Rookie Benton Wins Walmart FLW Tour Season Opener on Lake Okeechobee Presented by Mercury
Twenty-four year-old rookie Drew Benton of Panama City, Fla., was fishing in his first event as a professional this week and caught a 7-pound kicker bass with only seven minutes to spare to win the Walmart FLW Tour on Lake Okeechobee presented by Mercury on Sunday. That fish pushed Benton’s day 4 weight to 13 poounds, 4 ounces and his total four-day weight to 75 pounds, 7 ounces and was enough to best 174 of the top bass anglers in the world to earn him a $100,000 paycheck. Finishing in second place was Keystone Light pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., who weighed in 20 bass totaling 70 pounds, 8 ounces.
“Fishing in my first ever Tour event, I never expected this,” said Benton, whose previous high finish was a 14th-place effort in EverStart competition on Lake Seminole. “I have to pay my entry fees all on my own, so this is such a big step for me. Now I can actually relax and fish for the rest of the year and not have to worry about just making a check.”
Like Saturday, Sunday’s fishing conditions were windy and tough. Benton made several runs back and forth to areas in South Bay and Turners Cove and burned through ¾ of a tank of gas by scrambling to try and catch enough weight.
“It was such a grind,” Benton said. “I started the day in South Bay, then went to Turners. Nothing was happening there, so I went back to South Bay and checked it again. I fished there for three hours and was only able to catch two keepers. So, I ran back to Turners and was able to finish out a small limit. I didn’t catch my limit of fish until 1:45 p.m. I told the camera man that I had to run and try and catch a big one. So I made the run back down to South Bay, and that’s when I got the kicker.”
Benton said the kicker – a 7-pound Okeechobee behemoth – came while throwing an entirely different bait than he had used all week.
“I had thrown a PGM Lures bladed swimjig all day and not had one bite on it,” Benton said. “I decided to try a Hildebrandt white and gold-bladed spinnerbait, and it bit.”
Benton credited the bladed swimjig trailered with a Bass Assassin Die Dapper as catching more than half of the fish that he weighed in. The others came on a mixed assortment of Houdini-colored Bass Assassin baits, including the Die Dapper, a Vapor Shad and the Pure Craw. He also mixed in a Gambler Big EZ swimbait when conditions got tough.
“When it was real windy and I needed to stir up the top a little more I would throw the Big EZ,” Benton continued. “It’s a bigger bait with a bigger profile, and it seemed to attract them more.
“It was really all about the timing in South Bay,” Benton continued. “The bass needed the sun to move in from offshore and they would set up on the reeds. When they first moved up, you could catch them really fast. With the wind blowing so hard yesterday and today I never could get on them real good. I was able to catch a few keepers, but the majority of my fish came from Turners Cove.”
What could be most ironic about Benton’s victory is the fact that it almost didn’t happen. When the call came from FLW that he had been accepted, Benton originally declined his spot in the field.
“When I got the call from (FLW Tour Tournament Director) Bill Taylor to come fish with FLW, I couldn’t afford it,” Benton said. “Lee Barker from Angler’s Tackle in Panama City wouldn’t accept that answer. He told me that I needed to be there, and loaned me the money to go fish. To come down here and get the win is unbelievable.”
The top 10 pros finished the tournament in:
1st: Drew Benton, Panama City, Fla., 20 bass, 75-7, $100,000
2nd: Keystone Light pro Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., 20 bass, 70-8, $35,000
3rd: Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 20 bass, 67-12, $30,000
4th: Wade Hendricks, Thompsons Station, Tenn., 20 bass, 66-13, $25,000
5th: Rick Cotten, Guntersville, Ala., 16 bass, 66-11, $20,000
6th: Casey Martin, New Market, Ala., 20 bass, 61-14, $17,000
7th: Chevy pro Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 20 bass, 60-14, $16,000
8th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 20 bass, 58-13, $15,000
9th: Keystone Light pro Chad Grigsby, Maple Grove, Minn., 20 bass, 55-10, $14,000
10th: Castrol pro Philip Jarabeck, Lynchburg, Va., 20 bass, 55-10, $13,000
A complete list of results can be found at FLWOutdoors.com.
Overall there were 48 bass weighing 102 pounds, 11 ounces caught by pros Sunday. The catch included nine five-bass limits.
Justin Jones of Apex, N.C., won the co-angler division and $25,250 Saturday with a three-day total of 11 bass weighing 39 pounds, 4 ounces, followed by Richard Peek of Centre, Ala., in second place with 13 bass weighing 35-8 worth $7,500.
Pros are competed for a top award of up to $125,000 this week plus valuable points in the hope of qualifying for the 2013 Forrest Wood Cup presented by Walmart, the world championship of bass fishing. The top 35 anglers in the point standings from the six events on the 2013 Walmart FLW Tour will qualify. The 2013 Forrest Wood Cup will be in Shreveport, La., Aug. 15-18 on the Red River.
The Tour stop on Lake Okeechobee presented by Mercury Marine was hosted by Roland & Mary Ann Martin’s Marina & Resort and the Hendry County Tourism Development Council and was the first of six events on the Walmart FLW Tour in the 2013 season. The next Walmart FLW Tour event will be held at Smith Mountain Lake presented by Evinrude and will be held March 7-10 in Jasper, Ala. The event will be hosted by the Walker County Chamber of Commerce and boats will launch from Smith Lake Dam Access in Jasper. For a complete schedule, visit FLWOutdoors.com.
Coverage of the Lake Okeechobee tournament will be broadcast in high-definition (HD) on NBC Sports Network when “FLW” airs April 7 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. ET. The Emmy-nominated “FLW” is hosted by Jason Harper and is broadcast to more than 559 million households worldwide, making it the most widely distributed weekly outdoors-sports television show in the world.