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New Jersey kayak angler wins at Murray

New Jersey kayak angler wins at Murray

COLUMBIA, S.C. — It wasn’t broken, so Jake Coucoules didn’t fix it.

That decision to stick with his area helped the Maple Shade N.J., pro post a Day 2 score of 89 inches and win the Bassmaster Kayak Series event at Lake Murray. His two-day total of 188.75 edged Ryan Matylewicz of Tunkhannock, Penn., by 4.75 inches and took home the $13,400 top prize.

“This is pretty surreal, but it’s the best moment of my life,” Coucoules said. “I have to thank God because that’s the only way this weekend was possible. I don’t know how everything worked so perfectly for me.”

After leading Day 1 with 99.75 inches, Coucoules’ Top 5 Day 2 bass measured 19.5, 19, 17.5, 16.5 and 16.5.

Day 1 saw Coucoules make a spontaneous decision to fish an area he had not originally intended to visit. Doing so gave him the lead by a 3.75-inch margin. Coucoules returned to the area for the final round and found what he needed to close the deal.

Fishing from a 12-foot Hobie Outback pedal drive, Coucoules opted to fish Lake Murray’s mid-lake region, as he had developed the most confidence in that area during his three prior visits to this Saluda River reservoir.

Coucoules described his key area as a series of islands, which offered leeward protection from the weekend’s big winds. Coucoules fished the first island on Day 1 and switched to the second for Day 2. Targeting mostly grass and wood, he fished in 7 to 8 feet the first day and 9 to 10 the second.

“That second island was a little steeper and the first one was flatter,” he said. “Also, that second island had stumps [on the perimeter] and that’s mostly what the fish were relating to.”

Coucoules said he caught all of his bass both days with power-fishing techniques. His bait selection included a River2Sea Tactical DD Crank in the bluegill color, a Rapala DT-10 in demon, a 3/4-ounce Dirty Jigs wobblehead with a green pumpkin Strike King Rage Craw and a 3/4-ounce Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer with a Hog Farmer Spunk Shad trailer.

Describing a unique presentation style, Coucoules said, “I was mostly yo-yoing that JackHammer like we do for fluke in Barnegat Bay (New Jersey).”

Despite entering the final round with a lead of 3.75 inches, Coucoules said a slower second day proved stressful until the waning hours.

“I caught my biggest fish (19.5) with an hour and a half left to fish,” he said. “That was the first time I thought I had a chance to win.”

Coucoules said his victory was the culmination of commitment and sacrifice inspired over two decades ago by a fellow New Jersey angler who’d become an industry icon.

“This has been my life since I was 5 years old,” he said. “I saw (Bassmaster Elite Series pro) Mike Iaconelli win the (2003) Bassmaster Classic and this is literally all I’ve ever wanted to do.
“I skipped parties and proms for this. I’ve slept in my car and I didn’t eat for days to afford the entry fees. I’ve put my entire life into this, so for it to all work out is amazing. It’s gotta be God watching over me. I’m just so happy.”

Matylewicz finished second with 184 inches. Adding to his first-round total of 89.25, Matylewicz recorded Day 2 catches of 19.5, 19.5, 18.75, 18.5, and 18.5 for a total of 94.75.

Mentioning that the big winds proved challenging for traversing open water and staying on his spots, Matylewicz said his Old Town Auto Pilot, which integrates Minn Kota's Spot-Lock technology. proved invaluable.

“It was no joke,” Matylewicz said. “It was Great Lakes-style waves out there. That Autopilot made me feel safe and kept me (on my spots).

“Yesterday was a little more of a struggle. I tried to cover a whole lot of water. Today, I focused on one area and ended up with a bigger bag.”

Matylewicz caught all of his bass fishing an Alabama Rig.

“I was just looking for fish that were getting ready to move up and spawn,” he said. “I was just locating them and trying to force feed them. I had a lot of followers today, but I caught enough of them that mattered.”

Bailey Eigbrett of Cheektowaga, N.Y. finished third with 183.5 inches. After scoring 87.5 on Day 1, Eigbrett turned in the best performance on Day 2 with 96 inches, comprising five bass that measured 23.5, 20.75, 19, 16.5 and 16.25.

Describing his big bass as the largest he’s ever measured in a tournament, Eigbrett said, “I caught him on 6-pound test, so when he came up wallowing, my heartbeat was going!”

Chad Walden of Graniteville, S.C., won the $500 Big Bass award for his 23.5-incher. Walden’s 21-incher broke the big-fish tie with Eigbrett.

The Top 5 finishers qualified to fish the 2025 Bassmaster Kayak Series Championship.

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