If you can take the heat

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Shane Durrance

“Stick your hand into the fire and see how much you can take.” That’s Bassmaster Elite Series pro Drew Benton’s formula for climbing to the highest ranks in professional bass fishing. The 30-year-old Florida native has had a meteoric rise to the summit of our sport in just four years on the Elite Series.

However, Benton didn’t grow up in a bass fishing family. The first fishing trips he can remember were for catfish and bream while tagging along with his grandfather. It wasn’t until high school that Benton started fishing for bass. “My friends and I would sneak into golf course ponds, private ponds, public lakes, you name it. If we thought there was a piece of water that would hold a bass, we’d go dob a worm in it. I’m pretty sure I’ve been kicked out of every private pond in Panama City!” This bank beating put bass fever in his veins, so when he was 16, he fished a local charity event with a friend.

“Man, we caught a limit of bass and thought we were something. We were gonna weigh in five! Now, those five only weighed 7 pounds, but we were really proud of ’em.

“Eventually, we started winning every Tuesday nighter and most of the Saturday tournaments.” However, he had to balance his time on the water with his time on the baseball field. He was a top-notch catcher and colleges were interested in his talent.

Upon graduation of high school, Gulf Coast State College offered Benton a baseball scholarship, which he accepted. Juggling his efforts on the diamond and his passion to compete on the lake eventually became too much, so he traded his catcher’s mitt for a flippin’ rod, and decided to fish tournaments with one goal in mind: to become a Bassmaster Elite Series pro.

“It was scary leaving baseball and the scholarship behind, but it worked out. I ended up paying for college with tournament winnings,” Benton said.

“I decided to enter the FLW tour in 2013. I was newly married. I was working full time on the loading docks in Panama City. And I was working to become a full-time professional angler. It was a pretty crazy time.”

But he couldn’t have scripted his entry into the pro ranks any better. Benton won his first event on the FLW tour, pocketing $100,000 and cementing his name in the professional ranks. He would go on to win FLW’s Rookie of the Year title.

“I fished the Opens in 2015 and never placed worse than 23rd. So, I qualified and moved on up to the big stage. I was an Elite Series pro.”

That said, the stage wasn’t too big for Benton. He was ready. So ready, that he went on to win Rookie of the Year on the Elite Series in 2016 with four Top 10 finishes to his credit. And in 2018, Benton checked another goal off his list. He won his first Elite Series event at the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Lake Travis. Benton had beat the best anglers in the world. He was not only an Elite Series pro, but a champion.

Benton admits that he still has a lot of work to do. “There are things that I’m still not great at. Finesse tournaments give me fits. Herring lakes frustrate me to no end. But I’m getting better at these things, and I look forward to the challenges. There’s that saying if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Well, it seems I’m addicted to being in that kitchen.”