With close to two dozen tournaments under his belt in 2020 coming into the Toyota Series Championship on Lake Cumberland, it’s not surprising that the second-year Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit angler Dakota Ebare is at a point where the adjustments are just second nature. For proof, just take a look at the leaderboard.
Entering Championship Saturday, Ebare leads with 30 pounds, 13 ounces total after moving up from seventh place on day two. Ebare’s 16-12 bag on day two is the largest of the tournament to this point, and it all goes back to his four days of practice earlier this week and his ability to get in tune with any fishery in a hurry.
“First day I got here I was going through the motions and I had something in mind that I wanted to do, trying to catch fish chasing bait like I did at Dale Hollow," says Ebare.
At Dale Hollow, which was the last Central Divison event of the year, Ebare finished third chasing offshore and suspended bass.
“It just wasn’t happening," says Ebare. "I started going through the motions trying to find another something else and ran into a little pattern and expanded it every day of practice.”
Thanks to some particularly nasty weather during the final day of practice – weather akin to the cold, wet conditions today – Ebare was able to hone his pattern by way of a pretty stellar bite that clued him in to where the fish were concentrated.
Though he opted to not get into specifics (there’s up to $245,000 on the line, after all), Ebare’s pattern is certainly very particular.
“It’s a very specific deal that I’m fishing a specific way, and I’m running it all the way down the lake,” he says.
Ebare weighed in 14-1 on day one, so it’s not as if he wasn’t on some good fish already, but the wind and rain that found its way to Southern Kentucky on Friday amplified his bite, adding a little more quality to the equation.
“Today the quality showed up,” he adds. “I probably caught about the same amount of fish that I had yesterday, but I had the quality I was really hoping for after my practice.”
At Dale Hollow a month ago – on a fishery not dissimilar to Cumberland by any means – Ebare chased after bass that were chasing after bait in the middle of creeks to earn his third-place finish. While some anglers may have clung to that same approach and tried to replicate it just an hour or so north, further up the Cumberland River, Ebare was savvy and flexible enough to know that wasn’t going to be the ticket to a giant payday. So far, that malleability has paid off.
Tomorrow will be the real test, especially with the $200,000 winner check – plus a $35,000 Phoenix bonus and a $10,000 bonus for being the highest-placing finisher in his division – on the line. No matter what happens, though, Ebare is thankful for the season he had in 2020.
“That’s a lot of money. I want to win so dadgum bad,” he admits. “I’m extremely blessed and thankful, though. God has blessed me so much all year. There’s been some ups and downs, trials and tribulations, but this is a humbling sport and that’s just part of it. You have to roll with the punches and keep going. I kept my faith and kept going to these tournaments and having fun and loving it.”
Still, it’s a lot easier to have fun when you’re holding up a giant check.
“It would be a great way to cap off the year,” he says. “To end on a win, that’d be something special.”
Top 10 pros
1. Dakota Ebare – Denham Springs, La. – 30 – 13 (10)
2. Cameron Lineback – Mount Airy, N.C. – 29 – 9 (10)
3. Chris Malone – Ironton, Ohio – 28 – 11 (10)
4. Andrew Loberg – Rocklin, Calif. – 26 – 1 (10)
5. Michael Caruso – Peoria, Ariz. – 26 – 0 (10)
6. Eric Olliverson – Lampe, Mo. – 25 – 15 (10)
7. Drew Boggs – Lebanon, Tenn. – 25 – 11 (10)
8. Hunter Eubanks – Inman, S.C. – 24 – 14 (10)
9. Trent Palmer – Cumming, Ga. – 24 – 10 (10)
10. Kurt Mitchell – Milford, Del. – 24 – 8 (10)
Otto leads co-angler pack
Driving eight hours from his home in Jefferson City, Mo., to get here right before the tournament, Travis Otto has been grinding out four keepers a day to hold the lead with 15 pounds, 5 ounces. After catching 9-4 on day one, he hauled in 6-1 on a tougher day two and will start Saturday’s final round with a 9-ounce lead over Mario Riojas.
Though Otto lives in the Ozarks, he’s not too familiar with highland reservoirs.
“I’ve never fished this lake, ever,” says Otto. “I didn’t even practice on this lake. I got down here Wednesday night at 3 o’clock in the morning. I had a lot of work to get done before coming here.”
This is only the fourth event Otto has fished in the Toyota Series and after finishing 16th in the Co-angler of the Year standings to qualify for the championship he’s enjoying the success on a new body of water.
“It’s been pretty good really,” he says. “It’s kinda tough, but big smallmouth on a shaky head is fun. I’ve caught a lot of fish, but a lot of shorts," says Otto. "My big fish have all come on one bait and they’ve been on the bank. I don’t know if it’s really a pattern I figured out, but I think I’m just hitting the right spot at the right time. It seems like guys in the front of the boat want to speed through areas and crank through real fast and I’m just trying to fish a little slower.”
With one day of fishing left between him and new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat powered by a 115-hp outboard, Otto is excited to get back on the lake.
“It’d mean everything to me to win this,” he says. “It’d be amazing.”
Top 10 co-anglers
1. Travis Otto – Jefferson City, Mo. – 15-5 (8)
2. Mario Riojas – Blanchard, Okla. – 14-12 (7)
3. Matt Greene – Ventura, Calif. – 14-3 (6)
4. Justin Kimmel – Athens, Ga. – 14-0 (5)
5. Don White – Columbus, Miss. – 13-15 (6)
6. Larry Elliott – Enoree, S.C. – 13-6 (7)
7. Morgan Brown – Spanish Fort, Ala. – 13-0 (6)
8. Mason Chapman – Lake Quivira, Kan. – 12-12 (7)
9. Landon Huff – Madison, Ga. – 12-11 (7)
10. Jarvis Ellis – Albany, Ga. – 12-3 (4)