If you were to run into Jeff Coble in a restaurant in downtown Greenville this week, chances are you would not recognize him as one of the best bass anglers in the country fishing in the Bassmaster Classic, which is just the way he would like to keep it.
For starters, he does not retain that recognizable air that surrounds top-ranked bass fishing stars who appear on national television every Saturday morning.
Secondly, if you did happen to strike up a cursory conversation with the friendly North Carolinian, he would more likely chat about Duke basketball or NASCAR instead of bass fishing.
But if bass fishing and "the big tournament in town" did come up, Coble would probably first reveal that he is a sales representative for Triton Boats before letting you in on the fact that he is actually fishing the prestigious Bassmaster Classic.
That's not to say Coble is distant or evasive — he's actually an intelligent, quick-witted guy who is quite humorous at times. It's just that he does not want you to know who in the world he is unless he's standing on the stage of Bi-Lo Center Sunday afternoon with a Classic trophy in his hands.
His hopes are that the Classic cameras and media will stay focused on the flashy and brash throughout the week while he grinds out unassuming, consistent limits each day to put himself in contention for the win.
It's Coble's style, his MO so to speak. Like the bass he pursues, he's an ambush predator: camouflaged in the background, patiently waiting for the right opportunity to strike. As one of the sport's biggest fans himself, he knows all too well the mega-media event that is the Bassmaster Classic. To him, drama, and the spotlight that follows it, is another variable in the winning equation, just like wind, clouds and water temperature.
Media firestorms, such as last year's disqualification of crowd favorite Gerald Swindle for boat maneuvers deemed unsafe by tournament officials, are just the kind of shadows Coble likes to hide behind so he can quietly piece together the biggest tournament coup of his life.
And if the final-day weigh-in crowd asks things like, "Who is that Coble guy? What place was he in yesterday?" well, that would be just perfectly fine with him.
Those who follow the sport of tournament bass fishing closely, though, already know exactly who Jeff Coble is — two-time winner of the BASS Weekend Series Championship and two-time winner of the FLW All-American — all in the last 7 years. In short, he is the undisputed king of the "weekend series" type national championships.
And though Coble would like to continue his under-the-radar existence in bass fishing, his talent with a rod and reel have blown his cover. This week he comes to his third Bassmaster Classic with a grand total of some $600,000 to $700,000 in tournament winnings — hardly a fishing fluke who just happened to stumble into a few bass along the way, which is exactly what he would like you to believe.
Those who do know him well, including a handful of top-ranked pros, contend that Coble has the talent to become a successful professional angler, yet every year he turns down the opportunity.
As Classic week progresses, Coble Uncovered, will take a daily look at this enigmatic angler who is in the enviable position of having the fishing ability and industry contacts to go pro full-time on the Elite Series, but who chooses not to.
During the week, this column will zoom in on Coble's very unconventional approach to the sport of competitive bass fishing and his unique friendship with tournament team partner David Wright of Lexington, N.C., with whom Coble splits all of his tournament winnings.
This series will explore Coble's candid opinion of modern-day professional fishing, including his take on sponsorships, fishing styles and how he has managed to bank over a half a million dollars in bass fishing without ever spending more than $1,800 on an entry fee.
But it will not be easy. As my Wednesday morning practice session begins with him at 4 a.m., Coble is already trying to dodge the spotlight with his own humorous digs.
"Hasn't Skeet Reese started dancing, yet?" he charged with a chuckle, referring more salient moments of Classics past. "Isn't Ike tearing something up, yet? I'm telling you, that's a lot more interesting than what you are going to see with me today."
Which is exactly what he would like you to believe.