Texan Hugh Cosculluela can thank Moose, his yellow lab, for getting him hooked on bass when he was 10 years old. He and a friend were walking Moose along a storm drainage ditch behind his house when he spotted a sizable largemouth in the shallows. The bass was likely on a bed, but Cosculluela didn’t realize it at the time.
He returned later with a fishing rod and ran a hook through a chunk of a hot dog for bait. The bass engulfed the offering on the second cast, and he managed to wrestle the 3 1/2-pound fish to the bank.
That fateful encounter was a life changer. It put Cosculluela on a path that has led him to the brink of the Bassmaster Elite Series. With only one event left in the 2021 Bassmaster Northern Opens, he is third in the Bassmaster Northern Opens Angler of the Year standings. If he stays among the top three at 1000 Islands this week, he can become an Elite Series pro at age 22.
Given his youth and the fact that he has competed in only three Bassmaster Opens previously, Cosculluela’s success is remarkable. His first Open in 2017 was to test the waters as a co-angler. He finished in 134th place. This season he nabbed ninth at the James River and 21st at Oneida Lake.
He is hopeful but tentative about the final Northern Open at 1000 Islands.
“I’m not good on smallmouth rivers,” he said.
The upside for Cosculluela is that he’s a quick study. He didn’t come from a fishing family and had to learn mainly on his own how to catch bass. After the dog-walking incident he was all about bass. He did “a bunch of work around the house” to earn money for fishing tackle. A major investment was a budget-level Abu Garcia Black Max Combo casting outfit.
“I could only afford the cheapest stuff,” Cosculluela said. “I only had one rod and reel for the longest time.”
When he had earned enough money, he would buy a new bait from Academy Sports and fish with it all day to learn how to use it. These were bank fishing outings to golf course ponds within a few miles of his home. He and his friends would ride bikes to them. His most productive bait early on was a Zoom Fat Albert grub that he would swim on a ball head jig.
At age 15 he split the cost of a 1994 Dynatrak bass boat with his parents, which allowed him to take his fishing passion to the next level. Once a week his mother, Susan, would launch the boat in the morning with her son in it and pick him up that afternoon.
When Cosculluela was in ninth grade, he worked with his mother and other parents to form the Woodland High School Bass Fishing Team, coached by Henry Burns. His mother did it mainly to find other youngsters for her son to fish with. It’s unlikely she fully realized where this would lead.
Adult boat captains were required for the initial school tournaments. The other youngsters typically had family members as captains who could help them find and catch bass. Cosculluela’s mother served as his boat captain. Since she knew nothing about fishing, her son had to figure out things by himself.
“I think that helped me in the end,” Cosculluela said. “My mom stuck it out on a lot of cold, windy days and through freezing rain. I could never repay her for that.”
Her support for her son’s fishing passion may have had something to do with how he excelled in school. He graduated with a 4.75 grade point average and received a scholarship to California’s Cal Poly University.
He was happy to attend Cal Poly because he could get a degree there in Environmental Engineering, compete on their bass fishing team and expand his angling capabilities by learning West Coast methods. Among many other things, he learned how to fish deep for spotted bass and fish big swimbaits and glide baits. A 6-inch Megabass Magdraft Swimbait helped Cosculluela land his ninth-place finish at the James River Open.
“I was in the Barge Pit,” Cosculluela said. “I was fishing behind people, but I knew there were big fish in the area. My bigger bait would pull them out from the barges.”
Cosculluela graduated from Cal Poly last March with a 3.6 grade point average. His education provides a solid backup plan if his dream of becoming a professional bass angler doesn’t come to fruition.
“The Elite Series is the place to be in my opinion,” he said. “I’ll do everything I can to make it. If I don’t make it this year, I hope to fish all three divisions next year.”
Cosculluela’s sponsors include 6th Sense Lure Company, Waterland Co. Sunglasses, Castaway Rods, Phoenix Boats, Mealey Marine and One Stop Tackle. All are around Houston except for Phoenix Boats.
You can follow Cosculluela on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, all at @hughcfishing. He also has a website: hughcfishing.com.