By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Gary Clouse, president of Phoenix Boats, may have put it best when summing up the competitive fishing résumé that Jeff Coble has compiled to this point.
"For the amount of money he's spent (on entry fees), there's probably nobody who's won more," said Clouse, who employs the North Carolinian as his East Coast sales representative. "He's way ahead of the game, that's for sure."
Coble, a two-time BFL All-American winner and three-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier, notched his latest triumph last weekend with a record-setting performance at the Kingston Canadian Open. Improving upon his runner-up finish in the event a year earlier, he averaged slightly more than 24 pounds over 3 days in the smallmouth-laden 1000 Islands area of Ontario, where the big lake of the same name empties into the St. Lawrence River.
The 52-year-old Coble has been somewhat of a fishing nomad for the better part of two decades, competing only when his jobs with various boat manufacturers didn't interfere. When his name shows up on a pairings sheet anywhere in North America, there's a strong chance it'll appear at or very near the top of the final standings when the event is over.
He's had four six-figure paydays – two for his All-American victories and two for his Bassmaster Weekend Series wins in 2005 and '07. He won an FLW Tour event at Santee Cooper Reservoir during that circuit's maiden season (1996) and in 2004 he teamed up with Bassmaster Elite Series pro Stephen Browning to take top honors at an Oh Boy! Oberto Redfish Cup derby at Galveston Bay in Texas.
"I put (the Canadian Open victory) in the same kind of category as that redfish event," he said this week. "I like those little out-of-the-norm deals. I tend to remember those better than some of the other stuff."
No Bronzeback Guru
Coble doesn't have a great deal of experience catching brown bass, but he relishes opportunities to fish for them.
"I first went up there probably 15 years ago for (a Bassmaster) Open," he said. "I've been to a lot of places over the years, but I really like that 1000 Islands region. There's probably more smallmouth around one of those islands than there is in the whole southeastern U.S.
"Those fish are a lot bigger now than they were back then because they've fattened up on the gobies. Years ago 17 or 18 pounds was a real big stringer, but nobody even turns a head for that now."
He said he caught 90 percent of his fish on a dropshot rig (the bait was a Zoom Z Drop) in 25 to 40 feet of water. That wasn't the only option – there were plenty of fish shallow, including some still spawning in the 68-degree water – but catching them required an approach that he considered too slow and methodical.
He had a limit that weighed about 22 pounds midway through the final day when he made a strategic decision to run an hour and a half back to the launch to weigh in early – he was concerned that his smallest fish might die in his livewell. After discussing his options with tournament officials, he chose to weigh the struggling fish and two others for a total of a little over 13 pounds.
He then went back out and made two 1-pound culls that provided his winning margin – replacing 4 1/2-pounders with 5 1/2s.
"I'd never seen that done before, but I saw (2013 winner Chris) Johnston do it last year. He came in and weighed a 6-pounder to start with and then went back out and fished. I made sure I remembered that."
Another Trip to the Big Stage?
Coble will vie for his fourth Classic berth in December when he and longtime team-tournament partner David Wright compete in the Bassmaster Team Championship at DeGray Lake in Arkansas. The event, which debuts this year, replaces the Weekend Series Championship as the determinant for the final slot at Lake Hartwell in February.
DeGray sits in close proximity to Lake Hamilton, where he captured his All-American titles in 2000 and '01.
"I've never been to DeGray, but it looks quite a bit different than Hamilton," he said. "Hamilton had lots of boat docks, and from what I can tell, there are almost no boat docks on DeGray."
He didn't fish docks at Hamilton, but they aided him nonetheless.
"What they did was keep a lot of other people fishing them, and that kept those people out of my way."
He's never regretted his decision to forego a tour-level career and has no aspirations of launching one in the future.
"You can't really have a job and do that, and I'm getting up there in age now and the Brandon Palaniuks of the world can give an old guy a bloody nose pretty quick. I've been in the boat business for 30 years and I guess I'll do that until I retire.
"Then when I retire, I'll go up and spend summers at 1000 Islands."