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Welcome to FLW Live Reel Chat. Today we’re joined by rookie FLW Tour pro Drew Benton of Panama City, Fla., who recently took home the top prize of $100,000 after winning the 2013 FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee.
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With over $110,000 in career FLW earnings, Benton recently kicked off his rookie season on the Walmart FLW Tour just this past month. And things couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. During his very first outing, Benton snared the tournament title in Florida, winning the Lake Okeechobee event with a total, four-day catch weighing 75 pounds, 7 ounces – nearly 5 full pounds more than his next closest competitor. Benton began his career with FLW in 2009, primarily concentrating on the EverStart Series until the 2013 season where he competed as an FLW Tour pro for the first time.
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Today, Benton is here to take questions from you, the fans. So, without further delay, let’s get started.
Q: After winning your first FLW Tour event, what are your goals for the rest of the season?
— Joe (La Crosse, WI)
A: The goal for the rest of the season is to carry forward the momentum from this event, have some solid finishes and make the Forrest Wood Cup. Making the 2013 Cup was the goal before this tournament and it still is.
Q: Congrats on your win under tough, windy conditions. I fish the “Big O” a lot and can’t seem to catch them when the water gets dirty. But when I look for clean water, I only catch small ones. So, what advice can you give me to find those bigger ones?
— Dave (Coral Springs, FL)
A: Just keep your bait in the water and keep covering water. Okeechobee is full of them but you’ve just got to find them. It’s just that type of place where it can be dead in one place but happening on the other side of the lake.
Q: Congrats on your first win! I often hear pros say that you shouldn’t fish based on what worked yesterday but that you need to “fish the conditions.” What is the perfect conditions for a topwater bite? Thanks! Good luck.
— Craig (Owasso, Okla.)
A: I like a little bit of wind. The biggest thing to me is that the fish have got to be active. That can mean different weather depending where you’re at. In Florida that oftens means the sun needs to be up. But nine times out of 10, the perfect topwater weather is cloudy and just before a front.
Q: How does it feel to win your first FLW Tour title?
— Sherry (Bushton, Kansas)
A: It feels great; it’s just been an awesome ride. I can’t thank everybody enough who have helped me get to this point. I don’t know how to back this up, but I’ll try. The whole experience has been unbelievable.
Q: You said you had a bad practice, but when did you realize the South Bay prespawn pattern was the deal?
— Frank H. (Macon, GA)
A: I caught a couple big ones (a 7 1/2- and 4-pounder) there the second day of practice. And that’s actually where I fished some during the EverStart event a month before. But I didn’t get many bites during practice for the Tour. Going into day one, I was going to catch the fish I saw on the bed first in Turner’s Cove. After I caught those, I ran down to South Bay and caught them much better than I anticipated. I culled out two little ones in just 10 or so casts. The second day I ran down there and culled everything I had in about 15 minutes. That’s when I really got excited about it.
Q: Did it make it worse knowing Brent Ehrler, one of the best in the world, was right behind you entering the final day of competition?
— Tim (Knoxville, TN)
A: Not really. I just went through the final day trying be as carefree as possible. You’re not fishing against Brent Ehrler, you’re fishing against the fish. If you do your job and catch ’em, it’s not going matter. And that’s what I did. I was just mentally tough enough to grind through it.
Q: I saw some video of you shot by your day-one co-angler. How can you possibly remain so calm while you’re catching so many giants? The patience you had weighing your fish and applying glue to your bait was unreal.
— Nick (Birmingham, AL)
A: That was actually on day two. That was the 15 minutes where I culled everything. The guy I was with worked for Anglers Channel and just wanted to see what I was doing and show the camera how I was rigging my bait. It was pretty exciting, don’t get me wrong, but I was ready for it.
Q: Of the 20 fish you weighed during the tournament, how many came from South Bay and how many came from Turner’s Cove?
— Chris (Lakeland, FL)
A: Let’s see. Eight came from South Bay and 12 came from Turner’s Cove.
Q: When you were fishing the vibrating jig, did you use a full-sized swimbait or did you cut the head off?
— Dale (Belle Glade, FL)
A: I twisted the head off right behind the gills. It wasn’t so much about having a smaller bait, it just made a better surface to glue it to the jig.
Q: I’m new to the college fishing series and my first big tournament is on Lake Champlain. I was wondering if you had any helpful tips or spots you were willing to share.
— Hayden Gosnen (Mt. Pleasant, MI)
A: I’ve never been to Lake Champlain, but I would probably run down to Ticonderoga to fish largemouths. From the way it sounds, it has grass and that would be the deal for me I think.
Q: Drew, congratulations on your FLW title. I’m going to Lake Okeechobee on Feb 25 and was wondering if you had any good tips? I guess this win will end your career as a crane operator? Your favorite Port Captain Mickey Mathews – Star Shipping.
— Mickey Mathews (Mobile, AL)
A: I’m actually in a crane right now doing this interview. I’m still going to work and fish until more doors open up – and hopefully they do. As for Okeechobee, I would just keep a bait in the water until you find them. And once you do, there are usually more there. As the year goes on and the water warms, I think the flipping bite is going to get better and better. And soon the bream start bedding, so that jig bite on the reeds is going to get better and better.
Q: Any advice for a 15-year-old who is just starting to fish tournments?
— Taylor Armstrong (White Hall, AR)
A: I would just get involved as much as you can. I spent a lot of time researching and learning. Anytime I have a chance to learn, I take it. As long as I’m fishing, I’m always learning.
Q: During the recent Lake Okeechobee Tour event, how many keeper bites per day did you get in South Bay? Was it strictly a big bite/kicker fish area, or were there also numbers to be caught there? Also, did you spend any time in Pelican Bay as well as South Bay?
— Jonah Fanucci (Collegeville, PA)
A: There were numbers to be caught there, but I really didn’t get to lean on them. The first two days were the only days I caught them well. I just caught what I needed and left. That second day I probably could have caught 30 pounds there but I wanted to save it for the final round. But then the wind changed and the whole area pretty much shut off. I caught two the first day and five the second day. The last day I caught the big one and one other small keeper.
Q: What surprised you the most about fishing in your very first FLW Tour event?
— Jim Interlandi (Chicago, IL)
A: Probably how fast those three days of practice went. I’ve been trying to get five or six days of practice for the EverStarts so those three days of FLW Tour practice just flew by. I didn’t feel like I accomplished what I wanted to; those days just flew by.
Q: If you were going to fish on Lake Seminole during the spawn, which part of the lake would you start with?
— Steve (Marianna, FL)
A: (Laughs) I know this guy. First I would go eat at Pappy Tom’s Pizza and then I would go catch them all off the bed. They’re bedding all over Seminole right now. So from now until April should be really good.
Q: What is it like to fish for a living?
— Scott Pardue (Birmingham, AL)
A: Honestly, I’m really not quite to that point yet. I feel like I’m ready, but its going to be interesting to see how it all works. If I had it my way, I would run guide trips and just fish all day and say heck with this labor. But sometimes you’ve got to stick with what you’re doing.
Q: How much confidence does your recent win give you for the remainder of the 2013 FLW Tour schedule?
— Winston Close (San Diego, CA)
A: I haven’t been to many of the places and I just got back from pre-practicing at Smith, but it definitely helps my confidence. I had an OK practice at Smith and I’ve fished Eufaula some in team tournaments, but I’m just going to fish all of them with an open mind like I did at Okeechobee.
Q: Do you have a preference about the color of your hull? I live in the northeast and fish mostly clear water so I went with white.
— Scott (Ossipee, N.H.)
A: I like a dark hull. This is basically because I fish heavy cover and it’s easier to fix with a Sharpie. As far as fish being afraid of it, I’ve heard some old-timers around here say to always get a dark hull, but I don’t know about that. But I do like a dark hull because it’s easy to fix and doesn’t stand out as much.
Q: Congratulations on your big win! Do you remember the average water temperature that you were fishing in? Is that how you could tell the fish were in a prespawn pattern?
— Beth (Westerville, OH)
A: It was anywhere from 66 to 71 degrees during the end of practice and during the tournament. And it was a little bit cooler in South Bay just because I was out there in the open water. In Turner’s, it was more protected with the sun beating down on it. Overall, it was probably 70 or 71 degrees in Turner’s and around 68 in South Bay.
Q: Is having one Power-Pole enough?
— Dennis Goodman (Rumford, ME)
A: I really feel like Power-Poles have revolutionized the sport. You can get away with one if you have an anchor or a push pole. But two really holds you in place in the wind. I would definitely recommend having two. I have two and all my boats in the future are going to have two.
Q: When did you finally get a sense that you had a good chance to capture the tourney title on the “Big O?”
— Titus Song (New York, NY)
A: I really had a lot of confidence after day two. Even after the third day, I thought I was going to go back to South Bay and crush them. But I didn’t really know for sure until I caught that big one in the last few minutes on the last day.
Q: What are the fish biting these days on Lake Okeechobee with all of this cool weather?
— Shane (Lake Worth, FL)
A: I would slow down and fish that Vapor Shad. The bass don’t go anywhere, they just slow down. That Vapor Shad just gets them interested (when they’re really finicky). So that’s a great way to get bites during a Florida cold front.
Q: What pros do you admire most? Why?
— Dave (Coral Springs, FL)
A: I admire Greg Pugh a lot. He’s helped me with how the industry works. We traveled around and fished together when I started out. He’s been instrumental in my progress. I’ve watched Randall Tharp a lot and guys like that who have recently come up. I think Randall is a class act and a great fisherman. And you can’t talk about the pros without mentioning guys like Larry Nixon, who are just great people to learn from, be around and just watch.
Q: Nice win holding off Ehrler and Thrift. In April, the FLW will come to Beaver Lake. So, what do you have planned for the highland reserivor during the spawn?
— Wade Guiltner (Salem, AR)
A: I really enjoy sight-fishing. If they are spawning when we’re there, I’m going to be confident. If not, I might have to throw a jerkbait some. But once I see them on the bed I don’t want to do anything else. That can be a bad thing, but that’s just how I like to catch them.
Q: So what are some of the things you do the night before a tournament? Do you have any superstitions?
— Lori (Westerville, OH)
A: I try to do something to get my mind off it – like eat a good meal or talk to friends. I will say that I wore the exact same clothes I used on day three again on day four. If that’s superstitious or not, I don’t know.
Q: Which lake do you consider to be your home lake? And which lake do you like the most to fish?
— Barth (Dothan, AL)
A: Lake Seminole is probably my home lake and the one I like to fish the most. Probably my favorite place to fish is the Apalachicola River just below Lake Seminole. That’s where I first fished and it’s kind of close to my heart; that’s where my roots are as far as fishing with family and friends.
Q: What was the recipe for success, equipment wise, for you in this victory?
— Stan (Orlando, FL)
A: I really have a great team of sponsors from Phenix Rods to Lew’s Reels to anything Bass Assassin. My trolling motor battery, Odyssey, was great as I was running on 80 or 90 all day. My boat runs great in rough water and my Power-Poles were instrumental too. Really, all of my equipment worked great.
Q: Did the wind on the “Big O” determine where you fished?
— Dave (Coral Springs, FL)
A: I practiced for every kind of wind condition and going into the tournament I saw that the forecast called for wind to be blowing out of the south. Had it been blowing from the north the first two days, I probably never would have fished South Bay. So yeah, it definitely did.
– MODERATOR COMMENT –
Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have to chat with Drew Benton today. Thanks, once again, to all the fans who tuned in and participated in today’s Reel Chat. And a special thanks to Drew Benton, the 2013 FLW Tour Lake Okeechobee winner, for giving us his time and insights.