Tournament bass fishing's most accomplished team
If Jeff Coble of Beaufort, N.C., should win the 2008 Bassmaster Classic, he will be awarded $500,000 and the first thing he will do with it is give half of the winning sum to long-time fishing friend and mentor David Wright of Lexington, N.C.
It's a concept that might seem completely insane to the other 49 pros competing in the Classic — to split such a huge winning amount with some one else — but for Coble and Wright, it's just business as usual.
Since 1997, the Carolina duo has split every dime they have won in bass fishing tournaments. Whatever Wright wins, he splits with Coble and vice-versa.
If the idea of splitting bass fishing winnings seems bizarre, consider that over the last decade these two anglers have amassed more than 1.2 million dollars together, roughly $600,000 a piece, while investing just a small fraction of that into regional and local tournaments entry fees and expenses.
It's a team concept that's reminiscent of Rick Hendrick pioneering multi-car race teams in NASCAR years ago when other single-car owners thought the idea would never work. By consolidating the resources, information and technology of several teams, Hendrick's cars gained an advantage over the competition and the result of his out-of-the-box thinking speaks for itself.
"That's an interesting comparison, but we didn't set out with that in mind," said Wright, who is a well-known name in the tournament trails in the Carolinas. "We were just looking for a way to make money in bass fishing while keeping our day jobs. And by teaming up we could spread our risk while combining our talents."
The idea was actually born during an FLW tournament in 1996 when a $100,000 winner's purse was offered on the shores of Kerr Reservoir in Virginia (Buggs Island). Coble, Wright and two other top regional anglers all anted up for the event in an agreement to split the winnings four ways. In all the group won $47,000, thanks in large part to Wright's second place showing worth $40,000, and divvied it up.
From that, Wright and Coble latched onto the concept of team fishing based on splitting winnings and the partnership has been running strong ever since.
"I was an offshore crankbait expert and Jeff was a young, shallow-water runner and gunner who was good at sight-fishing and flipping," Wright recalled of the duo's early years. "In fact his nickname around here was Flipjack because of his love for flipping. He and I figured if we teamed up, he could cover the shallows in the spring and I'd carry us during the offshore months in summer and fall."
Of course, splitting money was standard operating procedure in the team tournaments they fished, but they continued to take it a step further by splitting money in draw and pro-am type tournaments where they were technically competing against each other. Simply put, every tournament became a team tournament for the two anglers.
Over the years, Wright taught Coble a great deal about offshore fishing with a crankbait, which eventually became the team's forte in year-end championships, helping them bank a majority of their money.
So who has won more in the partnership?
"That's the exact question that keeps others from copying the model," answered Coble candidly. "What most people don't understand is that we don't care which one has won more, who has caught the most fish or whatever. It simply does not matter. We don't make a living bass fishing.
"What most people never see about our partnership is how much David has taught me about offshore fishing and crankbaits," Coble continued. "They don't see the many days we have fished and practiced together. They don't see all the days he spent out at Lake Hamilton with me (referring to Coble's pair of All-American wins in Arkansas) planting brush in preparation for those wins. Those are the intangibles that splitting is based on, not who caught the most fish during the event."
Another component to the team's unique relationship is their efficient communication about bass fishing and tournament strategy.
"Jeff and I think alike when it comes to bass fishing, intuitively we're on the same page," Wright explained. "Our confidence is 100 percent transferable. If I tell him where fish are and how they're set up, he can go catch those fish without hesitation and vice versa."
"Another thing I don't think people realize about splitting money is how honest you become with fishing information: every detail is revealed because it's all going towards the same effort," Coble added. "Let me put it this way: if you leave out one critical piece of information when discussing a pattern, a real nugget can become a rabbit trail in a hurry."
"We communicate as much as the rules allow," Wright said. "In tournaments where both he and I are fishing in the same field, we talk to each other on the water during the tournament to see if we can help each other out."
But for the 2008 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell, the dynamic duo has not been speaking with each other because of the rules which disallow competitors receiving private information during the official cut-off.
"We spent a week before the official cut-off fishing the lake and planting brush," Wright said. "But I have not really talked to him much since then; it's his tournament to fish now."
Wright's fishing partner takes to the water Thursday for the official start of the 2008 Bassmaster Classic. Will those brushpiles pay-off? We'll take a closer look at that aspect of Coble's fishing as the tournament gets underway.