COLUMBIA, S.C. – Team Duracell pro Michael Bennett of Lincoln, Calif., caught a two-day total of nine bass weighing 24 pounds, 15 ounces to win $1 million in the Forrest Wood Cup presented by BP and Castrol on Lake Murray on Sunday. Bennett, 24, is the youngest champion in the history of the Forrest Wood Cup and topped his closest rival, Team Kellogg’s pro Dave Lefebre of Union City, Penn., by more than five pounds to become the sport’s second instant millionaire.
“This hasn’t sunk in at all,” said Bennett, who became the youngest angler to reach $1 million in career earnings and has banked $1.4 million in FLW Outdoors events. “I mean, I’m excited and have an unbelievable feeling inside, but overall it hasn’t sunk in. It’s incredible.”
Bennett said he had a solid pattern targeted in practice, but heavy rains before the tournament began changed his approach. Bennett said he decided to start the tournament by fishing shallow.
Bennett admitted to “junk fishing,” or fishing without a pattern, although he said he fine tuned his approach to fit the situation. Bennett said he targeted clear, shallow water with a patient retrieve, but was not afraid to speed the retrieve if his method didn’t produce. The last two days of competition Bennett said he refined his junk fishing and targeted specific midlake spots featuring structure or grass.
Bennett’s bait of choice for the week was a Snag Proof Fred Frog Custom Color. Bennett said Saturday he was nervous going into the last day of competition because he had run out of new water to fish and was going to have to repeat some water he had already covered.
“I really thought I was going to need at least 10 pounds today to win,” Bennett said. “It was a struggle today and it started to get to me a little bit.”
“I’ve got to get some food,” Bennett said. “I’m starving. Eat, take a shower, say hello to friends, celebrate a little and get to bed whenever it happens is what I have planned.”
Lefebre caught a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 19-12 to claim second place and $100,000.
“I’m happy I came in second,” said Lefebre, who has amassed more than $833,000 while recording four wins and 30 top-10 finishes in FLW Outdoors competition. “I wanted to win more than anybody, but I’m proud of Michael. He earned it.”
Lefebre said he could have made the event a lot closer than it was as he lost a five-pounder in the last few minutes of competition.
“It’ll make good video,” Lefebre said of his lost fish. “It wouldn’t have put me over the top, though. That’s all I kept saying after I broke down and quit crying like a baby.”
Lefebre said he caught every fish he weighed in during the tournament on a 6-inch Berkley PowerBait Flippin’Tail Worm. He rigged the worm with a 3/16-ounce weight and a 3/0 hook.
“I just wanted one bait that would let me fish everything,” Lefebre said. “Today I was skipping it in the river around bushes and docks.
“When it’s tough conditions, PowerBait is hard to argue with,” Lefebre said. “The Flippin’Tail has a huge tail that fluttered down like a Colorado blade and it just looked a little different.”
Rounding out the top 10 pros were Terry Bolton of Jonesboro, Ark., (10 bass, 19-09, $75,000): Team Snickers pro Chris Baumgardner of Gastonia, N.C., (nine bass, 16-09, $60,000); Team Berkley pro Kevin Vida of Clare, Mich., (nine bass, 15-14, $50,000); Team Chevy pro Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo., (eight bass, 13-08, $45,000); Team National Guard pro Brent Ehrler of Redlands, Calif., (seven bass, 13-03, $40,000); Brian Travis of Conover, N.C., (five bass, 11-01, $35,000); Mark Rose of Marion, Ark., (six bass, 10-00, $30,000) and Jay Yelas of Corvallis, Ore., (five bass, 6-10, $25,000).
The field of 77 professional anglers consisted of qualifiers from the 2008 Walmart FLW Tour, the 2007 Walmart FLW Series, the 2008 Walmart BFL All-American, 2008 TBF National Championship and 2007 Stren Series Championship. Five of the final top 10 anglers qualified through the 2007 Walmart FLW Series, four qualified through the 2008 Walmart FLW Tour and Travis qualified through the 2008 TBF National Championship.
David Hudson of Jasper, Ala., won the Co-angler Division and $50,000 Saturday with four bass weighing 7 pounds, 15 ounces followed by Brian Tidwell of Seneca, S.C., in second place with four bass weighing 7-03 worth $10,000.
“This feels great,” said Hudson, who also won as a co-angler at the National Guard Open at Charlotte, N.C., in April. “Words can’t express it really. I get emotional just thinking about it.
“I won at Charlotte, but this is really a big deal,” Hudson added. “I’ve made a few top-10s and this is my first championship, but this is a big deal.”
Hudson relied on a spinning rig and a Red Crawler Berkley Power Finesse Worm Hand Pour. Hudson said he caught fish on the finesse worm in both shallow and deep water.
“That’s what I’m known for,” Hudson said. “I just try to keep it simple and just catch keepers. That’s what I try to do all year long.
“I was targeting shade,” Hudson added. “But fishing behind other guys, it’s not always available.”
Hudson opened the tournament in seventh place Thursday with five bass weighing 6-10 while fishing with Team Walmart pro George Cochran of Hot Springs, Ark. On Friday he jumped into fifth place on the strength of a four-bass catch weighing 6-03 while fishing with Team Chevy pro Larry Nixon of Bee Branch, Ark. Hudson sealed the deal Saturday when he fished with Travis.
Rounding out the top 10 co-anglers were Chris Hults of Vancleave, Miss. (two bass, 6-07, $9,000); Pat Wilson of Penngrove, Calif. (three bass, 5-14, $8,000); Brandon Hunter of Benton, Ky. (three bass, 4-04, $7,000); Doug Weiser of Springdale, Ark. (two bass, 3-12, $6,000); Todd Lee of Jasper, Ala. (one bass, 3-00, $5,000); Andy Scholz of Reno, Nev. (one bass, 1-05, $4,000); Bill Scharton of Oakdale, Calif. (one bass, 1-02, $3,500) and Teddy Bradley of Mishawaka, Ind. (one bass, 1-00, $3,000).
The full field competed in the opening round for 10 slots in Saturday’s competition based on their two-day accumulated weight. Weights were cleared for day three, and co-angler competition concluded following Saturday’s weigh-in. The top 10 pros will continue competition Sunday, with the winner determined by the heaviest accumulated weight from days three and four.
In Forrest Wood Cup competition, pros and co-anglers are randomly paired each day, with pros supplying the boat, controlling boat movement and competing against other pros. Co-anglers fish from the back deck against other co-anglers.
Coverage of the Forrest Wood Cup will be broadcast to 81 million FSN (Fox Sports Net) subscribers in the United States as part of the “FLW Outdoors” television program airing Sept. 28 and Oct. 5. “FLW Outdoors” is also broadcast in Canada on WFN (World Fishing Network) and to more than 429 million households in the United Kingdom, Europe, Russia, Australia, Africa, Asia and the Middle East through a distribution agreement with Matchroom Sport, making it the most widely distributed fishing program in the world. The program airs Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. Eastern time in most markets. Check local listings for times in your area.
FLW Outdoors, named after Forrest L. Wood, the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, is the largest fishing tournament organization in the world. In 2008 alone the organization is offering more than 90,000 anglers the chance to win over $40 million through 230 tournaments in 10 circuits. FLW Outdoors is also taking fishing mainstream with the largest prizes and cash awards in the history of fantasy sports, $7.3 million.
For more information about FLW Outdoors and its tournaments, call (270) 252-1000. For more information about FLW Fantasy Fishing, visit FantasyFishing.com.