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Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle just wants to fish

It wasn't sweat trickling down the face of Mercury pro Gerald Swindle as he sat on the front deck of his boat while weigh-in festivities wound down at the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year Championship at Mille Lacs in central Minnesota. And it wasn't a frog in his throat that forced Swindle to stop several times as he tried to explain the importance of the newly claimed Angler of the Year trophy resting next to his Mercury 250hp Pro XS, the second such trophy in his 21-year B.A.S.S. career.

"Man, all I ever wanted to do was just fish," a visibly emotional Swindle said after finishing the 2016 season with 908 points to outlast Keith Combs (881), Randall Tharp (852) and Mercury teammate Jacob Powroznik (830). "When I leave here and take this jersey off, I'm just a fisherman. That's all I am. It's hard for me to tell y'all what this trophy means to me, and how hard it is to win it against (the Elite Series field)."

Swindle's Angler of the Year title is the 10th consecutive for Mercury-sponsored pros. But the smallmouth bass of Mille Lacs Lake didn't make it easy for Swindle.

The Mercury pro from Warrior, Alabama, entered the AOY Championship with an almost-insurmountable 44-point lead on Combs. However, as the rest of the 50-man field racked up an astounding number of 20-plus-pound bags on a fishery dubbed by Bassmaster magazine as one of the five best in the country, Swindle stumbled out of the gate on Day 1 with three fish for 9 pounds, 9 ounces, followed by a pedestrian 15-13 on Day 2. Entering the final day of competition, Combs had climbed to within 25 points of Swindle, and had given himself an outside shot at overtaking Swindle with a monster bag.

But Swindle saved his best for last, bringing in 22-0 on the final day to fend off Combs and add an AOY title to match the one he claimed in 2004.

"The last thing I wanted to do was win this (trophy) without producing the kind of fish that Mille Lacs is known for," Swindle admitted. "The first two days were a struggle for me. But if there's one thing I hope the young kids in the crowd learn is that you're going to get knocked down. You're going to lose some, and there'll be days you want to go break all your rods and throw them in the lake. But you can't do that. You have to learn how to deal with those tough days and turn them into something positive."

Swindle will be one of 50-some anglers competing in the March 24-26 Bassmaster Classic in Houston, Texas.

Drew Benton dominates Rookie of the Year Race
On Day 1 of the 2016 Elite Series in mid-March, Mercury pro Drew Benton stepped to the scales in Palatka, Florida, with 22 pounds, 5 ounces of largemouth from the St. Johns River. Benton, an Elite rookie, ended his first day in second place; by the end of the tournament, he had racked up 75-6 and a fourth-place finish, a powerful start to his rookie-of-the-year bid.

No surprise, considering Benton grew up within driving distance of the St. Johns and has competed in Florida as a pro since the age of 21.

Fast forward six months and Benton was still piling up big Elite Series limits as he slugged it out for a ninth-place finish at the AOY Championship at Mille Lacs, Minnesota. Benton's first Elite season was so good that he was awarded the B.A.S.S. Rookie of the Year trophy two days before the actual end of the season: Benton's 774 points gave him an insurmountable 135-point margin over his closest competitor, Mercury teammate Adrian Avena.

"Benton is a guy who everybody thought would catch them in Florida, but we weren't sure how he'd do when we left the Southeast," said B.A.S.S. commentator Mark Zona. "Man, did he prove all us 'geniuses' wrong. That dude has very few holes in his game."

Benton was indeed consistent from the get-go, finishing in the money in six of his first seven tournaments, fishing two Championship Sundays (the St. Johns and Cayuga Lake) and hovering in the Top 15 in Angler of the Year points throughout the regular season.

"I've worked really hard at becoming a more complete angler," Benton said. "When I first started fishing as a pro, I could do one or two things really well, but I've tried to diversify. I'm still figuring a few things out, but I feel good about my season. I really didn't expect to win (Rookie of the Year).

NOTES
With his fourth-place finish in the AOY race, Powroznik has now finished in the Top 6 the past five years on the two major professional tours (two years on the FLW Tour, three years on the B.A.S.S. Elite Series) … 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion Randy Howell needed a monster final day at the AOY Championship to qualify for his 15th Bassmaster Classic, and he delivered: 25-4 to wrap up one of the final two spots in next year's Classic.

About Mercury Marine

Headquartered in Fond du Lac, Wis., Mercury Marine is the world's leading manufacturer of recreational marine propulsion engines. A $2 billion division of Brunswick Corporation (NYSE: BC), Mercury provides engines, boats, services and parts for recreational, commercial and government marine applications, empowering boaters with products that are easy to use, extremely reliable and backed by the most dedicated customer support in the world. Mercury's industry-leading brand portfolio includes Mercury and Mariner outboard engines; Mercury MerCruiser sterndrive and inboard packages; MotorGuide trolling motors; Mercury propellers; Mercury inflatable boats; Mercury SmartCraft electronics; Attwood marine parts; Land 'N Sea marine parts distribution; and Mercury and Quicksilver parts and oils. More information is available at mercurymarine.com



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