Ott DeFoe admits he entered Wednesday’s opening round of the Zippo Bassmaster BASSfest at Kentucky Lake presented by A.R.E. Truck Caps feeling confident bordering on cocky.
But as excited as he was, he wasn’t expecting this.
DeFoe brought five bass to the scales that weighed 26 pounds, 7 ounces and claimed the Day 1 lead by more than a pound over South Carolina angler Andy Montgomery, who was second with 25-4.
Oklahoma pro Edwin Evers was third with 24-0, and Michigan superstar Kevin VanDam was fourth with 23-9 on a day when it took 20-4 just to make the Top 25.
“I had expectations, but I didn’t really think 26 pounds was where it was going to end up,” said DeFoe, who lives 4 1/2 hours away in Knoxville, Tenn. “I don’t want to say I was cocky, but I felt like I was going to have a pretty good day if I got on the place I wanted to fish – and if the fish stayed, which apparently they did.”
Like many in the 124-angler field, DeFoe caught most of his best fish before 10 a.m. and then went into “fish-management” mode. Instead of pounding his best areas and potentially wasting fish that could help him later in the week, he backed away and went looking for new hot spots.
He was surprised when one of the new places he found actually produced his best fish — a 7-5 largemouth that ranked as the second-largest fish caught during the opening round.
“I’m not going to say I was killing time, because I was still fishing,” DeFoe said. “But I was kind of waiting on time to go by until it was time to come in. I got one bite there, and it was a 7 1/4-pounder.”
The big fish allowed DeFoe to cull a 3 1/2-pound bass and pushed his weight from the 23-pound range above 26. That was just enough to help him edge Montgomery, who actually got help from DeFoe to catch his final keeper.
Montgomery, who struggled in practice, said the changing weather conditions caused the lake’s famed ledge bite to improve drastically Wednesday. Bright sunshine and mostly calm conditions replaced the gloomy weather that has hung over the Mid-South region the past week, and several anglers said it made a big difference.
“I’ve had some good practices this year and couldn’t carry it over when the tournament started,” Montgomery said. “This time I had a tough practice, but I knew where a good place was from past experience. Since I had a good boat draw, I was able to get there pretty early, and it worked out.
“I’m not a ledge expert by any means, but I know the sunshine makes a big difference on the Tennessee River.”
Dead batteries made it hard for Montgomery to do exactly what he wanted later in the day, but a favor from DeFoe helped him cull his last small fish.
“I was running down the lake, and I stopped and talked to Ott,” Montgomery said. “I told him I had four big ones and one 2-pounder. He had all 4-pounders, so he told me where a place was where I could go and catch one more good one.”
Evers had his limit set by 10 a.m., and VanDam was done putting his together by 9:30 a.m. Most of VanDam’s fish came during the kind of furious, 30-minute ledge flurry that Kentucky Lake is known for.
“It’s good when it’s like that,” VanDam said. “I got out there quick. I just didn’t want to draw too much attention to it, hoping I can get a few more tomorrow.”
Many ledges were crowded with a mixture of tournament anglers and local anglers. It wasn’t unusual to see more than a dozen boats fishing a small portion of the sprawling 160,000-acre lake. VanDam, who has recorded two of his 20 career B.A.S.S. victories on Kentucky Lake, said boat traffic and competition could play a big role in the outcome of the tournament.
“I know I’ve got to have a mega-school for every day, and I just don’t have it,” VanDam said. “I’ve got some stuff, for sure. But … we’ll see.”