When I first met Drew Gregory, I thought he was a jerk. The new kid on the block was a tournament wonder, kayak designer, single, good looking and larger than life. What’s not to hate? Over the years, the kayak fishing world has learned to love Gregory. His intense devotion to the sport, fueled by a competitive nature, propels him on the water and in the industry. From early tournament success, to designing a ground-breaking kayak, hosting a river-fishing tournament series, and running an online television show, Gregory has grown to fill his own shoes. Through it all, he’s learned a lot about competition and returned to his origins.
On the Water
“It’s time to focus on tournament fishing,” Drew Gregory announced earlier this year. For the 2020 season, Gregory will compete full-time on the newly-formed Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) and Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) pro tour. “There’s too much money and exposure on the line to ignore,” he says.
Gregory fished tournaments in his early days. “There weren’t many tournaments to fish,” he laughs. From an early age, Gregory was in competition with himself. “I always looked to see how many fish and what size other anglers were catching,” he admits.
After a few years fishing the online tourney scene and meet-up events, Gregory had hit the top. “I placed second, by tie-breaker, in the first KBF Championship,” he recalled. With victories under his belt, he started the River Bassin’ Tournament Trail. Running a tournament made it difficult to compete in other tournaments, so Gregory poured his competitive energy into filming his Hooked on Wild Waters online video series and traveling as an ambassador of the sport for Jackson Kayak.
In 2018, Gregory dabbled in national tournaments, finishing fifth in the Kayak Bass Fishing Championship. He followed up with more top-ten finishes and medaled at the Pan American Kayak Bass Championships.
I asked about pressure from sponsors, anglers and himself. “Fishing tournaments is actually fun,” he argues, explaining most of his recent fishing trips involved lights, cameras, logistics. He mocks his producer, “Catch one now!”
Fishing competitively is less stressful. “I get to focus on fishing. It makes me feel like a kid again,” he says. Still, Gregory will record prefishing and tournament days to share with his fans.
After 16 years in the kayak, Gregory admits he feels pressure to exceed expectations. People like to compare their tournament results to Gregory. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Wow, I placed higher than Drew Gregory,’” he chuckles.
While his tournament strategy hasn’t changed, Gregory says he’s honed his skills with years of experience. “I’m always a power fisherman,” he points out, explaining that he uses three basic lures to hit as many fishy spots as quickly as possible. After years on the water, he’s developed a sixth sense to identify fishy spots. Without the least hint of arrogance, he says, “Call it over confidence, but I know where they’re at.”
Over a decade ago, Gregory’s early tournament success, along with popularity on the new online video platform YouTube, attracted film producer Ken Whiting’s attention. Gregory was slated to record an episode of Kayak Fishing Show with Jim Sammons when he picked up a sponsorship with another company. That relationship fizzled, and Gregory circled back to Whiting looking for a better fit.
“Ken called up Eric Jackson and told him about me,” Gregory remembers. Little did they know; Jackson and his team were looking for a way to break into kayak fishing. “They needed an angler and I needed someone to believe in my ideas,” Gregory laughs.
Call it timing, but Gregory’s competitive nature pushed him to keep searching for the right sponsor despite early set backs. When the avid bass angler with a million ideas teamed up with one of whitewater kayaking’s most competitive teams it was like dumping dynamite into gasoline.
The spark inspired a whole industry. Jackson Kayak’s Drew Gregory signature Coosa featured the first high-low seat, flat deck, wide waterline, and a dozen other innovations now common on kayaks across the sport.
“People are fishing against me, in a kayak with my name on it, how would it look if they beat me?” Gregory constantly asks himself. He admits his legend drives him to compete harder, but now he does it on his terms. “I came into the industry working in the backside of WordPress to publish a blog,” he recalls. Now, he admits he doesn’t have a handle on the new social media platform. After proving himself on the water and off, Gregory is now married with a kid and confident in his tournament chances. “I feel more comfortable being myself, doing what works for me,” he says.
Always on the move, Drew Gregory feels the burn. | Photo: Chris Funk