By Pete Robbins
Newly-crowned Bassmaster Classic champion Ott DeFoe was forthright about some of the tips that pushed him over the top in Knoxville. While his intimate knowledge of the Tennessee River and its inhabitants was likely unsurpassed among the field, at the conclusion of Day Two fellow qualifier Keith Poche told him about an area loaded with quality bass. That spot produced four of DeFoe’s weigh fish on the final day of competition, leading him to a nearly 4-pound margin of victory.
Less publicized has been the champ’s primary bait on Championship Sunday, a vibrating jig with a Yamamoto Zako on the back of it. Yamamoto does not sponsor DeFoe — Bass Pro Shops is his soft plastics partner — but a combination of live coverage, Ott’s openness, and his sponsor’s willingness to let him speak about his winning tools allowed him to share why it worked.
Oddly enough, he’d never fished the Zako prior to this event, but he’d seen Brett Hite’s success with it and decided that “apparently it’s what you’re supposed to use.” He purchased some prior to practice and experienced immediate success. “Once you start getting bit on something, you’re less inclined to try something else.”
While he was new to the Zako, DeFoe has successfully used vibrating jigs in tournaments around the country, affixing a variety of trailers to maximize their effectiveness. He realized that the Zako was the right tool for the job for several reasons.
“More than anything, the profile is what I’d refer to as ‘anatomically correct,’” he said. “On so many trailers the tail is sideways and this one is straight up-and-down. It seems extremely simple, but on the back of a bladed jig it kicks very naturally. We were fishing cooler water, 52 to 54 degrees. It’s better than a boot tail in that situation, because it doesn’t create a huge amount of water disturbance. It almost complements the action.”
His jig was chartreuse and white, and he paired it with a white Zako. To further enhance the attraction, he sprayed the tip of the trailer with chartreuse dye. While he almost always matches his trailers to the main lure, this particular combination — as opposed to green pumpkin or black and blue — was quite deliberate. The bass were suspended around his targeted marina and “there was a lot of bait in that area. Those fish were feeding on shad.”
He fished it on his standard BPS CarbonLite baitcasting reel with a 7.5:1 gear ratio spooled with 17 lb. XPS fluorocarbon, but his rod choice also reflected Hite’s influence.
“A couple of weeks before the Classic I was down at Grosse Savanne,” he said, referring to the notorious bass factory near Lake Charles, Louisiana. “You always miss some fish with that lure, especially the ones that hit it really, really hard, but it seemed like I was losing a lot more fish than usual.
“I noticed how BHite always uses a composite rod, so I switched from my normal 7’ medium-heavy graphite rod to a Bass Pro Shops 7’6” medium-heavy Crankin’ Stick.” After that, he lost very few fish.
It would be ridiculous to say that DeFoe only won because of what Poche told him, or the lessons he learned by watching Hite, or because the Classic was on his home waters. At just 33 years old, he’s long been an Elite competitor, able to win on any sort of water, in any part of the country. A huge part of that success has been his ability to observe and internalize the lessons of his peers, and to correct his few-and-far-between flaws.
It wasn’t a matter of whether he’d win a major championship, but rather when it would happen.
“The Yamamoto family is thrilled that we were able to be a part of this momentous occasion,” commented VP of Operations at GYCB, Ron Colby. “We are also excited that Bass Pro Shops graciously allowed DeFoe to share his wisdom and insights with the fishing community, rather than asking him to talk about an ‘unnamed soft plastic swimbait’.”
The Zako will be a featured product at Bass Pro Shops Spring Fishing Classics around the country. Be sure to get there early to purchase a few packs in all of your favorite colors. Tell ‘em Ott sent you.