Every tournament angler has fished an event where their practice yielded no help for breaking down the body of water and now they have to adjust on the fly in hopes of competing during the event. Many of the 107 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers felt the same thing during the Chesapeake Bay event. Even so, Elite Series Angler Brandon Coulter took a tough practice and turned it into 39th place, a $10,000 payday and valuable points in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race.
The Chesapeake Bay greeted anglers with flood tide conditions and changing variables that extended from practice through the tournament. Coulter, who is fourth in Rookie of the Year standings, is an experienced, gray-bearded newcomer to the Elite Series. He currently resides in Knoxville, Tenn., but he grew up close to the Upper Bay and his memories from time on the water with his father were extensive. He was still unsure how the event would play out due to the changing conditions.
The Upper Bay was event number seven of a possible nine events for the 2015 season. Coulter came into the event in 54th place in AOY standings and needed a good finish to stay in contention for the AOY Championship on Sturgeon Bay.
The Chesapeake Bay could be considered the one tournament that shook the AOY standings from top to bottom. Those who “survived” the event and didn’t take a blow in the standings found themselves in a good position after the dust settled.
Problems in practice
“You saw a lot of guys struggling and running blind or just fishing in one area even if it didn’t pan out. You don’t ever see that with these guys,” Coulter said. “These guys always have something else to go to, always. For the first time this year I saw guys shaking their heads and not knowing what to do next.”
Coulter contributed that exclusively to only having three or four quality hours of practice with normal tide conditions.
“The last few hours of that final practice day was the first time that I felt we had normal water levels. My whole tournament was based off the first two hours I got there and the last two hours of practice.”
The famous "flats" of the Chesapeake weren't as hallowed as anglers had first thought, and they could thank the flood tide for that. Tuesday’s practice could have been considered a wash because whatever pattern was developed during the high-water conditions could possibly disappear when conditions returned to normal.
“On Tuesday’s practice, I ran to areas that were marginal, places where I didn’t think it would be won, but places I could have as a backup plan,” Coulter said. “I stayed away from areas like the flats and the North East River that are normally players, and I tried to find something off the wall like a smallmouth bite up the River.”
Coulter let Bassmaster.com tag along on the final day of practice to check out how his last eight hours would transpire. During the day, Coulter ran from the Susquehanna River to Still Pond Creek to the Elk River and finally finished his day in the North East. His last few stops of the final day proved to be game changing as four bites changed his entire mindset for the Upper Bay event.
See how Coulter’s week transpired from practice to tournament.
“When I ran up the North East River, I picked up a spinning rod and got four bites. They ended up being huge for my tournament,” Coulter said. “The dock where Bobby Lane caught his fish has had fish on it since the 1980’s, I’d even bet before the 80’s because I was only 7 years old when I started catching fish off that dock. I unfortunately couldn’t get on the ‘juice’ side before Bobby hit it on Day 1. I think he caught four there.”
Coulter’s tidal success
At the ripe age of seven a young Brandon Coulter thought the cove name was “Carrot” cove, but until he glanced at his Lowrance electronics during the Chesapeake Elite practice did he finally realize that instead it was “Cara” cove.
Coulter has described his career as "inconsistent," but the one thing noticeable about his 2015 season is that he is consistently cashing checks on tidal fisheries. The Twisted Tea pro placed 21st at the Sabine River, 35th at the California Delta and 39th at the Chesapeake Bay.
“I love tides, I think I do it more naturally because that’s where I grew up. Knowing that this dock might not work, but the next time it might have two and the third time might have a fish as well. That’s the name of the game,” Coulter said. “You could hit a dock four times and there is no rhyme or reason of when you catch them. Whether it’s incoming tide or outgoing, it’s just timing it for that particular day.”
Coulter used a spinning rod almost exclusively throughout the entire tournament and caught the majority of his fish by slowing down and using a shakey head thoroughly around specific dock posts. He used a 1/8-ounce shakey head with black Zoom finesse worm and paired it with 10-pound fluorocarbon with 15-pound braid backing.
The key for Coulter’s week was fishing slower than normal. Other anglers may hit docks quickly, but he would follow them up and catch fish behind them by letting his shakey head sit still for a couple seconds without popping it. Very few bites came on the fall throughout his week. With as much pressure as the North East River received, maximizing every bite was critical.Coulter, like the other Elite Series anglers, prides his skillset on being as versatile as possible, but there is no denying how his roots shaped his fishing to this point.
Now Coulter and the Elites head to Lake St. Clair for the final regular season event of the season, but there is no extra pressure for the gray-bearded rookie because he has been in this situation before.
“I was in the same boat last year in order to qualify for the Elite Series. I was on that cut line and it came down to St. Clair where I couldn’t do terrible, but I just had to have another solid finish,” Coulter said. “If I catch them, I’m in. If I don’t I’ll be at home.”
Another solid finish was exactly what he had, and now one year later this Lake St. Clair event has AOY Championship and Classic implications attached to it.
“My goal coming into the season was to make the Top 50 in order to get to the AOY Championship. If I made it to Sturgeon Bay then it meant I was in contention for the Classic and that is all you can ask for,” Coulter said. “Through seven tournaments this season I’m just one point from my goal.”
The 45-year-old newcomer knows the toll that the Elite Series schedule can have on his body and on his equipment, and looking forward to the 2016 season, he is excited to have the new left-handed series introduced by 13 Fishing.
“There is no doubt that my elbows and shoulders have taken a beating, I’ve already had rotator cuff surgery before. If you cast one way and reel one way your whole life then those body parts will get worn down much faster,” Coulter said. “I went fishing with a guy for fun and used his equipment and he happened to have left-handed reels. After two days of fishing I didn’t hurt like normal because I was using a completely different muscle group.”
The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” may be true, but if you can keep that old dog less fatigued then that is a win as well. Coulter can agree with that sentiment because on the Bassmaster Elite Series any advantage is welcomed.
“The amount of abuse that it will take off my body and equipment in practice alone has me fired up about their new series. Everybody is looking for ways to help them get an edge,” said Coulter. “These guys are the best in the world and you better figure out how to compete against them. Everyone says it’s you against the fish, no its not, it’s you against 106 guys. If you beat 106 of them, then you win. It’s simple as that.”