North Carolina Angler Inches Closer to CITGO Bassmaster Classic Berth

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Persevering through tough conditions on East Lake Tohopekaliga, Jeff Coble of Mason, N.C., was one step closer on Friday to the CITGO Bassmaster Classic and a $100,000 payday at the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship. Following Day 2 of the tournament, the 43-year-old held a 3-plus pound lead over Floridian Mike Balon after boating four fish weighing 8 pounds, 3 ounces. Coble led the 50-boater pack with a total weight of 22-12.

“It takes courage to win this tournament,” Coble said. “I feel good about it though, because some of my water cleared up and the boat traffic should be considerably less tommorrow.”

Coble caught his four fish - including a 4-pounder - flipping a spinnerbait throughout most of the day. The Triton boat sales representative initially was worried about East Lake Toho because Florida fisheries don’t usually suit his style, but this tournament might change his perspective, especially if he qualifies for the Bassmaster Classic on West Lake Tohopekaliga, Feb. 24-26, and has a chance to compete for part of a nearly $1.2 million payout, including the $500,000 top prize.

At the ESPN Outdoors Bassmaster Series Championship, Coble and other boaters are after the $100,000 first-place prize. The winning non-boater receives $50,000.

Coble, a 2002 Bassmaster Classic competitor, admittedly is more interested in the immediate cash prize, but the lure of the enormous Classic payout is encouraging him to fish “courageously”.

“If I did make the Classic, you could bet I would fish for that top prize,” Coble said. “$500,000 would be really nice.”

Like Coble, Balon (19-7) was primarily flipping while dealing with clouds and wind on Friday. Although he moved up from third place, leapfrogging Missouri’s David Ryan, the 35-year-old said weather will play a big role in his final-day performance.

“I need that sun to come out and then I will really like my chances,” Balon said. “Tommorrow, I plan to scour that south end of the lake with my flipping stick.”

Rounding out the top five in the chase for first place is Ryan (18-8) in third, North Carolina’s David Wright (18-4) in fourth and Alabama’s Matt Mclaughlin (17-5) in fifth.

On the non-boater side, Georgia’s Chris Woodward (13-5) flip-flopped with Alabama’s Wayne Bigbee (12-0) to take the lead. Bigbee was in second, followed by South Carolina’s Billy Schwach (10-3), Georgia’s Don Mullis (9-8) and Indiana’s Alvin Pannell (9-0) in fifth.

On Saturday, only the top 12 boaters and non-boaters will fish. Their weights will carry over. The anglers will weigh in at Bass Pro Shops on International Drive in Orlando at 3 p.m.

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