CELEBRATION, Fla. — When North Carolina bass angler Jeff Coble became the 51st and final qualifier for the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, his immediate thoughts weren't shock, awe or elation.
Instead, the 43-year-old wondered how he could win the $500,000 first prize and erase bad memories of his poor performance in the 2002 Classic, his only other appearance in bass fishing's most major event.
"Since I've been in the Classic before, there's not as much of an emotional attachment," said Coble, who works as a Triton boat sales representative. "The pomp and circumstance won't be on my mind as much. My ambition is to win."
The Bassmaster Classic, held Feb. 24-26 on West Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., features the world's top bass anglers. Coble earned the last remaining Classic berth by winning the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship tournament, held on East Lake Toho in Kissimmee, last weekend.
"When I first started thinking about the Classic, I thought I'd be a sitting duck because of the off-limits rules," said Coble, referring to BASS rules that prohibit Classic contenders from fishing Lake Toho until official practice days. "But with the three-day practice period, and one other day before it starts, it's not as bad as I thought."
Coble has only fished Lake Toho once before, approximately 22 years ago, when he participated in the inaugural All-American tournament. "I was zero for zero both days, so my Toho memories aren't too good," he said.
He also doesn't have good memories of the 2002 Classic in Birmingham, Ala, where Coble finished 48th in a 52-angler field.
Of course, that trail of bad memories can change next month. "I'm on to the next one, and my next one is the Bassmaster Classic, and that one pays $500,000," he said. "I'll be thinking about that a lot in the next few weeks."