Opens profile: Cook plays through pain

Never underestimate Drew Cook’s desire to become a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. Consider what the Quincy, Fla., resident overcame at the first Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Open of 2018 on Florida’s Kissimmee Chain.

Seven days prior that event, Cook was on Kissimmee practice fishing and doing what he loves to do best, punching grass with a stout flipping rod. He sensed a bite and reared back with his usual ferocious hook set. His 1 1/4-ounce tungsten weight shot out of the water and hit him square in the mouth with the force of a bullet.

The impact knocked out three teeth, including one front tooth, and shattered part of his jawbone. The nerve from his missing front tooth was alive and exposed. Cook called his dentist.

“He wanted me to come back that night to pull the nerve out and grind down what was left of my broken teeth,” Cook said. “I didn’t want to cut my practice short so I decided to tough it out.”

It hurt like hell whenever Cook opened his mouth, drank something and tried to eat. Despite the agony, he continued practicing. A few days went past before he was willing to set the hook with the same gusto as before the accident. He then competed in the tournament and pulled off a third-place finish.

A few Bassmaster.com photos of Cook from during the tournament reveal the missing front tooth. Six months and two surgeries later, Cook “finally had a tooth back in the hole.”

Given Cook’s determination, it should come as no surprise that he is closing in on his Elite Series dream at the tender age of 24. With one more Eastern Open event left to qualify for the Bassmaster Opens Championship, Cook is eighth in the AOY standings. He is also 21st in the Central Opens AOY standings and claimed second place in that division on the Red River.

Cook’s AOY standing in the Central Division would be higher had it not been for a mishap. On the first day of the Central Open at the Arkansas River, a barge passed on the main river around noon and sucked the water out of an extremely shallow backwater Cook was fishing. It left him hopelessly stuck in the mud.

With three bass in his livewell that weighed about 11 pounds total, Cook was mired for six hours and missed the weigh-in. He caught the heaviest limit on Day 2, 18 pounds, 10 ounces, and finished in 55th place. Had he been able to weigh in the fish he had caught before being stuck the first day, he would have made the Top 12 cut.

Cook grew up on the shore of Lake Talquin in Florida with is father, Finley, and mother Kathy. His father began taking him fishing at such an early age that he can’t recall their first outings.

“My parents took a picture of me with my first bass,” Cook said. “I’m told I caught it off our dock, but I don’t remember it.”

Cook’s memories of fishing with his father are much clearer from about age 4 on. They fished Lake Talquin regularly in a 16-foot, fiberglass boat equipped with stick steering. At age 10 Cook was allowed to fish alone from this boat, provided he stayed in one bay where his parents could keep an eye on him.

“When I was 12 they let me fish the whole lake,” Cook said.

A primarily “self-taught” angler, Cook claims he never missed a Bassmaster TV show and that he gleaned everything he could from magazines about bass fishing. He began fishing local tournaments when he was 13.

Since he was too young to enter by himself, he “roped" his dad into fishing some of the tournaments. He also teamed up with anglers who were older. Two of them, Daniel and David Boyd, both avid tournament fishermen, were mentors for Cook.

“They still boat captain for Jr. anglers to this day,” Cook said of the Boyds.

While attending Robert F. Monroe, Cook competed in high school bass tournaments. In 2012 he won the Bassmaster Florida State Championship at Lake Okeechobee.

“I caught the high school record for the biggest one-day total at that tournament,” Cook said. “My limit weighed over 32 pounds. It might still be the record.”

After high school Cook attended Florida State University to pursue a degree in criminology and entrepreneurship. He also competed on the college’s bass fishing team.

“I wasn’t spectacular, but it was a good learning curve,” Cook said. “I’m best friends now with some of the anglers I met while fishing in college.”

Tragedy struck during Cook’s senior year at FSU. His 52-year-old mother was hit by a car while bicycling, which caused her death. She was training for a triathlon. She had always been very supportive of Cook’s bass fishing passion and often attended his weigh-ins.

“I feel like there’s a master plan and that was a part of it,” Cook said.

After graduating from FSU in 2017 Cook took a construction job so he could pursue the 2018 Bassmaster Opens. His plan was to give the Opens one shot to make the Elite Series. If he fails to qualify for the Elites this year but wins enough money to try again in 2019 that is what he intends to do.

“It would be a lifelong dream to fish with the Elites,” Cook said. “It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 6 years old.”

Cook’s sponsors include Southwind Plantation, Construction Underwriters, Keith Lawson Services, Guilday Law, Electrotech Contractors, Mexico Beach Marina, Benson’s Heating and Air Conditioning and Nichols Lures.