Ott DeFoe: Skimming The Top

Story and Photos By Craig Lamb

For Ott DeFoe, trading glass for aluminum is sometimes worth the risk.

Photo of Ott DeFoe running his bass boat

To fully appreciate what you're about to read is worth taking time to find a ruler. Once you do look at the 4-inch mark. That is the on-plane running depth of pro angler Ott DeFoe's fully loaded 18-foot aluminum boat.

DeFoe won't catch bass with the 1,500-pound metal sled racing across the skinniest of water. That's not the point. For DeFoe this rig takes him to places where few other bass boats can go.

Call it DeFoe's ace in the hole for reaching virgin bass territory.

The Bassmaster Elite Series pro can't use the boat in all tournaments. Rules prohibit anglers from switching boats during the season in the Elite Series. The Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens are different. Pros have the option to switch boats during the competition.

Photo of Ott DeFoe on his bass boat

DeFoe's rogue rig is known to appear in the middle of the night. Call it the "boat and switch pattern."

That's what happened during an Open on Lake Logan Martin in Alabama. Practice was unproductive in the lower lake and DeFoe speculated much better conditions existed in the upper reaches of the headwater. In a snap decision, he traded his Nitro Z-9 for the Tracker Grizzly 1860 parked at home in Tennessee. A supportive wife delivered the aluminum rig overnight in time for Day Two.

During the takeoff, all the other boats headed up lake passed DeFoe. And then he passed them. His destination was the upper end of Choccolocco Creek. It's dangerous territory for fiberglass rigs, with sharp boulders, hidden shoals and swift currents at every turn of the narrow channel.

The gamble paid off. DeFoe caught what he needed to break into the top five and ultimately earn a nice paycheck.

It's not the first time he switched boats and it won't be the last. Oxbow lakes and silted channel entrances leading to open backwater come to mind. Such was the scenario at a tournament on the Arkansas River.

"What I lose in speed and fishing time I gain in access," he said. "Jet drives are banned for use in my tournaments, but this boat can go the same places with a prop."

Photo of Ott DeFoe showing his rig modificationsFrom the factory, DeFoe's rig can run in 8 inches of water, but the modifications allow him to run in half that.

At first glance DeFoe's boat looks like any ordinary aluminum bass boat. Look underneath it and you'll find a modified tunnel hull.

"I've always wanted a tunnel hull and this one makes a good fit," he said. "From the factory it could run in 8 inches of water."

DeFoe wanted more. Call it his a desire to take running a tournament-grade, prop-driven boat and motor to the extreme in shallow water.

A friend with a welding shop made it happen through untold hours of moonlighting through trial and error. He retrofitted the hull with a deeper tunnel, increasing the depth from 7 to 11 inches. Next, he added a plate into the hull to catch more water and provide even more lift. The additional water gives the prop much needed bite when running in extremely shallow water.

"The motor skeg is never lower than the bottom edge of the hull," he added. "It's how I get the same performance of a jet drive."

Once the boat is on plane he gets that performance by keeping the hydraulic jack plate raised all the way up. There are compromises. Maneuverability is reduced with a tunnel hull because there's less of the hull in the water. That makes steering a trick when you don't know what obstacles are around the next bend of the creek. For those reasons DeFoe shuns the foot throttle that's standard equipment on fiberglass rigs.

"One hand on the wheel and the other on the throttle at all times," he explained. He sits on top of a crossed leg in his seat, rising up to see what looms ahead in tricky areas. The awkward stance and two-hand operation is probably good considering the white-knuckle grip encountered on some runs.

"Once you get it up and running through water like that you can't back down on the throttle," he admitted. "It runs the shallowest with the throttle wide open."

Wide open is a peak top-end speed of 32 mph, much safer and slower than what it takes for a fiberglass rig of comparable size to stay on plane.

DeFoe's choice of batteries helps reduce weight. The boat is rigged with lithium-ion batteries originally made for the auto racing industry, where trimming ounces from a car's overall weight can add winning fractions of seconds to the speed. Lithium Pros makes the batteries for DeFoe's boat. The pair of 12- and 36-volt lithium batteries weigh less than a single lead acid battery.

That's where the corner cutting stops. Where the water moves slow in fiberglass boat territory, it goes faster where DeFoe goes in his aluminum rig. On the deck is a full-sized Minn Kota Fortex packing 101 pounds of thrust. He'd go higher if the power was available.

"More is better because you can’t predict current speed in some places where I'm going," he said.

Rod storage is another must have. It was the first option DeFoe added to the boat.

"You can't really cut corners there because techniques nowadays are so specialized and you need the rods to match the baits and presentation."

DeFoe's rod storage holds 15 combos, a copious number by aluminum standards. Given only one choice he'd take the rod box over additional storage, opting to store extra gear in plastic storage containers.

The front deck is modified to provide the same stable platform as a fiberglass bass boat. The extended space can easily accommodate two anglers, a rarity for aluminum rigs. Below deck is recessed storage for tackle, including the rods. The trolling motor battery is easily accessible through a storage box in the front deck.

Another unique modification is the EZ-Troll Tray. It's a prefabricated and molded tray that fits the foot pedal of his trolling motor. The tray provides the stability and safety of a recessed trolling motor pedal, another boat control asset for fishing in current. The recess allows him to keep both feet level with the deck.

A built-in 26-gallon fuel tank is another add-on. One tank with a full load of gear lasts nearly 4 hours, or about the longest range that DeFoe considers making a round-trip journey with the aluminum rig.

Photo of a 90-hp Mercury outboardThe 90-hp Mercury allows him a top speed of 32 mph and he can run for four hours.

There are drawbacks and the unknowns. A calm, uneventful run to the skinny water can turn ugly if the wind kicks up in the afternoon. Mud isn't good either and it's a nemesis of this kind of fishing. DeFoe accepts both as part of the game.

"There's always a risk in a tournament and it doesn't always work," he said. "When it does, you look like a genius."

That's how tournaments are won, though. For every risk there's a payoff somewhere down the line. For DeFoe his lies in water where few boats can go. End of story hook

— Published: Spring 2014


The Rig

  • Tracker Grizzly 1860
  • 90 h.p. Mercury Optimax
  • Minn Kota Fortrex 101 36v
  • Humminbird 788 (bow)
  • Humminbird 898 (console)
  • 12v Lithium Pros (cranking)
  • 36v Lithium Pros (accessories)
  • TH Marine Atlas Hydraulic Jackplate
  • Minn Kota Talons (2)

Modifications

  • 26-gallon fuel tank
  • Rod storage
  • Recessed tackle storage
  • EZ-Troll Tray for recessed trolling motor pedal
  • Tunnel hull rise from 7 to 11 inches

Performance

DeFoe estimates the tournament-load weight at 1,500 pounds. Top end speed averages 32 mph and he can run 4 hours with a full tank of fuel.

 

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