UPCOMING EVENT: Walmart Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

Late kicker lifts Florida rookie

Pro winner Drew Benton holds up the 7-pound Lake Okeechobee bass he caught with only seven minutes left in the day.

CLEWISTON, Fla. - The script couldn't have been written any better. While rookie pro Drew Benton had a 1-pound lead heading into the final day of the Walmart FLW Tour opener, some of bass fishing's biggest names, notably Brent Ehrler and Bryan Thrift, were breathing down his neck. Day four on Lake Okeechobee marked the second consecutive day of cooler, blustery weather and Benton was struggling and almost out of time. Then a 7-pound behemoth bit and the rest is history. The fairytale ending sounds even better considering this was the first Tour event of Benton's career. And the 7-pounder bit with exactly seven minutes left in the day, on a lure (Hildebrandt spinnerbait) he hadn't previously used all week. "I had been praying a lot this week and if that isn't meant to be I don't know what is," said Benton. A closer look at Drew BentonWhile Sunday was all about the late-day drama, Benton worked a solid one-two program for four consecutive days. Heading into the tournament, his goal was to be prepared for any weater conditions. At the EverStart Series event a month prior, Benton was off to a good start until a north wind shut his bite down on day two. This time around, he located a productive prespawn area down in South Bay and he indentified some spawning bass in the more-protected Turner's Cove. He would throw reaction baits (mainly a custom 1/2-ounce PMG vibrating jig with a Bass Assassin Die Dapper trailer) in South Bay and mix in a variety of lures, most notably the solo Die Dapper or a Bass Assassin Vapor Shad, in Turner's Cove. When he sight-fished, he used a Texas-rigged Bass Assassin Pure Craw. As he push-poled around in search of new spawners, he would burn the Die Dapper over lily pads and throw the Vapor shad in more open areas. When it was real windy, Benton would opt for a Gambler Big EZ with its larger profile that would stir up the lake's surface. "I started today in South Bay, then went to Turner's. 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 Turner's and was able to finish out a small limit of bucks by 1:45 p.m. I told the cameraman that I had to run back down and try and catch a big one. So I made the run to South Bay, and that's when I got the kicker. Up until then, I really felt like I was letting it slip through my fingers." For the first two days of the tournament, South Bay, with its white-bellied prespawn bass, was the more productive area. But the north wind trashed South Bay for all of day three and most of day four, meaning Benton had to spend more time than he wanted in Turner's. Today, the lone keeper that came from South Bay was the kicker. Drew Benton cast his bladed jig into the "The South Bay pattern was a timing deal," Benton explained. "They needed the sun for them to move in from offshore. And they'll move in and they'll set up on them reeds out there. When that sun is out and they first move up, you can whack them really fast." Benton's day-four sack officially weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces. With a total of 75 pounds, 7 ounces, his winning margin was nearly 5 pounds. The 24-year-old will take a $100,000 check with him back to Panama City, Fla. "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. I can't even describe this; it's a dream come true. I can't really put it into words." Ehrler shakes Florida funk Ehrler has opened his tournament season in the state of Florida six different times. At each of the first five, the Keystone Light pro failed to earn a single paycheck, a stunning statistic considering his immense talent. On the sixth try, Ehrler didn't just earn any check; he took home $35,000 for second place. And if not for Benton's late-day heroics, the Redlands, Calif., native would be hoisting his fifth FLW Tour trophy. Noticing some seagull activity early this morning, Ehrler cruised over to take a look. It turned out to be a great decision as a school of bass (and seagulls) was chasing and feeding on shiners. Brent Ehrler catches another buck from the reeds."For about 30 minutes straight I caught them nonstop," said Ehrler. "If I didn't catch them every cast it was every other cast." While the action was fast and furious, Ehrler only had about a 12-pound limit to show for it. While he upgraded a few times, he was never able to secure that kicker bite. His final-day limit weighed 14 pounds, 5 ounces, giving him 70 pounds, 8 ounces for the tournament. "Today I caught everything but one on reaction baits. The one I caught flipping came on a Texas-rigged 6-inch Yamamoto Senko with a 1/4-ounce Tru Tungsten weight. But the Senko played a big role earlier in the week for me." Ehrler said he developed no real pattern as every day was different. When he wasn't flipping to reeds, he would work the more open areas with a Phenix swim jig, an unnamed bladed, vibrating jig (with a Yamamoto swimbait trailer) or a Pepper spinnerbait. Ehrler spent most of his time in the Harney Pond-Bird Island area of the lake. This was Ehrler's 30th top-10 finish, but undoubtedly it meant more than usual considering his Florida history. "I know for a fact that I was around the right fish and I had the opportunity to win this tournament. But coming in, I had a bad practice as usual and was just hoping for a check. I definitely surpassed that." Ironically, Ehrler isn't sure he learned anything new about Florida fishing. While the lake not being dominated by mat punching certainly helped, he thinks he just stumbled on the right group of resident fish. "I think if you come down here enough, you're bound to finally catch them. It's about time I caught them." Neal rises to third Michael Neal finished the Lake Okeechobee event third with a total weight of 67 pounds, 12 ounces.Dayton, Tenn., pro Michael Neal steadily climbed the leaderboard all week. He started the tournament in 22nd with a 15-pound, 7-ounce limit. On day two, he sacked his big stringer, a 22-pound, 12-ounce catch that brought him up to sixth. Each of the final two days he crept up a few notches with limits in the teens. Today his official weight for five bass was 13 pounds, 1 ounce. Neal worked a unique program where he targeted areas that were adjacent to deep water. On Okeechobee, deep water is considered 5 feet or more. While he was working the outside edge earlier in the week, during the final round he moved inside from time to time. "I fished the edge of a ditch in Eagle Bay Island, near the Kissimmee River," said Neal, a junior majoring in computer science at Bryant College. "I was strictly throwing moving baits - a swim jig (1-ounce Strike King Hack Attack Heavy Cover) and swimbaits (Gambler Big EZ) around scattered grass looking for a reaction bite." Neal described it as a go-between area as the fish were either prespawn or postspawn. While certain portions were more productive, the entire stretch was roughly a mile long. "The swim jig accounted for most of my big fish," Neal said. The second-year pro learned to work moving baits through the grass from Brett Hite, who he drew as a co-angler at the 2008 FLW Tour opener on Lake Toho. "That was a crash course in grass fishing. I've taken that lesson and I applied it here this week." For his first FLW tour top-10, the 21-year-old Neal earned $30,000. Hendricks finishes fourth Say what you will about Wade Hendricks, but the man knows how to stick to a game plan. After Fourth-place pro Wade Hendricks holds up his biggest bass from the final day of competition on Lake Okeechobee.indentifying a productive prespawn area between Uncle Joe's and Observation Island, Hendricks decided to put his Power-Poles down and meticulously pick it apart for four consecutive days, moving only 20 feet or so approximately every 10 minutes. Early in the week, he caught most of his big fish on a white Spro Bronzeye Frog. But as the wind picked up, he was forced to flip a 1-ounce jig and Paca Chunk trailer. Today he caught his big fish almost right away, but then had problems catching quality afterwards. He finished the day with a limit weighing 12 pounds, 2 ounces, pushing his combined weight to 66 pounds, 13 ounces. "The game plan almost worked," said the Thompsons Station, Tenn., pro. "I had that kicker right away and I thought today was going to be stellar. I had some other opportunities this morning, but I missed a few fish and some were biting short on my jig trailer. All week long it was a mental challenge not to leave, but I kept telling myself there are game-changing fish here." While Hendricks never left his little 100 yard by 50 yard area, he did make an afternoon adjustment. "At about noon today, I switched from a jig to a tube and I got a lot more bites that way. That's how I filled out my limit at the end of the day." For his first tour-level top-10 finish, Hendricks earned $25,000. Cotten falls to fifth Rick Cotten wrestles one away from a reed head on the final day.After starting the day a pound off the lead, Rick Cotten managed three keepers weighing 5 pounds, 8 ounces and fell three spots to fifth. Cotten finished the tournament with total of 16 bass weighing 66 pounds, 11 ounces. "My big-fish area was located in Fish Eating Bay," said the Guntersville, Ala., native. "On day one the fish I caught were prespawn and on day two they were postpawn so I definitely think it was a transition area where they were coming and going to do their thing." Ultimately what did Cotten in was the blustery weather each of the past two days. "The wind really got me, trashed my water. And I didn't have many productive back-up areas. I learned this lake can humble you in a heartbeat." Cotten did the lion's share of his damage this week with a custom 1-ounce jig and either a Zoom Super Chunk or a Paca Craw pitched to reeds. He was the only angler to crack the coveted 30-pound mark all week and he earned $20,000. Rest of the best Rounding out the top 10 pros at the FLW Tour event on Lake Okeechobee: 6th: Casey Martin of New Market, Ala., 61-14, $17,000 7th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., 60-14, $16,000 8th: Adrian Avena of Vineland, N.J, 58-13, $15,000 9th: Chad Grigsby of Maple Grove, Minn., 55-10, $14,000 10th: Philip Jarabeck of Lynchburg, Va., 55-10, $13,000 The next FLW Tour event is slated for Smith Lake in Jasper, Ala., March 7-10, the second of six qualifiers.

Tags: headline-story 


Devere Takes BFL Wild Card Win

The decision of what to fish come tournament time can be difficult for most. For others – like Mike Devere – relying on a single bait that you have confidence in is all you need. Devere’s one bait, one rod method was strong enough to carry him to victory by nearly 2 pounds in the BFL Wild Card held on Lake Hartwell. READ MORE »


Hanselmania 4.0

Saturday, in Paducah, Ky., on the shores of the Ohio River, Ray Hanselman rewrote history for the second time this season. After winning all three 2015 Rayovac FLW Series Texas Division events, which had never been done before, Hanselman came to Kentucky and won the Rayovac FLW Series Championship. READ MORE »


Rayovac Championship Day 3 Coverage

The final day of the Rayovac FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River will largely be fished on the Tennessee River, as all but two anglers rolled up it to chase smallmouths. READ MORE »


Hanselman on the Verge of Four-Peat

Day two of the Rayovac FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River was fished primarily on the nearby Tennessee River and resulted in a major shuffling of the leaderboard. In the end, Ray Hanselman rose from second to first and will lead the top 10 into the final day with 30 pounds, 14 ounces. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from the Ohio River Day 2

After two days of competition, Ray Hanselman leads the Rayovac FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River, but as the leaderboard has reflected, the river’s hefty smallmouths are certainly capable of producing some fireworks and providing some surprises. READ MORE »


Rayovac Championship Day 2 Coverage

Down at Paducah, the start of day two of the Rayovac FLW Series Championship was just about perfect – a light wind, temps in the low 40s and no fog. That’s not the case elsewhere. READ MORE »


Barnes Blasts 21 on the Ohio

On day one of the Rayovac FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River David Barnes Sr. of China, Maine, hauled exactly 21 pounds of smallmouth across the stage to take the lead on a day that was tough for many. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from the Ohio River Day 1

Shortly after David Barnes electrified the Rayovac FLW Series Championship weigh-in with his leading weight of 21 pounds of smallmouths, Ray Hanselman followed suit with an all-smallmouth limit weighing 19 pounds. READ MORE »


Rayovac Championship Day 1 Coverage

Updates from day one of the Rayovac FLW Series Championship on the Ohio River. READ MORE »


McCaig Wins Neely Henry Regional

There are times that a little local knowledge helps you in a bass tournament, and then there are times it does not. And sometimes, it pays to ignore past experiences altogether, as Mark McCaig figured out en route to winning the Oct. 22-24, 2015 Walmart Bass Fishing League Regional presented by Ranger Boats on Lake Neely Henry out of Gadsden, Ala. By disregarding what his local experience might have suggested he do and approaching the tournament a little differently, the Oxford, Ala., boater posted a three-day total weight of 45 pounds, 7 ounces to take home the $20,000 winner’s purse as well as a 2015 Ranger Z518C with 200-hp outboard. READ MORE »


Goodwin Wins at Lake of the Ozarks

Day-two leader Shonn Goodwin of Moore, Okla., held on to win the Walmart Bass Fishing League Regional presented by Mercury at Lake of the Ozarks Oct. 22-24 by bringing four bass to the scale on the third and final day. Those fish weighed 8 pounds, 11 ounces. His three-day total of 14 bass weighed 43-13. For the win, Goodwin earned $20,000 and a new Ranger bass boat. READ MORE »


Walters Wins Wateree BFL Regional

Todd Walters relied on a combo pattern to win the Walmart Bass Fishing League Regional on Lake Wateree. The North Carolina boater fished rocky cover upstream and brush piles in the lake's clear lower end. The two-part program produced a three-day winning weight of 47 pounds, 4 ounces, which was 11 pounds better than second place. READ MORE »


Uribe By An Ounce

After Jody Jordan brought 24 pounds, 5 ounces to push his total past 66 pounds on the final day the crowd waited with bated breath for day two leader Joe Uribe Jr. to bring his fish to the scale. As Uribe transferred his third bass from the bag to the scale, he shook his head and whispered back “you’ve got it,” to the watching Jordan. READ MORE »


Anderson Wins KY Lake Regional

You might say there weren’t any surprises at the 2015 Walmart Bass Fishing League Regional presented by Lowrance on Kentucky Lake Oct. 15-17. The techniques of the top 12 pros who fished the final day were typical of the Tennessee River in fall: surface fishing with frogs and Zara Spooks and winding Rat-L-Traps and ChatterBaits. The winners weren’t surprising either: Ryan Sykes of Hamilton, Ohio, won the co-angler division for the second consecutive year, and Tennessee pro Brent Anderson earned his sixth win on the Kentucky/Barkley system since 2009. READ MORE »


Grover Takes Co-angler Title on Clear Lake

Rick Grover of Trabuco Canyon, Calif., pulled in 55 pounds, 5 ounces of bass for the Rayovac FLW Series co-angler win on Clear Lake. All told, it was worth a new Ranger Z117 with a 90-horsepower outboard and $5,000. READ MORE »


Clear Lake Midday Update Day 3



Uribe Takes Lead and AOY at Clear Lake

Joe Uribe Jr. jumped into the lead going into the final day of the Rayovac FLW Series presented by Evinrude on Clear Lake. Uribe caught 20 pounds, 13 ounces on day two for a total of 44 pounds, 8 ounces and was the only pro to weigh more than 20 pounds both days. READ MORE »


Top 5 Patterns from Clear Lake Day 2

When the scales had closed after the second day of the Rayovac FLW Series Western Division tournament presented by Evinrude on Clear Lake, no doubt more than a few anglers breathed a sigh of relief that they were still in contention. READ MORE »


Clear Lake Midday Update Day 2

Day two of the Rayovac FLW Series presented by Evinrude on Clear Lake has been a little slower than day one. READ MORE »


Crutcher Cracks 29-9

Midway through a weigh-in that was noticeably lacking in super-sized bags, Mark Crutcher of Lakeport, Calif., lit up the leaderboard with 29 pounds, 9 ounces of Clear Lake goodness. READ MORE »