APPLING, Ga. Once wasn't enough. Twice wasn't enough.
So Jeff Coble of Beaufort, N.C., made sure he'd get a third trip to bass fishing's ultimate stage. Coble surged ahead when it counted most Saturday to win his second Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series Championship operated by American Bass Anglers and his third trip to the Bassmaster Classic, set for Feb. 22-24 on Lake Hartwell out of Greenville, S.C.
Coble, who won this event in the 2005 season to earn a berth in the 2006 Bassmaster Classic, weighed in a Day Four total of 14.43 pounds for a total of 40.89 pounds to win the $100,000 cash prize at Clarks Hill Lake. He outperformed second-place finisher William Kemp of Scotland Neck, N.C., by more than 2 pounds. Kemp finished with 38.07.
After three days of constantly changing conditions warm weather Wednesday, a surprisingly windy and cold Thursday, a chilly but calm Friday the weather finally cooperated for anglers Saturday as the morning chill gave way to ideal fishing conditions.
Coble was in fourth place heading into the final round. Using a Zoom Ultra Vibe speed worm and a Zoom Z3 crankbait for most of the tournament, he stuck to shallow water and found bass schooling in brush piles and vegetation. While he hadn't caught 10 pounds of fish on any previous day of the tournament, things took a turn Saturday.
"I had some luck on a stream. That's where I found a near 6-pounder early this morning," said Coble, 45. "Once I had that fish, I was caught up."
Mike Hicks of Goochland, Va., who led going into Saturday's fishing, finished third with a total of 37.98 Bobby Carter of Flowery Branch, Ga.,. (36.04) and Phil Addison of Baytown, Texas, (33.17) rounded out the top five.
Frank Miller of West Nanicoke, Pa., won the co-angler division with a four-day total of 20.01.
Coble, who has competed in the Bassmaster Classic twice, in 2002 and 2006, said he didn't spend much time thinking about the big event during this week's tournament.
"Now I've got to get up there and pre-fish Lake Hartwell," said Coble, who is familiar with the site of the 2008 Classic. "I've fished it before around that time of year, maybe a few months later. The big thing is going to be the weather, if it keeps warming up. I'm comfortable fishing Hartwell. It's just a matter of finding the fish."
As for how he'll prepare for contending alongside the biggest names in professional bass fishing, Coble, who finished 13th in the 2006 Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., said he isn't too concerned about the "hoopla."
"I'm not as intimidated going into the Classic against those guys, the Kevin VanDams and those guys," Coble said. "I'm sure that guy who won it this past year, he had to be intimidated rolling up in there and going up against all those guys. But a lot of those guys are my friends, so I've been around them. I know how to handle all the hoopla."