By Paul Strege
All photos courtesy of FLW Outdoors
Two annual family vacations formed Dave’s fishing persona at a very young age. The destinations included a one-week trip to Canada and a two-week stay in Florida. The Lefebres invited grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends to join them on their retreats where a large portion of time was dedicated solely to fishing. Fishing fascinated young Dave. The challenge of catching and understanding the catch sparked an internal quest, a competition of sorts, to learn the process better than anyone else.
Dave recalls, “The vacations I spent with my family are where it all started. I always looked forward to those trips every year, and that is what kept me fired-up about fishing. It also made me want to travel and see more of the country.”
On those getaways, it was easy for family members to recognize Dave’s competitive drive. They knew he hated to lose, whether it was a game of Yahtzee or an informal bet on who would catch the largest fish of the day.
“I just had something in me that was different from others. I always wanted to win. Even when playing a game of ping pong – if I lost, I would get real mad. I had a competitive thing in me that nobody else in my family had.”
His competitive nature would carry from family games into organized school sports, and ultimately into organized fishing. A subscription to Bassmaster magazine provided his first exposure to tournaments and the sport’s piscatorial superstars.
“My dad always had Fishing Facts magazine and I eventually subscribed to Bassmaster. I read about national tournaments and was fascinated by them. I enjoyed some of the ‘How-To’ articles, but would always read the tournament stuff first. I knew nearly all of the Pros names even before I entered high school, but I had no idea until my junior year that there were leagues or smaller local tournaments other than the tour.”
That year, Dave’s father, Frank, learned of an organized bass club headquartered in Meadeville, Pennsylvania. Frank and Dave soon thereafter made the hour-long drive to attend a club meeting. There, he met most of the club members and immediately wanted to join.
The opportunity to participate in organized fishing made the travel an easy effort. Club rules, however, required Dave to graduate from high school before joining. As he could not wait to join, Dave talked a group of his friends into starting an impromptu club of their own.
“There were five or six of us that were totally stoked about fishing, and we held little fake tournaments of our own. We were so crazy about it that we would have tournaments at five o’clock in the morning before school started. One of our dads would drop us off at a lake near school, and we would fish out of a little boat that we had stashed in the woods. And after school, we would often have a second tournament.”
Out of his peers, Dave was the first to pursue competitive fishing beyond the extracurricular tourneys. Post- high school, Dave opted to forgo a potential career in the art or music industry in exchange for professional fishing. He participated as a drummer in a Christian music band and worked other odd jobs to support his angling passion.
The first club he joined, called the Bassmasters of Crawford County, was considered the premiere club within the State of Pennsylvania. They were perennial contenders for the B.A.S.S. Federation State Team title, regularly advanced members to Divisionals, and boasted many Federation tournament title holders as members.
“With my personality and desire to learn everything I could about bass fishing, that club was a perfect fit. Although I hated to lose, I wanted to learn from and compete against the best. I knew that was the only way that I could get better. When you are young, you don’t know how to measure yourself or judge how far you have to go to be a Pro. That club really provided a great way for me to compare myself against other fishermen.”
As a rookie in the Crawford County club, Dave established a benchmark of his own. He fished out of a little 12-foot boat during practice and competed as a “rider” in club tournaments. His early success would quickly gain the respect of veteran members, many of which would turn even greater control of tournament day decisions to the young contender. Dave went on to win the Angler of the Year title in his first season and, with it, the honor of holding the coveted “Miss Awesome” trophy for one year. (The traveling trophy was named in honor of the Pennsylvania State Record Smallmouth Bass caught by a fellow Crawford County club member.) The club later awarded Dave with permanent possession of “Miss Awesome” after he won Angler of the Year four years in a row.
Presque Isle Bassmasters
Dave fished local, regional and team tournaments until he joined forces with four other bass anglers from the Erie, Pennsylvania area. One of the members, Paul Hirosky, would go on to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series. In 1999, the group assembled a new B.A.S.S. Federation club, the Presque Isle Bassmasters, with the intent to attract industry sponsorship and to host large team tournaments. The experience gained in recruiting club sponsors would prove to be a great asset to Dave in the future.
As a member of the Presque Isle club, Dave further expanded his angling repertoire and advanced his standing among the top amateur bass fishermen in Pennsylvania. In team tournaments, he paired with longtime friend Lee Duer. The duo won numerous tournament and team of the year titles on various regional circuits. As an individual, Dave went on to earn a State Tournament title and several Divisional qualifications, and narrowly missed out on a Bassmaster Classic qualification.
Dave’s Bassmaster Classic “near-miss” occurred at the B.A.S.S. Federation National Championship on the Potomac River, where he finished second overall. The Championship, featuring the top amateur fishing talents in the country, advanced one angler from five separate divisions to the Classic, regardless of overall finish. Unfortunately, another representative from within Dave’s same division took the title, and with it his shot at advancing. He was heartbroken.
“I will never forget that even though I had finished second, there were guys down in 27th Place that were going to the Classic and I wasn’t… It just burned me. That was when I decided that I had to start fishing bigger tournaments.”
The transition to higher-profile tournaments wouldn’t be an easy one, however. Dave scraped together just enough money to fish the 2000 Bassmaster Alabama Invitational on Pickwick Lake. At the time, he owned a 14-foot Troller bass boat with a 40-horse Yamaha engine. His rig was not large enough to compete in the national qualifying circuits, so he elected to enter without a boat. The Invitationals paired anglers together, Pro on Pro, by random draw. Every angler competed in the same division for the same prize money. Without a boat to compete in, he was forced to fish in his partner’s rig and had to lobby to fish the spots he had found during practice. Fortunately, his power of persuasion was effective, leading to a respectable 18th Place finish and a $2,000 cash prize. Dave returned home, self assured that he could compete at the national level. All he needed was the capital before he could start.
“It was overwhelming. I didn’t have the money to do what I wanted to do. I knew I needed a $30,000 truck, a $30,000 boat, entry fees, and gas money, all on top of regular living expenses. When you look at it like that, you either give up or you try to stay on top locally. You just keep doing what you are doing with the hope that something will fall in your lap. For years, that’s what I had waited for. But, it never happened.”
The Classic near-miss and successful Invitational performance motivated Dave to take greater control of his own destiny. He assembled a sponsorship packet and distributed it to both local businesses and national companies.
“I invested my money in making a quality resume, jam-packed full of everything I had ever done, and started sending it around. Of course I got all sorts of the, ‘Sorry we can’t help you at this time,’ letters in return. I must have sent 30 of those things out to my favorite companies and kept getting turned down. I even started going to sport shows just to meet new people and potential sponsors.”
Eventually, his efforts paid off. A fellow Presque Isle club member, Dave Stull, who worked as a greens keeper for a high-profile Erie, Pennsylvania golf course introduced him to the owner of a construction company specializing in golf course rehabilitation.
“Dave Stull had told the owner and his wife about my situation prior to the Pickwick Invitational, so they followed my performance during the event. A couple weeks later, Dave arranged for me to meet them. I don’t remember much of what we discussed, but I do remember his wife saying, ‘He was ahead of Roland Martin, and if he was ahead of Roland Martin, then I think this is worth doing.’”
Dave’s first corporate sponsorship was a huge boost to his confidence and provided some financial security. He was placed on the company payroll and received a biweekly paycheck. A few weeks after landing his first sponsor, he received financial pledges from a group of Presque Isle club members. Their generosity was both humbling and reassuring. The gesture showed Dave that others believed in his dreams, too.
“There were three members that contributed a thousand dollars a piece to help me get started. Even today, I can’t say enough about that. It was totally unexpected. When I found out what they wanted to do, I was speechless. I absolutely could not have done it without their help.”
With financial backing in place, Dave knew that he needed a new boat to compete at the next level. The first marine dealer that he contacted, Vic’s Sports Center in Ohio, was receptive to his proposal and provided a new Skeeter for his use.
“Out of the blue, I called Vic’s Sports Center – the closest dealer to my house. I got Vic (Vatalaro) on the phone and explained my predicament: I needed a boat, I had no credit or money to purchase one, and I wanted to fish the EverStarts to give fishing a serious shot. At the time, he already had four or five really good sticks in his shop, so I wasn’t sure how he would respond. But, he had heard a little bit about me, so we talked about what I could do for him and arranged a deal. I’ll never forget what he said to me, ‘You come on down here and pick out what you want! I have Champions, Skeeters, you name it. You can even leave with it today! I don’t care how bad your credit is. I can work it out and I can make it happen.’ And, he did.”
The Big Year
Everything was falling into place for Dave to make the commitment to fish at the next level. In 2001, he entered the Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League (BFL) and EverStart Series. Although the travel was extensive and the two series forced him to compete outside of familiar northern Pennsylvania waters, he became a quick study and qualified for both the EverStart Championship and BFL All-American in his first full year.
As successful as Dave was on the BFL and EverStart Series trails, 2002 would prove to be even better. He won the first EverStart tournament of the Northern Division en route to a Second Place season standing, qualified for the FLW Tour, and finished in the Top-10 of the BFL All-American. Despite his already demanding tourney schedule, he also competed in the Bassmaster Northern Opens in the same year. The more events he entered, the better he seemed to perform. In the Opens, he finished third for the season and qualified for the Bassmaster Tour. His season standing also qualified him for the Bassmaster Classic that he so narrowly missed a couple years prior. Most importantly, Dave had achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a full-time Pro!
Two Tours, Too Much
Dave believes that none of his success or realization of his goals would have been possible without the love and support of his wife, Anne. Dave first met Anne when hosting lead singer auditions for his band in the late 1990’s. Their shared love for music eventually grew into a love for one another, and they started dating. Anne was aware of Dave’s dream to pursue professional fishing and never questioned his aspirations.
“Anne was so supportive from the very beginning. She knew it was going to be a struggle and was there every step of the way. I didn’t really want to get married right away and put her through what I knew my life was going to be like. Even with all of that, she still wanted to be a part of things and help me as much as she could. At the time, I could not keep up with work, fishing, and playing in the band. To help me out, Anne started doing the waitress thing. With her working, I was able to quit my job and concentrate on fishing.”
After dating for five years, Dave and Anne got married and purchased a trailer home together. In 2002, they welcomed their first child, Mitchell, into their lives. As excited, first-time parents, they wanted to travel the tour together as a family, but at the same time were uncertain on how to make it work. Dave’s grandparents offered a place to stay between tournaments if they decided to sell their home. With great hope for a successful future, they decided to hit the road. Anne quit her job, and they sold their car, truck, and home. They could not wait for the tour season to begin!
For Dave, the 2003 tournament schedule would immediately become a hectic one. He was not only fishing as a two-tour Pro, but continued to compete in regional events.
“I fished both tours with the intention of picking one. We were traveling the tour together as a family, trying to see where things would take us naturally. The two tour schedules combined with the BFLs, EverStarts, and Bassmaster Opens were just way too much. After the first tournament, I think I realized that FLW was the way to go. It did not take long. I just got to know the people and I liked it. I also had a history with FLW through the EverStarts and BFLs. The Bassmaster Tour also did not seem to be as family-friendly. The year that I made the Classic, for example, my family was not allowed to attend the pre-tournament dinner and rules meeting with me, which was really disappointing.”
The Keebler Kid
With a Third Place showing at the Atchafalaya Basin and berth into the yearend Championship, Dave attracted the attention of FLW Tour sponsors. At the conclusion of the 2003 season, he started to receive offers to join a tour-sanctioned fishing team and made the decision to commit to the FLW Tour the following year.
“When I first started the FLW Tour, I saw all the different teams out there and felt that Kellogg’s was the best one. That was the team that I wanted to be a part of. When FLW invited me to be a part of different teams, I told them that Kellogg’s was the one that I wanted, even when the team was full. I was surprised when I finally got the call that Kellogg’s had an opening.”
Since joining the Kellogg’s Fishing Team, Dave has enjoyed remarkable success. In 2004, he won his first tour-level event by a blow-out margin on Old Hickory Lake. In addition, he has earned FLW Series and Stren Series Angler of the Year titles, finished second in the BFL All-American and FLW Championships, and eclipsed the $1 BLK_PAA career earnings milestone in just six short years. With the competition typically looking up to Dave in the standings, he still has yet to be satisfied with his accomplishments. His quest to be the very best at his sport is one goal he feels he has yet to achieve. For Dave, the lofty goal continues to provide daily motivation and refuels his competitive desire.
“Kevin VanDam is unquestionably the number one fisherman in the world, and that is where I want to be. I have been doing this for five or six years now and I am not there. I have put in the time, extensively training like other professional athletes, and doing those little things to make me better than the next guy. I want to be the best, and I am not yet the best, and it bothers me.”
With Dave intently focused and a network of friends and family to support him, there is no telling where his name will rank someday among the all-time angling greats. And then, he might be able to start working on his ping pong game.
Dave Lefebre Achievements:
2001 – First season fishing the BFL / EverStart. Qualified for BFL All-American & EverStart Championship.
2002 – Fished Bassmaster Northern Opens and EverStart Series. Qualified for FLW Tour, Bassmaster Tour, and Bassmaster Classic. Finished 9th in BFL All-American.
2003 – EverStart Championship, 3rd Place; Competed in first Bassmaster Classic.
2004 – Old Hickory FLW Tour, 1st Place; BFL All-American, 2nd Place.
2006 – Stren Series Northern Division AOY; FLW Series AOY; Stren Championship, 3rd Place.
2008 – FLW Tour Championship, 2nd Place.
2009 – Surpassed $1 BLK_PAA in career winnings.
4 Wins, 35 Top-10’s and $1,070,000 in career FLW winnings.
1 Classic, 2 Top-10’s and $29,900 in career B.A.S.S. winnings.