The past few months have been tumultuous to say the least for Michael Bennett. In October, he was in sight of qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series until a 65th place finish at Lake Seminole moved him down to 15th on the Southern Open points list, just out of range for qualification. Then, just last week he decided against fishing the FLW Tour as there was no guarantee that he would be given a new team sponsor deal. Bassfan did an interview with him last week and the bass fishing world has paid attention and the forums and social media sites have been voicing their opinion on what happened. A former Forrest Wood Cup winner with over 1.5 million in winnings will now be sitting out the 2011 FLW Tour season. Overall the support has been in favor of Michael, and he remains positive and optimistic about his future as a professional bass fisherman. I had the chance to talk with Michael earlier today and get his thoughts on bass fishing, his recent news and the future of bass fishing.
Michael has been a huge supporter of FLW Outdoors since an early age. I remember when we first met after he qualified for the 2002 BFL All-American at the age of 17 (The youngest ever pro qualifier for this championship event). I had the opportunity to also qualify for that event as a co-angler at the age of 18, and his older brother R.J. also qualified that year at the age of 19. It was definitely a year for the young guys from the West making the trip to Shreveport, LA. With that said, there should be no denying his loyalty to FLW Outdoors.
TB: What are your thoughts on the whole FLW issue?
MB: It's just a weird situation. I have been fishing FLW events since they were called Operation Bass and have been loyal to the tour for the last six years. I feel like I have done everything they have wanted me to. When I won the Forrest Wood cup, I felt like I hit a milestone and felt like it would make it easier to get sponsors. Obviously I won a good amount of money, but I am looking at it from a return on investment aspect. It's much harder when you pay your own way and it puts much more pressure on your fishing. It was just a business decision and I understand that with the economy things are bad for everyone. I wouldn't rule out fishing FLW again, just not for the next year.
TB: You got into the Southern Open on Toho in a few weeks and also mentioned the PAA as an option, what all do you have planned for this year?
MB: Definitely the Southern Opens to try to qualify for the Elite Series. That's one of my goals and then to see what types of sponsor possibilities come about from that if I make it in. The PAA is a great organization but I probably won't fish it this year. I'm going to focus on the Opens and my new business I started. It will definitely be a year with less fishing, which will be kind of weird for me, but it may be good for me. For whatever reason, 2010 was tougher for me and I believe it was mental more than anything. 2010 was good for me in other ways and I'm really excited to be working with BassTackleSupply.com. They are based right near me in Panama City and have been doing alot with the clubs and weekend guys.
TB: What are you expecting from this Toho event in a few weeks? What is your game plan?
MB: As you know, in Florida weather is everything. I will be watching the weather every single day until the tournament starts. I've been there before and have done pretty well, so I feel like I'm ready. It will either be pre-spawn, a spawning deal or a situation where you have to deal with a cold front. That's Florida fishing. If it's a spawn tournament, I doubt it will be like the year Rojas broke the record. It might never be like that again.
TB: You did well the last time in 2008, the last time the FLW Tour made a stop at Toho: What did you do that year to place 22nd?
MB: The first day I had around 3 pounds but had almost 17 the next. It was post spawn last time and I kind of camped in one little area. We had a little cold front come through so it was pretty tough on the first day. The fish were feeding on those big golden shiners the second day and I just went back and forth in one little area. The thing about Florida is that everyone expects huge bass and 20lb stringers, but if the weather is bad it's a struggle, and many times getting that 10-12 pounds every day is what does well.
TB: I know you count sight fishing as one of your strengths, what else do you consider a strength?
MB: Anything topwater would definitely be one of my strengths. I also like any time we are faced with clear water. I feel really comfortable with finesse techniques, like a senko or a small worm. Really Florida lakes fit my style because you can fish clear water, topwater and soft plastics most of the time.
TB: Looking back a few years to when you won the FLW Tour stop on Smith Lake in Alabama. You fished depths of up to 60 feet with a wacky-rig, that was just crazy! What other "off the wall" type stuff has really worked for you over the years?
MB: One thing in Florida which most people don't do it to fish the offshore stuff. I have done pretty well fishing offshore grass. Those types of places get less pressure and are less obvious to most of the fishermen.
TB: I always try to ask pros what advice they have for someone fishing from the back of the boat. What advice do you have for co-anglers?
MB: Number one would be to not get discouraged and to keep your bait wet. In many situations, especially in Florida, fish are moving in and out of areas. Keep casting around because fish might move in on a spot five minutes after it's already been fished by a pro. For the most part, it's not a good idea to copy what the pro is doing. Usually they are going to get the first chance at the fish and catch them if they are going to bite. Also don't be afraid to experiment with new baits.
TB: What do you think of the changes with B.A.S.S. and FLW?
MB: Both organizations are making some changes that are positive for the sport. It's really too soon to tell what is going to happen, but I feel like we are kind of over the hump and moving forward.
It was great talking with with Michael and I'm confident he will continue his success on whatever trail he decides to fish in the future. Michael's Facebook Fan Page is pretty active with news from his tournaments. If you haven't already: Become a Follower. Also check out his website MichaelBennettFishing.com.