By MLF Communications Staff

EDENTON, N.C. – Over the past two years, Bass Pro Tour rookie Drew Gill has rocketed up the tournament-fishing ranks about as rapidly as any angler in recent memory. Competing in his fifth BPT event on the Chowan River, he made it to the mountaintop.

Gill put together an epic run during the second period of Sunday’s Championship Round. In a little less than 2 hours, the 22-year-old stacked 10 bass totaling 31 pounds, 12 ounces onto ScoreTracker. The best period logged by any angler during the event, it turned a nearly 9-pound deficit to Michael Neal into better than a 14-pound advantage.

The rest of the way, Gill would add another 10 pounds and change, bringing his total to 58-14 — also the best day for any angler all week. That topped Neal by 14 pounds, earning Gill $100,000 and his first BPT trophy.

“All I’ve wanted for the last few years was to just make it to this field and get to compete against these guys,” Gill said. “To make it to this field and get to compete against them and get a win in my rookie season, the feeling is absolutely unquantifiable.”

On one hand, it might seem like Gill, who started fishing tournaments in 2021 and was competing at the College Fishing level as recently as this January, came out of nowhere to reach this point. On the other, the victory almost feels like a long time coming.

After qualifying for the BPT during his first season fishing the MLF Invitationals, Gill wasted little time showing he could hang with the best. He finished third in his debut event on Toledo Bend, then fourth in his third tournament on Dale Hollow and second in his most recent BPT start on Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma. Add in his three Top 10s at the Invitationals level this season — including his first pro win on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in February — and it seemed like only a matter of time until Gill would hoist a BPT trophy.

“It's not really felt like a long time coming, it’s just felt like a lot of chances coming,” Gill said.

Still, Gill admitted he didn’t think this would be the week he broke into the winner’s circle. While he cruised through the Qualifying Rounds, finishing second in Group B, he said Friday afternoon that he hadn’t expected to make the Knockout Round following a “mediocre at best” practice, and he worried that he was running out of water to fish.

“I’ve always been a small-wins guy, a small-victories guy — like, a check here, making a Top 10 when you don’t expect it, things like that,” Gill said. “I’ve never been the kind of guy to expect to win.”

While he wound up making the Top 10 with relative ease, Gill’s chances of winning looked especially slim at 9:45 a.m. Sunday. At that point, he’d caught just two scorable bass for 3-15 — 24-9 back of Neal, who stacked up more than 17 pounds in 18 minutes during a furious flurry.

That all changed when Gill made a move to an area he’d discovered on the second day of the Qualifying Round. Already one of the savviest strategists in the game, Gill marked the spot while searching for new water once he knew he’d secured a place in the Knockout Round. Then, after a quick start Saturday, he decided to keep it in reserve for the Championship Round.

“I found that at the end of the Qualifying Round,” he said. “I actually was about to go pull the trigger and go there yesterday, and I caught a couple scorable bass, and it kept me from going.”

Even Gill didn’t realize how important that decision would be.

“I thought it had like 10-or 12 pounds’ worth of potential, and just went to absolutely waylaying on them.”

Gill described the area as the mouth of a major tributary of the Chowan. While offshore, the water was “decently shallow” and dotted with fallen cypress trees, brushpiles and other wood cover. It produced not only numbers of bites but big ones — seven of the 10 fish he caught during the second period weighed 3 pounds or more.

“There was a good baitfish population in that area,” Gill explained. “The water fell a little bit today, and any time you’re fishing out in front of a major tributary and the water falls, you’re going to gain a population. And man, it was textbook, the fish were a little more grouped up per piece of cover, and the more you had on a single piece of cover, the more likely you were to get bit.”

It’s no secret that Gill’s rise has resulted from his mastery of Garmin LiveScope. On paper, this didn’t figure to be an event that would fit that skillset — what little local knowledge there was of the Chowan prior to the first national event on its waters suggested that shallow, target-oriented power fishing would be the way to win.

But, as he’s proven multiple times this year, the type of tournaments where many don’t think to lean on forward-facing sonar are where Gill tends to shine. He’s not just a savant at beaming bass, but understanding, anticipating and patterning their behavior.

“Non-traditional ‘Scope tournaments are generally single-fish tournaments where you’ve got to catch single fish off single targets, and I feel like I’m really in tune with how to pattern that and how to run around and find more when I need it,” Gill said. “Just in terms of knowing when to make those decisions and knowing how to keep fishing fresh water, knowing the importance of it.”

Making short pitches to cover on the Chowan, Gill set his LiveScope to 62 feet out and 16 feet down. All his fish Sunday ate a Big Bite Baits Finesse Worm on a dropshot with a 1/8-ounce weight, which he threw on a 7-foot, medium-heavy, extra-fast Ark Reinforcer spinning rod.

“I could keep it off the bottom, off the silt and off the little stubble cover on the bottom, but I could still pitch it effectively and quick,” Gill said of the dropshot. “I could be real efficient, and I could keep it from getting snagged up, because I had it Tex-posed.”

Shortly after noon, Gill added a 3-14 to his rapidly rising total and took the lead for the first time. At that moment, the “small-wins guy” realized that the biggest win of his life was there for the taking. After three close calls in the past four events, he wasn’t about to let this one slip away.

“As soon as we took that lead, I kind of mentally just locked into what I was doing and knew that I was probably going to get the opportunities I needed to get it done this afternoon,” Gill said. “Thankfully, I made good on most of those, and it ended up being enough.”

Matt Becker earned Sunday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with an 8-4 largemouth that he caught on a jerkbait during Period 2. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

Zack Birge of Blanchard, Oklahoma, had seven bass removed from his total catch for violating Bass Pro Tour rule No. 18-A. That rule reads as follows: During the event days, MLF Anglers cannot leave the boat to make the boat more accessible to fishing waters. If the boat becomes lodged while attempting to gain access into fishable water, the MLF angler can leave the boat without penalty to attempt to dislodge. If the angler does dislodge the boat (by pushing) into the area they were attempting to enter, they must immediately exit this area. The MLF angler can continue to attempt access into such area, however, if access is accomplished it must be done so while the angler was inside the boat.

Birge ended the day with five bass weighing 11 pounds, 8 ounces and finished the event in 8th place.

The stage is set for another four-way race for the Angler of the Year award down the season’s home stretch. Jacob Wheeler, who entered Stage Five leading the season-long points standings, padded his advantage a bit. The two-time AOY winner now leads Alton Jones Jr. by 14 points, while Dustin Connell lurks 11 1/2 oints back of Jones with two events left.

Don’t discount Gill, either. The rookie climbed to fourth place in the standings with his victory, just four points back of Connell. While Gill would need the anglers in front of him to stumble to become the second consecutive rookie to win AOY (he’s 28.5 points back of Wheeler), it’s not out of the question.

Championship Round

(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish for the day)

1. Drew Gill -- 58-14 (22) -- 4-08

2. Michael Neal -- 44-14 (18) -- 5-00

3. Dustin Connell -- 41-14 (20) -- 3-08

4. Jacob Wheeler -- 36-01 (12) -- 5-11

5. Justin Lucas -- 31-04 (12) -- 8-01

6. Alton Jones Jr. -- 31-00 (13) -- 5-09

7. Matt Becker -- 25-10 (7) -- 8-04

8. Zack Birge -- 11-08 (5) -- 2-15

9. Ott DeFoe -- 11-08 (6) -- 2-13

10. Fred Roumbanis -- 9-15 (3) -- 5-13