As a boy, Dakota Ebare drove a three-wheeler towing a utility trailer and small, two-man boat with the intent to go after bass living in every pit, gravel pond or lake in Livingston Parish.
As a young man, 15 or so years later, Ebare’s Ford F-150 pickup truck pulls a high-performance Ranger 520 bass boat powered by a 250-horsepower Mercury outboard motor whenever he’s in the parish, which isn’t much these days, neighboring states or wherever pro bass tournaments take the rising star on the Fishing League Worldwide Tour, better known as the FLW Tour.
The 27-year-old all-around outdoorsman, born to fish and catch fish, namely bass, and his considerable bass fishing talents and instinct are in Arkansas this week for the FLW Cup at Lake Hamilton south of Hot Springs. The Watson native who graduated from Live Oak High School in 2010 qualified for the world championship of pro bass fishing in this, his first year on the FLW Tour.
Made ends meet as a touring angler with help of Dollar Menu
Gone are the days, struggling to make ends meet as a collegiate bass angler also fishing other circuits, all the while subsisting on countless $3.27 meals at McDonald’s. He remembers those days well - the McChicken sandwich on the Dollar Menu along with french fries and a large sweet tea.
“Honestly, it’s a tough sport to make it in. The financial strain is something that holds people back. It held me back,” Ebare said July 31 while driving on Interstate 10 toward Denham Springs. “I can’t tell you how many times that’s what it takes ($3.27 specials). I was putting all the money back in the gas tank and entry fees. I didn’t have any to spare.”
The Louisiana FLW Tour rookie, who has won $73,323 total as a pro bass fisherman, $40,500 this year, could add substantially to that total before the last FLW Cup cast is made Aug. 11. He finished 27th in the Angler of the Year standings and cashed in on four of the seven stops on the circuit – 18th at Cherokee Lake in Tennessee for $11,500; 37th at Lake Champlain in New York State for $10,000; 49th at Grand Lake in Oklahoma for $10,000, and 60th in his FLW Tour debut at Lake Sam Rayburn in Texas for $10,000.
Hosted by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and Visit Hot Springs, this weekend’s FLW Cup features 52 of the world’s top bass fishing pros casting for the sport’s biggest cash payout -- $300,000.
“Everybody asks me if I’m nervous. I say I’m not,” Ebare said. “This is something I’ve worked so long, so hard for. I’m going to enjoy it and embrace it. I just want to enjoy it and do the best I can.”
In fact, he feels relaxed, like the day in early August 2018 when he fished a Bassmaster Eastern Open at Lake Champlain in New York State, made the cut and finished eighth with a total of 53 pounds, 13 ounces, to win $5,363.
Ebare said the following morning he went out for the next round after making the cut he was overwhelmingly at peace, very relaxed.
The FLW Cup stakes are somewhat different than a regular-season event on the FLW Tour. There is a guaranteed paycheck no matter how he finishes, which means there is less pressure than usual.
Nevertheless, he said, he’s aiming high, going for the win, which is the way he rolls throughout his bassin’ career.
FLW’s world championship of bass fishing starts Friday
Ebare and the 51 other FLW Cup qualifiers will launch from the Andrew Hulsey Fish Hatchery in Hot Springs at 6:30 a.m. each day starting Friday. Daily weigh-ins will be held starting at 5 p.m. at the Bank OZK Arena, a multi-purpose facility in Hot Springs.
Official practice began Sunday, Aug. 4, at Lake Hamilton. He planned to ride the lake and graph it with his Lowrance marine electronics on the two practice days, looking for brush piles that he has experience fishing from his many days on the water at False River, although they will be much deeper at Lake Hamilton. He’ll explore the lake’s shallow cover, too, as well as its grass beds, he said.
There are several FLW Cup favorites, including David Dudley of Lynchburg, Virginia, the reigning FLW Tour Angler of the Year; Brad Knight of Lancing, Tennessee, a past winner of the FLW Cup, and Bryan Thrift of Shelby, North Carolina, the 2007 FLW Tour Rookie of the Year who is held in such high esteem by Ebare.
Bill Taylor, senior director of tournament operations for FLW since 2000, had words of warning for people following the FLW Cup in Arkansas, where many fans will have their eyes on, among others, Dudley, Knight, Thrift, Brian Lattimore of Belton, South Carolina, and his friend, Scott Martin of Clewiston, Florida.
Watch Ebare, Taylor said, emphatically.
“Don’t take your eyes off this young man because he’s a threat to win the Cup,” Taylor, 72, said last week about Ebare.
“I’ve only known him a short time. This is his first year. I’ve learned this guy is a stick. His future is going to be long and it should be pretty lucrative the way he handles himself off the water with his fellow anglers, his sponsors and his fans,” he said.
Taylor tabbed Ebare to speak to marshals before one tournament on the FLW Tour circuit in 2019. He came away impressed with the young man’s demeanor, ease and poise in front of the crowd, a natural.
“He told them how he got started” among other details about their task ahead, the FLW official said.
Mom put him in a boat, his Snoopy rod put bass in it
Ebare, the son of Preston and Mary Ebare, started fishing before he could walk, thanks to his mother.
“My mother is who got me into fishing. My mother had me in a bass boat before I could walk. I was probably casting a (Zebco) Snoopy pole at the same time I was learning to walk. I obviously took a liking to bass fishing some time in my early childhood,” he said, noting as a 10- or 11-year-old, he preferred fishing for bass over perch (bream or sac-a-lait).
“I always enjoyed the challenge of bass fishing, figuring them out day to day, hour to hour. It’s a challenge to figure it out. That’s what I really enjoy.”
He likens bass fishing to bowhunting for deer on public lands - the state’s many Wildlife Management Area. In the fall and winter, after the bass tournaments are in the rear-view mirror, he’ll be trying to find and shoot whitetail deer, which can be like ghosts in the woods, on a WMA.
Ebare has broadened his bass fishing knowledge each time out on his own, first on the three-wheeler pulling the small boat when he was old enough.
“There wasn’t a lake or pond in the Watson or Denham Springs areas that I didn’t fish,” he said with a soft chuckle at the memory.
Then Ebare concentrated on fishing Blind River and False River in the family’s 17-foot Challenger.
“I was 17 when my mom started letting me take the boat out on my own to fish night tournaments with Cody Rabalais. I think we won like 11 of 15 tournaments (one summer), me and my buddy,” he said.
After high school, he continued fishing bass tournaments while attending Baton Rouge Community College, where he graduated with a degree in industrial technology, and LSU.
A roadblock confronted him when he was about 19.
“My motor actually blew up on the boat. I didn’t have enough money to fix it. Financially, I didn’t have enough money to fix it,” he said.
Bass fishing in his blood, rodeo bull riding in his veins
That derailed his love for competitive bass fishing, and he turned to his other natural talent, riding bulls in rodeos, which he had done for years whenever he wasn’t fishing. He competed in rodeos just about every weekend for a year, making money on the Cajun Rodeo Association Circuit that brought him to New Iberia, Houma and other cities in South Louisiana.
“Honestly, rodeoing was going so good for me at the time,” he said, emphasizing the word “so.”
His success led to a rodeo scholarship, which waived out-of-state tuition, at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. He thrived on the collegiate rodeo circuit starting the fall 2014.
“When I got out there, I continued rodeoing and stuff. I found out they had a very successful college fishing team. It’s crazy that rodeoing got me back into fishing,” he said.
A fellow rodeo competitor happened to own a bass boat. Ebare and Jacob Beyer teamed up and began fishing college bass tournaments in 2015. Ebare was hooked on bass fishing again.
While fishing with Beyer, Zack Ziober and Justin Seeton (“I learned a lot from him,” Ebare says), Ebare qualified for six collegiate national tournaments in two years, two in B.A.S.S., two in FLW and two in ACA (American Collegiate Anglers). His highest finish was fourth with Seeton at the ACA’s 2017 BoatUs College Bass Fishing Championship in June 2017 when they weighed in a total of 39.49 pounds at Pickwick Lake in Kentucky.
That and other successes in pro bass tournaments steered him back to bass fishing. He recalled suffering a fractured hip during a bull ride and recuperating for three months, finally discarding crutches to get in a boat for an FLW college national championship event in March 2016 at Lake Keowee in South Carolina.
He also qualified for the next college national championship in 2017.
Ebare recalls telling himself, “This is going really good. If I’m going to make it as a pro angler, this is my opportunity.”
And he seized the opportunity like he sets the hook on a bass, solidly. He fished FLW’s BFL and Costa circuits and, even, made that cut in a Bassmaster Eastern Open at Lake Champlain.
Fresh out of college, though, he finished 105th in a field of 200 in a BFL tournament, followed by a 108th, then an 80th.
“I never will forget (finishing 105th). I had a lot to learn,” he said.
Going into 2019, his mind was made up. He targeted the FLW Tour.
Success on the water leads to several sponsorships
His Ford F-150 gray diamond wrap features his sponsors, including his title sponsor, Leak Sealers Environmental Inc., a Lumberton, Texas-based company that conducts industrial services for refineries from Houston to Baton Rouge, where it expanded recently, an expansion that coincided coincidentally with his entry on the FLW Tour.
“I had met the owner at the end of last year. They had just opened an office in Baton Rouge and were looking for more exposure, Ebare said.
Other sponsors include Gill Fishing, Costa sunglasses, Hammer Fishing Rods and Lowrance, he said.
“When things are clicking on the water, they start clicking off the water,” he said. “I was finally able to take a step up on the tournament level and it was a lot easier to approach those guys (sponsors). It (success) gives me a better platform to represent those guys.”
Ebare never was pushy, he said, adding, “I wanted to earn my place on the water. It’s got to happen in due time. When you strike a deal, you have to be ready to do a good job.”
Now he’s at Lake Hamilton, waiting for the grand stage of the most prestigious tournament of his career.
His biggest fan will be the woman who got him in a bass boat as a toddler, his mother. Taylor, the FLW Tour official, said, “His mother’s a strong supporter. She travels with him when she can.”
The “power fisherman” admitted his growing prowess with a spinning rod and said he isn’t going in with a preconceived idea how to put bass in the livewell and on the scale each day at Bank OZK Arena.
“I’m not locked into any one thing,” he said.
Ebare, who has two 10-pound plus bass to his credit this year, both on Strike King 10XD Crank Baits at Lake Sam Raburn, one in a tournament he won but didn’t win (that’s another story) and another while fishing for fun, said, “I try to fish the conditions. I don’t have a real specific way I like to catch them.
“I have had most of my success throwing big crank baits. I like to power fish. I consider myself a power fisherman,” he said, noting he isn’t too proud to pick up a spinning rod and throw a Ned Rig, like he did in the FLW Tour stop earlier this year at Cherokee Lake.
He would love to catch them in the clutch on the big crank baits, a 10-inch plastic worm or “flippin’ around a jig,” he said. But he’ll let the bass decide what he offers.
And, he reiterated, he is aiming high.
“You can’t fish conservatively out there, just for a check. If you’re not fishing to win, you’re not going to be in the right mindset,” he said, noting if a bass angler fishes to win, odds are he or she will finish higher.
Perhaps, just perhaps, when it’s all over he’ll be celebrating a noteworthy win or lofty finish with a $3.27 special at McDonald’s, for old time’s sake.