By DAVE LINK
LENOIR CITY – Ott DeFoe is glad to take a break from his high-pressure career in professional bass fishing during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Family time is priceless for DeFoe, who lives in Blaine with his wife, Jennie, and their three children.
For most of the year, DeFoe is on the road fishing tournaments, endorsing products, and hosting his popular show on the Outdoor Channel, “The Hunt for Monster Bass.”
Jennie DeFoe takes charge of the family from early spring until late fall while Ott is at work, fishing.
“It definitely is a full-time job that my wife does of keeping me where I’m supposed to be,” DeFoe said. “And as active as the kids are now, especially with sports and different things, she does the job of two or three people.”
DeFoe doesn’t mind doing some fishing during his break from Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour. Especially when he gets to fish with his son, Parker, 10.
They were among the 39 teams of anglers in the inaugural 2021 New Year’s Eve Bass Tournament on Fort Loudon/Tellico Lakes, organized by Alcoa Fishing Team’s J.J. LaRue and Heritage Fishing Club’s Adam Woliver.
LaRue said the tournament wasn’t about points or championships but instead giving youth anglers a chance to have fun fishing with their boat captains and other teams in the area.
Ott DeFoe was all for that.
“We had a great time out there, once the fog let up,” he said.
BIG BAG, BIG BASS
Blast-off for the event was scheduled for 9 a.m. but was delayed until about 11:15 due to heavy fog on the lake. Weigh-ins at the Tellico-Loudon Canal boat ramp didn’t change from 2:30 p.m. for the junior division and 3 p.m. for the high school division.
DeFoe was familiar with Fort Loudon Lake – as he is most lakes in the area – and fished the MLF Bass Pro Tour’s event at Loudon with a 32nd-place finish Oct. 10.
He and Parker found better fishing on the warm New Year’s Eve morning and early afternoon.
“It was surprisingly good (fishing), to be quite honest,” Ott said. “I hadn’t been down here since October and it wasn’t very good then, the last time I was down here. But we went to one area today and kind of stayed there all day and it was pretty good.”
Despite the limited time window due to the fog delay, the DeFoe duo caught the limit of five keepers weighing 14.72 pounds, the biggest bag of the event.
Ott caught three bass and Parker caught two – including the day’s big bass weighing 5.03 pounds.
Parker caught the big largemouth on a wake bait – a topwater lure – the same lure they caught all their keepers on during the event.
“As soon as it hit,” Parker said, “I knew it was big because it jumped out of the water.”
It was caught while Ott was filming a live feed for Major League Fishing; replay of the feed can be seen on the MLF page or the Alcoa Fishing Team’s Facebook page.
Parker said the big bass jump-started a fun day at the lake.
“It was pretty exciting,” he said. “Once I caught that fish, I was pretty happy.”
It was the third-largest bass Parker’s ever caught.
His biggest was an 8-pounder caught on the Holston River behind their home in Blaine, and it got him an episode on “The Hunt for Monster Bass.”
“Once I caught my 8-pound bass, I told dad, ‘Hey dad, can I be on your show because I’ve caught a huge bass?’ ” Parker said.
AT THE TOP, FAITH TESTED
You could say Ott earned a break from pressure fishing during the 2021 season. It was a huge year on tour for DeFoe.
He finished second in the MLF Pro Bass Tour standings – earning 479 points and $278,257 in prize money – behind only Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee (494 points, $388,998).
Wheeler was the MLF Angler of the Year, while DeFoe was the runner-up.
DeFoe isn’t a newcomer to the big stage.
As a pro, he has 53 career top-10 finishes, eight wins, and has earned more than $2.5 million in prize money. His wins include the 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville; the 2020 Bass Pro Tour Stage Three event; the 2021 Bass Pro Tour Stages One and Three events; and the 2021 Heritage Cup. He has more than 20 sponsors, including Bass Pro Shops, Nitro Boats, General Tire, and Mossy Oak.
DeFoe’s laid-back demeanor defies the celebrity status he could have. He makes time to talk with anybody. He’s just a regular guy enjoying life and people.
And when’s he’s fishing tournaments on TV, DeFoe seems the same way.
“I try to keep my priorities in line,” Ott said. “That’s God first and family second, and then fishing behind that. That’s for sure where (his personality) comes from because if you get those out of line and put them in the wrong order, then the pressure’s really going to get to you.”
His faith went through the utmost of tests in 2019.
Just days after winning the Bassmaster Classic in March, DeFoe was having trouble sleeping and breathing. His diagnosis was bronchitis, but his breathing problems continued. Later, DeFoe was diagnosed with a torn valve in his heart.
At age 33, DeFoe had heart surgery, and life was put into perspective.
“Everything about going through that heart surgery and stuff, that was a trying time, but I look at it as a blessing,” DeFoe said. “I’m very thankful to God that I had that happen because it was a good way to look back at what really is important and to appreciate everything and every opportunity you get.”
HOW IT STARTED, WHAT’S NEXT
Ott knows the importance of spending time with family. Born in Knoxville, he started fishing as a youngster with his father, Bud. At age 9, inspired by a fishing trip to Lake Okeechobee in Florida, Ott fished his first tournament in the fall. During the next year, he fished more than 50 tournaments.
At age 12, he joined the East Tennessee Bass Anglers club, worked his way up the FLW Tour, and qualified for the prestigious Bassmaster Elite Series in 2010. The next year, DeFoe was chosen as the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year and was on his way to the top of the sport.
“I played basketball and other stuff as a middle schooler,” Ott said, “but once I got to seventh or eighth grade, fishing was all I did.”
DeFoe’s three children enjoy a variety of activities. All three attend Berean Christian School in Knoxville.
Parker’s twin sister, Elizabeth, plays volleyball and basketball. Parker also plays basketball. Their sister, Abbie, 14, plays volleyball and does horseback riding.
Occasionally, Ott and Jennie fish together.
“She likes to fish,” Ott said of his wife. “She doesn’t get to unless I’m taking her on an off-day here or there, or to sneak off to a pond or something when the girls are at horseback riding lessons.”
Ott’s time off with family this winter is winding down. He returns to pro fishing Feb. 5-10 for the MLF Bass Pro Fishing’s Stage One event in Monroe, Louisiana.
Only 80 anglers make the cut to compete on the 2022 Bass Pro Tour.
DeFoe, 36, wants to stay at it for a while.
“I’d like to do this until I’m 50, mid-50s at the latest,” he said. “Another 15 or 20 years, somewhere in that range.”