Drew Benton of Panama City caught a big bass on a spinnerbait on the windy afternoon of Feb. 10 to win $100,000 in his first FLW Tour tournament, the tour’s season-opening event on Lake Okeechobee.
Benton’s four-day weight of 75 pounds, 7 ounces is well below the 100-pound-plus weights that pro bass anglers have produced on Lake Okeechobee during the past two FLW Tour events.
A strong northeast wind that kicked up Feb. 9 and muddied the big lake’s water is partly to blame.
Benton had to fish hard to get bites on the final day, when he ran his boat back and forth from Turner’s Cove to South Bay searching for bass.
“It was such a grind,” Benton said. “I didn’t catch a limit until 1:45.”
Benton sealed his victory with a 7-pound bass caught on a Hildebrandt spinnerbait in the final seven minutes of the tournament. He said he caught most of his bass throughout the tournament along Observation Shoal, from Harney Pond south.
The 24-year-old was both thrilled and relieved. Without major sponsors, Benton paid his own entry fee for the FLW Tour event.
“This is such a big step for me,” he told FLW Outdoors. “Now I can relax and fish for the rest of the year and not have to worry about just making a check.”
Benton, celebrating his victory on the weigh-in stage in Clewiston with his wife, Amanda, said he planned to use some of his $100,000 bass fishing paycheck to “get ahead on house payments.”
Benton finished nearly 5 pounds ahead of Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., who finished second and won $35,000 with a four-day weight of 70-8.
Michael Neal of Dayton, Tenn., finished third, with 67-12, followed by Wade Hendricks of Tennessee with 66-13 and Alabama’s Rick Cotten with 66-11.
Justin Jones of Apex, N.C.,won the co-angler division and $25,250 with a three-day total of 11 bass weighing 39-4.
Mike SurmanOK of Boca Raton, winner of the first FLW Tour event held on Lake Okeechobee in 1996, said he caught decent bass in practice this year but found it difficult to catch big fish during the changing weather of the tournament.
Coverage of this year’s Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour event is scheduled to air from 11 a.m. until noon April 7 on the NBC Sports Network.
Reel Blue captures Sailfish Challenge
The Reel Blue fishing team led by captain Greg Hamilton won the 71-boat Sailfish Challenge tournament held Feb. 9 out of three inlets — Lake Worth, Hillsboro and Government Cut.
Reel Blue, fishing out of Hillsboro Inlet, began tournament searching for meat fish but soon realized — after a 9 a.m. sailfish triple header followed by two more sailfish releases — that they could win the sailfish event, according to tournament director Jamie Bunn. They finished with nine sailfish releases for the day, beating second-place Miss Annie by three releases.
The Miss Annie team led by captain Randy Yates fished out of Lake Worth inlet and entered “across the board” to finish with the biggest paycheck: $196,870 for six sailfish releases. That’s $32,812 per sailfish released.
The Get Lit team led by skipper Quinton Dieterle fished out of Lake Worth Inlet and finished third with five sailfish releases. They won $76,130.
App for state park visitors
A new free smart phone app gives users information about Florida’s 171 state parks.
The Florida State Parks Pocket Ranger features GPS mapping, events calendars, maps, weather alerts and a system for storing and recalling trip data.
The app can be found by searching for “Official Florida State Parks.” It’s also available through Pocketranger.com.