it did. It really still feels surreal to go back and look at the pictures. You know we’re actually sitting in the boat that my family got to ride through the arena in with me holding the trophy. It really was very, very surreal. Because there was so much build up to it, from announcing it last year down there on the riverfront with the town and stuff, there was so much hype around it–especially on the Tennessee guys to be in that tournament. We talked about it for eleven months, especially the week immediately before the Classic, with all the interviews and everything. For it to finally happen and just to go the way that it did was thankfulness–that it came and that it had been and that you know God blessed me with a win.