Ott DeFoe on Figuring Out The MLF Offshore Conundrum
By Lynn Burkhead
May 4, 2017
At most stops in Major League Fishing GEICO Select competition, the pre-event dock talk among MLF staff, reporters and cameramen often centers around a couple of key questions.
The first one revolving around the idea of what local brand of bass - largemouth, smallmouth and/or spotted bass - will ultimately prove itself to be the one species that winning anglers must target.
The second query? Whether or not such bass will be caught up shallow next to the bank around cover like boathouses, docks, timber and vegetation, or out deep on structural features located in offshore locations where fish are more apt to group up in large schools that can light up the SCORETRACKER LIVE! leaderboard and then some.
If those two questions are key among MLF workers, they are even more important for the actual anglers who are out on the water competing in such MLF Select events.
That includes Ott DeFoe, the eastern Tennessee bass fishing young gun who always seems to be up near the top of the leaderboard.
And while DeFoe is certainly comfortable in catching bass up shallow, he is never afraid to venture offshore either.
"The neat part of fishing deep - in general - is that when you catch one, you're probably going to catch another," he said. "And maybe another. And maybe even another. If you get on a good place, you're going to catch several."
Which can help to explain why some pros like DeFoe are willing to gamble and dedicate at least a portion of their time during a day of competition to the effort of trying to find a productive spot away from the bank.
Because when they find that spot, it can be lights out as the Outdoor Channel television cameras look on.
"That's why you're willing to spend that time looking and searching, because to be honest, that's what it should be (in offshore fishing), a lot of looking and searching," DeFoe said.
The problem for MLF anglers is that such search time steadily cuts into an already hectic day of competition.
How crowded is the day? Consider that a typical round of MLF action includes an early morning ride-around on the lake, three periods of actual competition, breaks in between each period, a flurry of SCORETRACKER LIVE! leaderboard updates throughout the day and the before, during and after filming process for the most popular fishing show on outdoors television.
This means that while there can be great reward for an angler willing to target an offshore spot during a round of MLF competition, the risk to do so is great.
And because of that, at most events, anglers are usually content to stay closer to the shoreline and target shallower bass, isolated though they may be.
DeFoe - the 2011 B.A.S.S. Rookie of the Year who cut his teeth fishing for the deep-water bass located not too far from his Knoxville, Tenn. home - said that the actual process of finding offshore bass isn't really all that difficult in the final analysis.
"It's just fishing around until you figure out where they are," said DeFoe, a five time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and three-time winner of B.A.S.S. tournament events.
"Your casts, when you're fishing deep, should always be landing in front of fish because you've already seen them on your graph and know that they're there."
To find such fish on the graph, that usually means plenty of proverbial windshield time as the Tennessee pro intently scans his electronics and looks for key structural features that are holding good schools of bass.
"Yeah, you're almost always doing a lot of idling around," DeFoe said. "Around 90-percent of the time, I'm (actually) looking for the fish themselves (on the electronics).
"Sometimes, they might be in brush or something like that, but as good as our electronic stuff is now, you can still actually see them, just not as good in that kind of cover.
"But for me, it's all about actually seeing those (offshore) fish first before I fire a cast."
When I asked just how big a school of bass DeFoe is looking for, he said that it doesn't usually take too much to grab his attention and bring a cast out into the deeper water. Just the knowledge that there are several bass hanging out in a general area.
"I don't have to see that many," he said. "If I see three or four, I'll start fishing. I don't have to see that many at all."
What about the actual size of fish - is there a certain weight-class of bass that he is trying to target with his electronics before tossing a lure out?
"If I've been catching them on a certain body of water, and have been seeing some on a regular basis there, then yes, I can tell (what size they are)," said DeFoe. "I can usually tell whether they are big ones or not.
"Now that doesn't mean that I can tell if they're 2 1/2 pounders versus 3-pounders, but I can generally tell if they're good ones or smaller fish."
While that consideration is important in DeFoe's competition on the Bassmaster Elite Series, it is far less so since MLF competition rewards anglers by weighing and counting every single legal bass that they can bring to the on-board scales manned by boat officials.
Because of that, if DeFoe sees a school of bass on his electronics, in MLF competition, he's going to soon be firing away with his rod, reel and bait combinations.
Speaking of such, once the Tennessee pro finds bass that he wants to target, how will he actually go about doing so?
"Number one for me is going to be throwing a Rapala DT 16 crankbait," said DeFoe. "I'm going to crank it on a Fenwick Elite Tech 7'10" rod in medium heavy action. (And) I'm going to throw the bait on 10-pound Berkley Trilene Fluorocarbon line spooled onto a Pflueger Supreme 5.4:1 reel."
When he puts this package into action, it usually doesn't take DeFoe too long to figure out the MLF conundrum that is usually in play.