Fishing's finest: BASSfest at Dayton, Tenn., brings top pros to Chickamauga Lake

Fishing's finest: BASSfest at Dayton, Tenn., brings top pros to Chickamauga Lake

June 11th, 2014 by Jim Tanner in Sports - Professional

BassMasters Elite Series professional angler Ott DeFoe fishes on Chickamauga Lake on Monday in a practice session for the BASSFest tournament which well be held in Dayton, Tenn., starting today and running through Sunday.

Photo by Photo: Jim Tanner


Bassmaster Elite Series professional fisherman Ott DeFoe will be hosting a charity fishing tournament next week to benefit Goodwill Industries of Knoxville. It will be held June 21 on Douglas Lake at Dandridge, Tenn. The entry fee is $100 per boat in advance, $125 the morning of the tournament. The winner will receive $1,000 cash and a $500 gift card from Bass Pro Shops. For more information, visit

The Bassmasters Elite Series returns to Chickamauga Lake starting today, bringing some of the top professional anglers in the country to compete in the series' first-ever BASSfest at Dayton, Tenn.

While BASSfest is a non-points event in the race for Angler of the Year, an $875,000 total purse -- including $125,000 and entry in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic for the winner -- provides more than enough incentive for the 140 competitors who have converged on Dayton to battle it out this week.

The full field will fish today and Thursday, with the top 50 anglers advancing to the weekend. In a new twist, anglers outside the top 50 will travel to Nickajack Lake on Friday to fish in a one-day second-chance qualifier, with 10 final spots in the weekend on the line. Saturday's fishing will narrow the field from 60 to 12 anglers, who will battle it out Sunday for the top spot.

Bassmaster has not held a tournament on Chickamauga in years, and there are no area pros in the Elite series. The lack of familiarity should make for some wide-open competition.

Knoxville's Ott DeFoe is perhaps the closest Elite angler to this area, but even he is just learning how the lake fishes.

"It's kind of funny because I don't fish down here that much," he said Monday during a practice session on the lake. "It's about two hours from where I live, so I don't fish down here that often, but I guess I'm about as close to a local as there is [in this tournament]. But for the guys in this tournament, what we do is go to new places and catch fish. That's basically our job description. It may take a little bit of time, but there's going to be some guys that catch them really good."

DeFoe, 28, has been a professional angler for nine years, starting as a teenager and working his way up to the Bassmaster Elite series four years ago. He was the first Tennessean in the Elite Series and was named Bassmaster Rookie of the Year in 2011. He finished second in the Angler of the Year standings in 2012.

With primary sponsors Bass Pro Shop and Nitro boats backing him, DeFoe said the money is not his driving motivation this week.

"The tournament winnings anymore are nice, but we don't have to have them to pay our bills," he said. "It's certainly nice, and you want to get a check in every one of them. But if I miss a check, or even two or three checks, I'm going to be OK."

On the other side of the fence is Matt Lee, one of the 33 top anglers in the Bassmaster Open Series who have been invited to compete with the Elite Series guys at BASSfest.

Lee, a native of Cullman, Ala., and former national collegiate champion at Auburn, is trying to earn enough Open Series points to qualify for the Elite Series. In contrast to Elite anglers such as DeFoe, who can afford to get a new bass boat each year, Lee is making do with a four-year-old boat while he pays his dues. The equipment disparity was seen this week, as Lee lost valuable time in the three-day practice window with mechanical problems in his boat.

"I want to do well, and I want to win it," he said Tuesday in the final few hours of practice. "But then your throttle cable breaks and you only get about a day and a half to practice. You need every second you can get against these [Elite] guys, and when you have boat problems like that, it's tough to make it up."

In addition to the pro anglers, BASSfest also will feature top collegiate teams Thursday and Friday in the two-day Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Eastern Regional on Watts Bar Lake.

There also will be a lot of activities for fans throughout the week at Point Park near the Dayton Boat Ramp. Fishing equipment will be on display at a vendors expo Friday through Sunday, there will be activities for children and high school anglers, and several pros will be sharing fishing tips Friday at a series of Bassmaster University seminars.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga anglers will be competing to be among the top 11 teams and earn a spot in the Carhartt national tournament on Chatuge Reservoir at Young Harris, Ga.

Lee credits the growing popularity of college fishing with giving his career a boost as he moves into the pro ranks.

"I was real lucky to get into it when I did," he said. "My brother (Jordan Lee) and I both got to win the national championship in back-to-back years, which means we both got to fish the Bassmaster Classic. ... It gets you on TV and folks get to know who you are.

"This job is about catching fish, but it's also about how you market yourself. ... The publicity from being in the college thing and doing well is awesome."

While Open Series anglers such as Lee are hoping to earn even more publicity for themselves and their sponsors as they take on the top dogs of pro bass fishing, DeFoe is focused on one thing -- catching big fish.

"It's not fun just to go fish; I have to be catching something," he said, laughing. "Some people might just enjoy fishing, but I enjoy catching something. Like anybody, it doesn't matter what you do, you want to be good at it."

Contact Jim Tanner at or 423-757-6478. Follow him at