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Tuesday, November 11, 2008
BASS Reporter's Notebook

Jeff Coble of Manson, N.C., is gunning this week for his third Bassmaster Weekend Series title in four years, which would give him the fourth Bassmaster Classic entry of his career.

Coble is set to compete Nov. 12-15 on North Carolina's Lake Norman out of Cornelius, N.C., in the 2008 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series Championship operated by American Bass Anglers. The winner will be awarded the 51st and final berth in the 2009 Classic, set for Feb. 20-22 Classic on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La.

Coble first qualified for a Classic in 2002 through the Bassmaster Opens. His other two Classic spots, earned in 2006 and 2008, came by winning Weekend Series championships.

Although he's from North Carolina, Coble doesn't have a home-lake advantage over the other 120 pros competing this week for the $100,000 top prize and a Classic ticket.

"I think a lot of people are going to assume that since I live in North Carolina that I fish Norman a lot and have a lot of knowledge of the lake, but I really don't," Coble said. "I really haven't fished there much over the past four or five years. The lake's changed quite a bit. It has spotted bass now, which changes the way the lake fishes."

To get to the Weekend Series Championship, anglers competed in a series of qualifying tournaments within one of five divisions. The top finishers moved on to regional finals. The top 20 percent from the regionals qualified for the championship.

Coble has successfully negotiated that uphill path twice, but he knows the odds are long on making the Classic a third time.

"I've made it look easier than it is — I just got lucky," he said. "If you had to finish in the top five to make the Classic, the odds would be significantly better. But you have to actually win this tournament to go to the Classic.

"Equate it to having to knock a baseball out of the park, but you get only one pitch. That's about how difficult it is."


Bassmaster Opens pro J. Todd Tucker of Moultrie, Ga., on Monday was offered and accepted a spot in the 2009 Bassmaster Elite Series, the highest level of BASS competition.

Tucker had been one spot away from an Elite Series invitation after finishing 11th in the Bassmaster Central Open standings. But when the points race winner, Michael Burns, officially declined to opt into the Elites, an invitation was extended to Tucker.

"I've been working for this for the past three years," said Tucker, 35, who competed in all Open divisions offered since 2006. "I'd been fishing consistently, but couldn't quite get over the hump into the Elites."

In the 2008 season, he competed in both Open divisions, the Central and Southern. As his season began to shape up, it looked like the Southern Opens, not the Central Opens, would be his route to the Elite level. But it didn't happen for him in the Southern, and it came down to the Central Open finale on Lake Texoma.

"I went into Texoma in 22nd place, and knew I needed a pretty good tournament to move up. I had one," he said. "I didn't think I had a shot in the Central, but I wound up pulling it off. That's why you should never give up. It helps, if the Elite Series is your goal, to fish more than one Open circuit."

Tucker said that when the Elite invitation came, he had already entered all three 2009 Open divisions — the Central, Southern and the recently reestablished Northern tour. He said he still plans to compete in all nine Open tournaments in addition to the 11-event Elite Series season.

"The way the schedule is, it works out for the Elite anglers to fish all the Opens," he said. "Now we can fish BASS all season long, we don't have to cross over and fish other circuits."

A quail hunting guide when he's not competing on the water, Tucker, 35, has been fishing in BASS events as a pro since late 2002.

Although it was several years coming, Tucker said he's pleased with the timing of his Elite rookie year.

"I feel like I'm fishing better, and I've got my sponsors lined up, and I can go into it with a little bit of financial backing," he said. "That lets you fish with a clearer mind. I think that's important because fishing is about 50 percent mental, 50 percent technique. If you have to worry about paying your bills while you're on the water, those other anglers have already beat you."

Tucker said his sponsors include Southern Woods Plantation, the Georgia lodge where he guides, and a Washington, D.C., caucus organization, the Congressional Sportsman's Foundation. The boat wrap with which he'll start the 2009 Elite season is sponsored by Columbia County, Ga., and Clarks Hill Partnership, a marketing coalition of five Georgia counties that promotes tourism.

The 2009 Elite season begins with the Battle on the Border, March 12-15 on Lake Amistad out of Del Rio, Texas.

Although Burns, the Central Open points race winner from Plano, Texas, won't move up to the Elites, he will compete in the 2009 Bassmaster Classic, Feb. 20-22 on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La. He was one of three Classic qualifiers through the Central Open circuit.


Kevin Wirth once again proved he's as good on the links as he is on the water.

The Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Crestwood, Ky., tied for fourth place in amateur play during a major PGA Tour event, the Nov. 6-9 Children's Miracle Network Classic at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

He shot a 64 in the first round, then followed up with a 59 in the second and final amateur round at the event played on two Walt Disney World courses. The event was played in a best-ball format and his total was three strokes behind the winner.

His second-round score of 59 was the best of the 128 amateurs competing.

"It was just one of those rounds," Wirth said.

The format of the tournament paired two amateurs with two pros Nov. 6-7, then the pros went two more days without amateur partners.

"The first day, I was really just trying to stay out of my pros' way. I didn't want to do anything that would hurt their chances. So the first three or four holes I was out of my routine. But from then on, I played extremely well. The second day, I was a lot more relaxed and played my game." At the end of August, Wirth placed third in a five-way tie in the PGA Tour Superstore World Amateur Handicap Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Wirth had a strong 2008 Elite season. He was the champion of the June 26-29 Bassmaster Elite Series Tennessee Triumph on Old Hickory Lake and qualified for his 10th Bassmaster Classic.


As he waited on stage in the "hot seat" at the BASS Federation Nation Championship on Kansas' Milford Lake, Ken Baumgardner of Monongahela, Pa., was asked by BASS emcee Keith Alan how long he'd been trying to qualify for a Bassmaster Classic.

"About 20 years," Baumgardner answered.

His patience and hard work paid off Saturday when he earned his Classic berth by outlasting six other competitors in the Mid-Atlantic Division. A 49-year-old mechanic, Baumgardner will be going to the 2009 Classic on the Red River out of Shreveport-Bossier City, La.


"I think I've found a new profession. I'm going to take up bull riding, because if I can hold on to the steering wheel (of my boat) like I did today, I can ride a bull." — BASS Federation Nation Championship competitor Jamie Laiche of Gonzales, La., on stage after Day 1 on Kansas' wind-tossed Milford Lake

About BASS

For 40 years, BASS has served as the authority on bass fishing. With its considerable multi-media platforms and expansive tournament trail, BASS is guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry leading publications Bassmaster Magazine, BASS Times and Fishing Tackle Retailer and comprehensive web properties in and, the organization is committed to delivering content true to the lifestyle. Additionally, television programming on ESPN2 continues to provide relevant content from tips and techniques to in-depth tournament coverage to passionate audiences.

The organization oversees the prestigious Bassmaster tournament trail which includes the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bassmaster Opens, Women's Bassmaster Tour and the Bassmaster Classic, the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing. Through its grassroots network, the BASS Federation Nation, BASS sanctions more than 20,000 events annually.

BASS also offers a wide array of services to its more than 525,000 members while spearheading progressive, positive change on issues related to conservation and water access. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.