“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 31-year-old Florida native has had a meteoric rise to the upper echelon of professional bass anglers in his short career.
Benton is fishing his fourth year on the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2019. He believes that his trial by combat against the best in the biz has been fruitful because of his work ethic and a competitive nature, which has driven him since a very young age.
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. “My paw paw loved to fish the Apalachicola River, and my very first fishing memories are with him, dunkin’ bait for cats and bluegill. I’m certain the time I spent on the water with him created the foundation of my love for fishing,” Benton said.
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 going to weigh in five! Now, those five only weighed 7 pounds, but we were really proud of ‘em.” Benton enjoyed the thrill of tournament bass fishing so much that he signed up for another event in short order, a Tuesday nighter on his local lake. “I remember that event like it was yesterday. We only had three fish for the longest time, but I ended the night with an 8-pounder that gave us a second-place finish. You’d have thought I won the Classic.”
The second-place finish that Tuesday night was all it took for Benton to get serious about competitive bass fishing. 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.
Benton stepped up his competitive bass fishing pursuits, becoming a frequent participant in the Tuesday night tournaments and every weekend tournament that was held on his home lake. “Eventually, we started winning every Tuesday nighter and most of the Saturday tournaments. I wanted to challenge myself on other lakes, so I joined the Southern Bass Anglers Club. They fished five or so lakes in the region. Man, I learned a lot from those guys.”
Upon graduation of high school, Gulf Coast State college offered Benton a baseball scholarship, which he accepted. Balancing 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 professional bass angler.
“It was scary leaving baseball and the scholarship behind, but it worked out. I ended up paying for college with tournament winnings,” Benton said.
In 2010, Benton signed up as a boater on the Costa series and joined the Media Bass Team Trail. “That was a big step, and taught me a great deal on how to compete at the next level.”
That was evident, as Benton won Media Bass’ Angler of the Year title his first year competing, as well as the next two consecutive years.
Benton’s ultimate goal was to become an Elite Series pro. So, in 2012, he signed up for the Bassmaster Opens while continuing to cherry pick Costa events. “I missed qualifying for the Elites that first year by one freakin’ place.” This was a big year for Benton, as he also decided to marry his girlfriend, Amanda, and join the FLW tour.
“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. And in 2015, he decided to fish the Bassmaster Opens again to reach his goal of qualifying for the Elites.
“Amanda and I had our little boy, Cade, in 2014. And I figured it was time to elevate my game. So, I fished the Opens in 2015 and never placed worse than 23rd. So, I qualified and moved on up to the big stage.”
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 three Top 10 finishes to his credit. He fished his first Bassmaster Classic at Lake Conroe, and finished in 18th place. 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.
“I skipped a couple of stages. Every time I had a chance to move up a competitive notch, I threw myself to the wolves. There is no class you can take to learn how to become ultra competitive in this game. You have to work hard and never quit learning. Baseball taught me that. Working on heavy equipment on the Panama City docks taught me that. I knew if I wanted to achieve my dream I had to outwork the competition.”
And 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 these challenges. Throw me in that fire, I believe I can take it!”