Something clicks early on when touring pros choose to become running mates. Fishing is a constant, so there must be another common bond that forms the glue. For Drew Cook and Drew Benton that glue is being from Florida. Then along came David Mullins. If opposites attract, the geographical outlier from east Tennessee delivers it in spades.
“He talks different from us,” said Benton, also speaking for Cook.
“They are from Florida, so what do they know,” quipped Mullins.
Cook had no comeback. At age 25, he is the youngest of the group, and is constantly reminded of it by where he qualifies in the pecking order.
Humor—sometimes dark—is part of the daily routine. So are practical jokes and pranks. All kidding aside, they are like lifelong brothers after just three years together. Their brotherhood — like others on the tour — is built on trust at a higher level.
“We each want the other to make a check,” explained Mullins. “There is a lot on the line, and I want those guys to do well, make it to the top.”
Mullins, 37, is the veteran of the group with six years on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He never planned on making a living at it. Mullins was just hired as a high school teacher when he qualified for the Elite Series after completing his first season on the Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Opens.
Benton, 31, is in his fourth season on the Elite Series. He picked up the sport in high school, went to college on a baseball scholarship, and dropped it to open up more time to compete in tournaments. In 2012, he moved on to the Opens, missing the Elite Series by one point. The next year he won $100,000 on the FLW Tour, won the 2015 Rookie of the Year title, but even that wasn’t enough. He yearned for the Elite Series and got in through the Opens. In 2016, he won Elite Series Rookie of the Year and followed that up with his first win in 2018.
Cook, 25, is the rookie with a great outlook for pursuing his goal of making it a career. In 2012, he won the Florida B.A.S.S. Nation high school championship, fished on the Florida State University fishing team through graduation in 2017, and qualified for the Elite Series last year.
The comebacks came quick and frequent as the three anglers were interviewed. Humor aside, the reasons why they stick together are obvious in the end.
How did you meet?
Benton: I met Cook at annual tournaments around the house. I was trying to move on up, and he was trying to get started. Because we shared the same name, I figured I’d better take him under my wing. Mullins and I met before I qualified for the Elite Series.
Cook: I met Benton at local tournaments. He always took my money. I was just trying to get started after fishing in high school and college. But seriously, I looked up to him. I didn’t meet Mullins until I started rooming with Benton.
Mullins: I met Benton at ICAST before he fished the Elites. We decided to room together, which we have now for three seasons. Then came along that kid, Cook. We just had to let him in.
There are not one, but three of you. How does it all click?
Benton: It takes two of us to take care of that old man. We constantly have to pick up after him, drive him everywhere, do his laundry. Seriously, which that is, we also just get along really well. When you first meet someone, you know whether or not it’s going to click, which it does.
Cook: As the ‘kid’ it’s a good thing that I don’t mind sleeping on the floor, on a blow-up mattress.
Mullins: We get along pretty good. We are laid back and each of us has a good sense of humor. We also share a lot of common interests outside of fishing. There is only so much you can talk about fishing before you talk it to death.
What drives each of these guys to compete?
Benton: For Mullins it’s his experience. And he hates to lose more than he likes to win. For Cook it’s his hunger and drive to excel, take his game to the next level. When you are new at this level you are more competitive, because you have so much to prove. That impresses me about him.
Cook: Benton has the eyes of an osprey. He can see things, especially with sight fishing, that neither of us can. Mullins has the most experience and particularly with offshore fishing, which is not easy to master at any level.
Mullins: We all played sports in high school, and Benton did it in college. So, it’s inspiring to watch those guys channel their competitive energy through tournaments. It drives me to compete as well.
In what ways do you work together?
Benton: It’s all built on trust. Me and Cook are experienced in shallow water; Mullins is not. He is the man in deep water. So, we work off each other. We also respect each other for our individual strengths. If we can help the other two earn a paycheck, we’ll do anything to help.
Cook: Benton and Mullins bring it all. Mullins' experience from having fished early on at lakes like Cherokee and Douglas are invaluable to two guys who grew up fishing only in shallow water. We are all transparent, want the other guy to do well. When you work together like that, someone always does end up doing well.
Mullins: We trust each other. They know if I tell them something, then it’s truly what is going on. That’s how it should be. We are honest with each other and play our strengths. One man’s weakness is another man’s strength. And when you have our level of trust, it helps balance things out. It gels pretty well.
What are they like when the game face comes off?
Benton: For me and Cook it goes back to what we have in common. We talk a lot about saltwater fishing, going offshore. For me and Mullins it’s our hunting land and what we are working on. For all three of us we try to stay upbeat and share the camaraderie that makes us click.
Cook: Well, besides Mullins at least twice a day Facetiming his dog — his name is Jake but we’ve never met — we are all just down to earth. We value our downtime because there is so little of it.
Mullins: Cook always talks to his girlfriend, but I guess that’s normal for a kid like him. We all joke with each other. You can’t be too serious out here. There’s already enough of it.
What do you like about the other guys?
Benton: I like that we come from the same background, me and Cook. It’s kind of cool because we have a lot of similarities. I can see some of me in him. It’s great how we didn’t really know each other but chose the same path, and here we are. Mullins keeps things light when we are on the road. He’s never too serious. We get enough seriousness in this job, and it’s nice to have someone around who reminds us to lighten up.
Cook: Mullins makes this job less stressful. But he literally would do anything for you. Benton is six years older than me. When he started fishing the tour, I was fishing at the high school level. He was kind of an idol for me. He was the first one from back home to make it, and when he did, it inspired me to do the same.
Mullins: Cook is competitive. He comes from a good family, and I love his dad, just a great man. To be a rookie on the tour he’s shown a lot of composure. He will do well. Benton is like my brother, just laid back and would do anything for me.