Spend about an hour in a bass boat with two-time BASS Weekend Series Championship winner Jeff Coble and it becomes readily apparent that the 45-year-old Triton Boat sales rep is no amateur angler.
Out on Lake Hartwell for Wednesday's final day of practice for the Bassmaster Classic, he slid jigs under docks without a splash, pinpointed deep cover with his crankbait and constantly scanned the horizon for changes in wind intensity, water clarity and the presence of bait.
But he's no pro angler, either. At least not by his definition.
"True professional anglers have two sources of income on their tax returns: sponsorship dollars and prize winnings," he opined as he carefully watched his electronics for baitfish. "I'm simply a boat rep who enjoys fishing tournaments — there's a big difference."
But to say that Coble has never been a "professional angler" would be a bit incorrect.
In fact, he did fish the entire Bassmaster Top 100 Tour in the 1994-1995 season and it took him six tournaments in the big leagues of bassing to realize he wanted no part of being a full-time professional angler.
As for the reasons for his early departure from the pro ranks, Coble offers up a lyric from a John Mellencamp song: "And I trade in my ambitions for a warmer place to sleep."
"That's it in a nutshell," explained Coble, hunkered down in his hood to fend off the 37-degree temperature. "When I was younger, I simply did not have the means to compete. If I did not win money in tournaments, I did not make house payments, car notes or eat, for that matter. There was no safety net under me — no family business to fall back on, no benefactor to pay off bills if things didn't go as planned. So I basically traded my pro fishing aspirations for the peace of mind of a steady paycheck — a warmer place to sleep."
"And speaking of warmer," he exclaimed with a shiver. "I could stand to be a whole lot warmer right now. But this is the Bassmaster Classic, you know, so we better move on and see if we can find some fish that want to bite."
Instead of looking for fame and fortune on the national BASS Top 100 Tour in the 1990's, Coble laid low around home in North Carolina, teamed up with crankbait legend David Wright out of Lexington, N.C., and began dominating the local and regional scene.
Well-known pro Marty Stone remembers competing against Coble in the early 90's in local events around the Carolinas.
"Don't let him fool you, he's absolutely one of the best bass anglers to come out of North Carolina," said Stone. "He was one of those that everyone talked about before the tournament meetings as one to beat — and they still do."
And if you do not believe Stone, here's an abbreviated list of accolades to back up his statements: Coble is a three-time Bassmaster Classic Qualifier via BASS Opens and the Weekend Series Championships (2002, 2006, 2008); an FLW Tour winner (Santee Cooper, 1996); an FLW Stren Series winner (Lake Sinclair, 1998); a two-time FLW All-American Champion (Lake Hamilton 2000, 2001); two-time BASS weekend Series Championship winner (2005, 2007); plus he has Regional-level wins in both the BASS Weekend Series and BFL.
As if that is not bass tournament winning, he and bass pro Stephen Browning also won a Redfish Cup event together in 1994 when Coble was "sampling" the redfish tournament scene.
While he notched wins in his fishing resume in the 1990's, Coble also proved his mettle as an ambitious boat rep in the Mid-Atlantic region, first with Astro/Procraft, then he moved to Triton in 1998, where he has been ever since.
With some financial security under him as a successful boat rep and after banking some impressive tournament earnings with back-to-back All-American wins in 2000, many figured Coble would give full-time fishing another run after he qualified for Bassmaster Classic in 2002, and subsequently the 2003 Bassmaster Tour, but Coble once again passed up the chance.
To those who dream about being a professional angler, Coble's continuous declination to fish full time is baffling, especially given his fishing talent and industry contacts.
And the question always lingers: Why would someone with such an impressive fishing resume not want to fish full-time?
"It's just not my life style," Coble answered. "Don't get me wrong, I love to fish, but not that much. When you have to catch fish to pay your bills, it puts the sport you love under a whole different light.
"Fishing 11 Elite Series events across the country on lakes I do not know a thing about, against the Kevin VanDams and Greg Hackneys of the world, is not my idea of fun." he said with a laugh. "That sounds more like punishment to me."
Plus, there is a whole sponsorship/endorsement side of this business that I do not think a lot of people really grasp," he said. "Those big names in the Elite Series are constantly doing seminars, promotions, working with media to get their sponsors ink and on television — it never ends. And some guys are really good at that and they enjoy that end of the business, but I'm not one of them. I'm simply not interested in that kind of work, which, if you are going to do this full-time, is a mandatory job requirement, because $5,000 entry fees and $3.50-a-gallon gas does not just magically erase itself from your credit card statements.
"A lot of times I think guys start tournament fishing, they have a little success locally and regionally, and the first thing they want to do is jump out there on the national tours," he added. "And they end up getting killed out there. Honestly, if I jumped out there with the big boys full-time, I know I'd be getting killed, so I don't even worry with it."
Fact is, Coble has found a warmer place to sleep — his house on the coast in Beaufort, N.C., where he can absorb the salty air and the nautical landscape he loves.
"I have always had a fondness for boats and the marine environment," he said of his recent move. "I guess that's why I like the boat business so much."
What's more, Coble has found another way to skin the proverbial cat when it comes to making money in bass tournaments. He's found a niche being the world's greatest weekend series angler, a niche that has led him to his third Bassmaster Classic appearance in five years — without fishing as a full-time pro.
Bassmaster.com will provide unprecedented live video coverage of the Classic this week, Feb. 22-24. We'll have live "Hooked Up," daily launches at 7:15 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards starting at 4:30 p.m. ET broadcast live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.