Mike Defibaugh is living his dream.
The 43-year-old Bellefontaine native and resident not only fished in his first professional walleye tournament April 12-13, but he won it.
And with that, he announced he would be turning over all $15,000 of his cash winnings to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants requests to children diagnosed with life-threatening diseases.
“To be fishing as a pro on the tournament circuit is a dream come true for me,” he said. “My wife (Mandy) and I talked about it when we decided I should turn pro and we decided we would donate any cash I earned this year. And since I am living my dream, we figured we would help kids have a chance to live their dreams.”
The tournament that he won was the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour season-opening event out of Huron on Lake Erie. In addition to his $15,000 cash, first prize included a new $46,000 Ranger boat and Evinrude motor.
Defibaugh’s knowledge of Lake Erie paid off on the second and final day of the tournament. As the boats headed out of the Huron River, almost all turned left to find some of the large spawning walleyes off of the Camp Perry reefs — quite a long haul from Huron. Instead, Defibaugh turned right and fished close to shore, 5-8 miles east of Huron.
“The lake was muddy and the wind was blowing,” Defibaugh recalled. “So I looked for places with better water clarity. I think I ended up just five miles from the ramp.”
Defibaugh was using deep-diving Bandits with planer boards. His color combinations varied, but a chartreuse head, purple sides and a pink belly worked best. He said the more important adjustment was adding Pro-Cure, a gel scent, on the top of each crankbait.
“I think the scent was key to locating the crankbaits,” he said. “They were hitting it hard; the boards would just rocket back. There was no mistaking there was a fish on.”
He finished with 64.65 pounds, 42.26 coming on the second day when he rose from 22nd place after the first day with 22.23 pounds.
“I went west to the reefs the first day and caught one good fish (out of the five he weighed). With the way the wind was blowing on the second day, I decided to stay closer to home.”
The second-place finisher was Ryan Buddie of North Ridgeville, Ohio at 62.61 pounds. Mike Robertson of Laura came in fourth with 58.53 pounds and won $16,568.
Defibaugh, who is a mechanic for CSX Railroad, credits his wife and sponsors (Ranger, Knox Marine, Indian Lake Bass Pro and Reef Runner Lures) for giving him his chance on the pro circuit.
“I am lucky my wife and kids (three) have been behind me all the way. We talked about turning pro all winter,” said Defibaugh. “I’ve been blessed with a job that keeps all the bills paid with a little left over to put gas in the boat and buy a few worms. And since I was able to get some sponsors, we decided to give it a try.”