Ott DeFoe, the 2019 Bassmaster Classic champion and perennial contender for just about any tournament he competes in, rarely prefishes a lake before it goes off limits. He thinks that it locks him into yesterday’s pattern. Nevertheless, despite only limited experience at South Carolina’s Lake Murray – a Forrest Wood Cup, a long-ago Elite Series tournament, and an MLF Select, all at different time periods – he had a good sense of what was going to go down when the Bass Pro Tour visited Murray last week.
“I had never been there during the pre-spawn or the spawn, but it’s the first week of April in South Carolina,” he said. “That means it’s going to be largely a spawning tournament. With that in mind, I spent a lot of time in practice just looking, and I marked a decent number of fish over 3 pounds. Not a lot of truly big ones but I knew that bed fishing was going to be my primary deal.”
With that commitment, and two key hooks, DeFoe saved the best for last to finish second overall. He was in 20th place in his cohort after Day One with 16-12, then added 21-09 to easily slide into the Knockout Round in 4th. Once there, he started with 19-11, just squeaking into the final day by the narrow margin of 2 ounces, then closed with 23-06 to pass all but one angler. Here’s how he did it.
Later Waves in Different Areas
“Just about every fish I caught was on a bed, but none of them were in the backs of pockets,” DeFoe said. “They were on the sides or on the secondary points. That tells me they were not the first wave or maybe even the second wave of spawners.”
Some were super-shallow and others strained his eyes to make out the beds, but they were in predictable places like the back posts of stationary docks, or simply out in the open.
Despite not being terribly difficult to find, the fish were skittish. After all, they’d been heavily pressured for several weeks, they were exposed, and the BPT pros will find anything that’s obvious and lots of fish that aren’t quite so obvious.
“Very few of them were aggressive,” DeFoe stated. “You really had to work for them. Strangely enough, the easiest fish that I caught all week was a 5 pound 5 ounce bass I landed during the Knockout Round, my biggest fish of the tournament. Even just plain two and a half pounders were taking a while.”
With finicky fish and the general quirkiness of bed fishing in play, DeFoe needed the perfect hook to make sure that the bass got it in the mouth and stayed buttoned up.
RedLine Offerings Upped His Game
To catch Murray’s non-aggressive bedders, DeFoe employed a one-two punch of a wacky-rigged stick worm and a Texas rigged thick-bodied straight-tail worm. With the former, he used a #1 VMC® Redline Series™ Weedless Wacky Neko hook.
He then rigged the latter with a 3/16 ounce tungsten weight, a VMC bobber stop, and a 4/0- VMC® RedLine Series™ Hybrid Worm hook.
While it’s the action of the soft plastic that entices a spawning bass to bite, the right hook, with the right gap and a wicked sharp point is what keeps them pinned throughout a spirited fight. Sting a fish, lose him, and he likely won’t bite again, so it’s critical that everything stand up to the battle.
“What I like about the RedLines is that they don’t have too heavy of a wire,” DeFoe said. “The fish at Murray didn’t often have the bait in the back of their mouth, so you needed something strong to hold on but not overly heavy so it would penetrate every time.
“Every one of these hooks is the perfect shape,” he continued. “The RedLine Weedless Wacky Neko hook is pretty much identical to the VMC Weedless Wacky Neko hook that I’ve used to weigh in thousands of pounds of bass over the years, just better wire. That gives me increased confidence that I’ll continue to battle for wins on the water.”
Even where VMC has altered or modified shapes for these new hooks, DeFoe believes that each one is a mix of science and art, the perfect amount of gap and offset to maximize fish catches.
On Saturday, in one of the craziest catches we’ve seen in years, he ended up handlining a massive 6 pound 13 ounce Lake Murray spawner when the bass got caught up in an underwater obstruction. He let the line go slack and then used old-fashioned Tennessee ingenuity to get the job done. “We’ve got ourselves a rodeo,” he exclaimed, before crediting the RedLine hook for hanging on.
AOY In His Sights
With his runner-up finish at Lake Murray, DeFoe is leading the BPT Angler of the Year race through three tournaments. That’s a lot of casts left to make, and a lot of hook sets remaining to execute. While he’s won just about everything there is to win, from a Classic to the Heavy Hitters event – and has finished in the money in approximately 80 percent of his lifetime tournaments, AOY is one title that has evaded him through his career.
He recognizes that it’s early in the season, but there’s no place he’d rather be.
“What it means is that I don’t have a hole to fill, no ground to make up,” he said. “It’s the best starting place you can be.”
Still, he’s not putting the cart before the horse. At every point in every season, his goal and his focus is to make top tens.
“That’s what I tell myself at every event,” he said. “The goal is to try to be like Jacob Wheeler. If you make those top tens, the titles take care of themselves.”