Drew and Amanda Benton were looking for a quiet spot to raise their family.
They wanted enough land to spread out a bit and raise some animals, too — especially horses, because Amanda loves horses. It had to be near good bass fishing, too, because Drew, well, Drew loves fishing for bass.
They decided Early County, Georgia, was their perfect place and they bought 62 acres near the small town of Blakely. Their property has a stretch of dense woods where they can hunt deer, and it’s situated about 45 minutes from Lake Eufaula to the north and Lake Seminole to the south. They even bought a pony a couple weeks ago, a shared present for 5-year-old son Cade and newborn son Colt.
There are plenty reasons Benton loves spending time on his family farm, but he didn’t figure to be there as often as he has during the past couple weeks.
Benton and the rest of the pros on the Bassmaster Elite Series headed home soon after the Elite tournament on Tennessee’s Chickamauga Lake was postponed because of public health concerns associated with spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. The contagious disease had produced more than 185,000 positive tests in the U.S. as of April 1 and claimed the lives of more than 3,600 Americans. It’s an invisible enemy that has prompted the closure of borders around the globe and forced the global economy to nosedive.
Early County, Georgia, isn’t a heavily traveled place, but no place, no matter how rural, appears safe from COVID-19’s reach. People in all 50 states have tested positive for the disease, and they’ve lived in big cities and small towns. Though the elderly and the infirmed are easily the most vulnerable to the disease, some healthy people, including children, have been infected, too.
Benton said though Cade’s pre-kindergarten classes have been cancelled for the time being, things have been fairly routine at home – or as normal as can be with a 6-week old infant under the roof. While Amanda spends time with Colt, Drew and Cade have been fishing quite a bit on Lake Seminole. Time alone on the water, Benton said, has been the perfect brand of ‘social distancing’ experts say will impede the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s a bad situation, no doubt,” Benton said. “You can look at it negatively, but I like to look at it differently. Right now, there’s no better time to be outdoors. The deer are shedding their antlers. Turkey season is about to start all over the country. If you’re an outdoors person, you can avoid having to go to the grocery store to buy meat because you can provide your own. Same thing with fishing. You can take your kids to a pond or a river and catch dinner.
“This is a great opportunity for people to be outdoors,” he added.
Benton said he’s “making the best” of his free time, which included fishing in a team tournament with fellow Elite pro Drew Cook. Benton said the pair may be eying another team event in the area.
“If you stay away from people right now, you’re fine,” Benton said. “Whatever happens is God’s plan. We’ll come out stronger on the other side.”
Paul Mueller won the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite on the St. John’s River in Florida in early February, but he hasn’t had a chance to replace the taste of finishing 52nd in a field of 53 anglers who competed in the Classic a month later.
The postponement at Chickamauga did give Mueller the chance, however, to spend additional time with his 4-year-old son Waylon back home in Connecticut. It’s been a perfectly fine alternative, Mueller said, and he’s also been fishing and guiding on Candlewood Lake near his home.
“(The time off) really hasn’t disrupted much of anything for me,” Mueller said. “I like to be on the water, and that’s a really safe place to be right now.”
Mueller actually became sick with a cold shortly after the Classic, as did his wife Kimber and Waylon. They shook the illness fairly quickly though, and Paul in particular was glad to have the down time to fully recuperate.
Mueller said people have to be aware of the threat of COVID-19, but he hopes they can be level-headed, too.
“The best thing right now is for everyone to be calm,” he said. “We’re doing the right thing to see how it plays out. Fishing competition is important, but everyone’s health is more important. We’ll be fishing again real soon.”
Longtime Elite Series pro John Crews agreed. He finished second to Mueller at St. John’s and followed with a Super Six finish in the Classic. With that kind of start to the 2020 season, Crews logically could be the angler most disappointed with the postponement of the Chickamauga tournament.
Instead, Crews has used the extra time to work at Missile Baits, the lure company he started eight years ago in his native Virginia. Like countless others across the world, Crews’ business has been closed to the public during government-imposed limitations on the number of people who can gather at one time.
Still, Crews has plenty of company at home. His three children are taking virtual classes since their schools cancelled sessions on campus during the coronavirus crisis.
Crews said outdoors-minded people seem to be taking advantage of the opportunity to get away from crowds and get on the water.
“I’m not kidding, I must have had 10 people text me fish-catch pictures today,” he said. “All of them were taken by friends here locally. Fishing is one of the safest things you can do right now.”
Crews has no problems practicing social distancing, with his employees at Missile Baits working remotely and him having no reason to travel for a tournament. He also doesn’t mind fishing deeper into the fall, if that’s when B.A.S.S. officials decide to reschedule tournaments.
“When we get back, some guys will have fished a lot and some guys not so much,” Crews said. “There will be a lot of stories, I’m sure.
“I’m just looking forward to getting back to some normalcy.”