Story by Russ “Bassdozer” Comeau
In late October 2012, PAA pro Ott DeFoe finished fourth in the Italy Bass Open team tournament on Lake Bolsena, Italy.
This was Ott and his wife Jennie’s first time traveling to another country. Although going there on business, the couple looked forward to seeing the famous tourist attractions in Italy too.
The Italy Bass Open is a tournament series ran by the Italy B.A.S.S. Federation Nation. Thirty teams competed in this event. DeFoe and his partner Mark Curry were the only team from the USA. A few teams from Germany and Russia participated too. The majority of the teams were from Italy.
The DeFoes arrived in Italy on Wednesday, October 24th. On Thursday and Friday, Ott practiced on Lake Bolsena. It’s a volcanic crater lake created from an extinct volcano. It’s basically round, about 8 miles across, deep and clear. “It was the clearest lake I’ve ever fished. You could see bottom 25 feet deep when it wasn’t windy. Thursday was beautiful, 72 degrees, no wind, but Friday became a little windier and it rained a bit that afternoon,” said Ott.
By Saturday morning when the tournament started, it was blowing 10-20 mph and gusting to 25-30 mph at launch time, with 20-30 mph winds gusting to 40 by the time the teams returned to weigh in. Sunday morning, the second day of what was supposed to be a two-day tournament had to be cancelled due to the wind blowing 30 mph and waves already six footers at launch time.
Weights from the first day carried over to become the final results. The team leading/winning the event had 8.675 kilos (19.13 lbs). Second and third place had over 6 kilos. The team of DeFoe/Curry finished in 4th place with 4.62 kilos (10.19 lbs) of bass. Fifth through tenth places were pretty tightly clustered around the 4 kilo range. Being that October was National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the 350 Euros that DeFoe/Curry won, they donated to Breast Cancer Awareness.
“Due to the deep, clear nature of this lake, the majority of the field was finesse fishing, mostly dropshots, shakey heads, small, light weights and baits,” said Ott. If the weather stayed nice like it was during practice, DeFoe probably would have done the same. “Since it became very windy and cloudy during the event, I felt I could get away with big baits, and I wound up catching most of our weigh-in fish on a 5″ swimbait with a 3/4 oz jig head, slow-rolling it 20-30 feet deep. A lot of my bites on the swimbait came on the initial drop when you first cast, which makes sense with the water being so clear here. I think the guys who won actually caught their fish on spinnerbaits which makes a lot of sense given the windy conditions,” explained DeFoe.
The most remarkable feature of fishing Lake Bolsena is its water clarity and the extreme depth at which aquatic grass will grow here. Like many teams, DeFoe and Curry were fishing deep grass edges, some of which were out in 32-34 feet of water. Grass that deep is unusual in DeFoe’s experience in the USA, but it’s a product of how clear Lake Bolsena is. He compared it to Lake St. Clair,Michigan where grass will grow out to 20 feet deep, but it needs to be extremely clear to do that. Bolsena had some milfoil and there was some hydrilla and cabbage, but the majority of the vegetation (and the fish were relating to it) was a thinner, spinier kind of grass that had a very strong smell to it. “I’ve seen this type of grass only a few times in the USA. If the guy in the boat with you pulled some out of the water, and you were downwind, you’d know it. It smelled that strong,” remarked Ott. In some areas it would be a solid carpet on the bottom, while in other places with harder bottom, rocks or whatever, the grass would be clumpy, a patch here, a patch there. “Those places where the grass was kind of broken up and irregular, some short 4-5′ clumps and some tall clumps 8-10′ off the bottom – that’s where the best fishing would be,” said Ott.
During practice, DeFoe did try to find a shallow bite, but couldn’t. “Actually, the shallows weren’t super-vegetated. You could go up on flats that were 5 feet deep, and the grass would get thinner and thinner, and get up to 3 feet deep, and there was hardly any shallow grass. It was really odd,” he said.
About Bass Fishing in Italy
The DeFoes were invited to Italy through his sponsors Bass Pro Shops and Nitro to help promote the Tracker Boat dealership in Italy.
“Something like 90% of the bass boat market there are Tracker and Nitro boats,” said Ott. “Just like cars are smaller in Europe, most of the boats are smaller too. There were a few Z8′s and Z7′s in this event, but mostly X5′s and Z6′s which are 17-footers. Honestly, for the size of boats, they were better-equipped than what you typically see in the USA- electronics-wise anyway. As a general rule, they were many Nitro X5s with 3 big state-of-the-art graphs on them. Although they had smaller boats, they still had the latest electronics and big 24 volt trolling motors.”
“In terms of tackle they had just as much – a boatful. Rods and reels were all pretty similar to what we have in the USA, possibly a few more Japanese rods or Japanese-style rods than we have or use, but for the most part, the reels and most of the rods were like what we have in the USA. In terms of baits, I’d say at best, about 10% of our lures may be Japanese brands whereas I’d bet that 60-70% of their stuff in Italy looked to be Japanese or Japanese-style baits. They use way more Japanese baits than US baits, including baits I’ve never seen in the USA,” admitted Ott.
(NOTE: Due to the popularity of Japanese brands in Europe, other Japanese-style brand names are marketed there but not made in Japan.)
The bass fishing market in Italy, however, is a small industry as Ott found out by asking several knowledgeable persons there. “They guessed there’s only a couple of thousand bass anglers out of the whole country. I hoped it would be a little more than that, but they live there, they should have a pretty good idea…I think that many people bass fish around where I live in East Tennessee, and some of the bigger lakes we fish across the USA seem to have that many anglers on them on a good weekend.
“One friend that Ott made in Italy is Luca Quintavalla. “He’s one of the few professional anglers who just fishes for a living. That’s all he does. Along with some guiding, he fishes tournaments and he works at shows, seminars and stuff like that, but he’s one of only 2-3 pros in the whole country,” said DeFoe adding that, “Although there are 2-3 pros, basically every tournament they have is a team tournament, they don’t have any pro-ams.”
Ott also learned there aren’t that many bodies of water that have bass in them. Most are small ponds where only electric trolling motors are permitted. Belly boats or kick boats are very popular and they even have belly/kick boat tournaments. “They find a way to make it competitive even if it is on a small body of water; they have to work with what they’ve got. They’ve got a few small rivers with bass in them but only a few lakes comparable in size to Bolsena. With that being said, the quality of fishing and size of the bass in Italy seems good from what I’ve experienced and heard,” says Ott.
Seeing the Tourist Attractions
After the tournament was over, Ott and Jennie spent the entire day Monday sightseeing around Rome. “Luca Quintavalla set us up with a couple of his friends who work and live in Rome, and they showed us around. One friend of Luca’s was a taxi driver who’s an expert on where to go and what to see in Rome.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day; that’s not even enough time to see it all. “We weren’t able to go to places because of the lines, like the Vatican, we would have had to wait in line 3-4 hours to get a ticket and take 2 hours to walk through it. Luca’s friend drove us around to all the places you’d see on any postcards and we got some amazing pictures.”
“A lot of those famous places in Rome, it’s just amazing how big most of them are – and then how old they are. On the whole, that was the neatest part of the whole trip to me…in the USA, we don’t have very old buildings, 200 years old at most, and our country’s only 600 years old since Columbus, interestingly an Italian, first discovered America. But it was amazing there were buildings in Italy that were 2,000 years old or more. Buildings that are still there. So that was mind-boggling…to even think how they could have built those things back in those times.”
“If we go again, we’ll have to plan some extra time to go in all those places that we couldn’t this time, but even still, it was a lot of fun to see.”
Sampling the Food in Italy
“Honestly, the food was the biggest surprise to us. It was just…different than we expected. We ate some things that were really good, but basically the meats they have are all seafood or some type of pork products. Now, I like ham and bacon, but it’s not the same thing there. We’re beef and chicken eaters in my house, and we didn’t really find a place in Italy to get that. There were some things that were good, but it was so much different than we were expecting. The pizza was good, although at home, we’re big fans of thick crust pizza, and in Italy, everything they have, the crust is always super-thin…still the pizza was really good. The pasta dishes were really good, but overall I’d have to say, for our taste, we think there’s better Italian food in the USA,” laughed Ott.