Coulter cruises to Group A win, splits big-bass cash with Ehrler - Major League Fishing

Coulter cruises to Group A win, splits big-bass cash with Ehrler

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Brandon Coulter started at the top and he never let go of the lead on Monday. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Angler: Brandon Coulter.
May 20, 2024 • Mitchell Forde • Bass Pro Tour

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Brandon Coulter didn’t need to catch a bass during the second day of qualifying for Group A at General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops. The 39-pound, 3-ounce total Coulter racked up on Day 1 on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes had him safe to qualify for Wednesday’s Knockout Round before he ever made a cast on Monday based on final results for Group A.

So, Coulter focused on finding new water where bass would bite his frog, pocketing some extra cash via the daily Berkley Big Bass Bonus along the way. Check and check.

Coulter added 24-1 to his tally on five scorable bass, bringing his two-day total to 63-4. That won Group A by 11-12 over Ryan Salzman. The highlight of his day was a 7-10 lunker that ate his Berkley Swamp Lord during the first period. The beast tied Coulter with Brent Ehrler for the daily big bass award. The two will split the $10,000 prize as a result.

Meanwhile, with the bass proving more cooperative throughout the Kissimmee Chain on Monday, the weight needed to make the top eight and qualify for the Knockout Round jumped from 10-4 at the start of the day to 33-2 at the end, making for a constant shuffle around the cut line.

Complete results can be found here.

Coulter dutifully does his chores

Brandon Coulter worked ahead and planned for the upcoming Knockout Round. Photo by Tyler Brinks

While Coulter accomplished what he set out to achieve Monday and led his group through qualifying for just the second time during his Bass Pro Tour career, the Tennessee native admitted to battling some frustration. 

After he caught more than 60 bass Saturday (all on a topwater frog), Coulter likened the second day of qualifying to doing his chores as a kid while his friends played outside. He knew he needed to lay off those fish in hopes he can return to his best spot after weights zero for the Knockout Round. But passing up the hot frog bite, especially as a few competitors stacked up weight in his Day 1 spot, tested his willpower.

“Today was a work day for me, meaning I had to expand my area; I couldn’t go just catch,” Coulter said. “I hear other guys catching them, and I know they’re on the juice, and I know I can just go catch them on a frog, and it’s like, no, you’ve got to work today. 

“I wanted to catch them. That’s what we do; we’re fishermen. And I also know that a frog bite like this is so volatile that it can stop any day. Water comes up, we get a big rain, so many things can happen. Bluegill, they’re small right now, they gain a little bit of weight, and they swim to the bottom. There’s so many things that can happen that can ruin it, so while it’s going on, you’re like, I want to get some of that.”

Still, Coulter’s day wasn’t without its share of excitement. He caught more than half his weight from two bass about 20 minutes apart.

First, while exploring to see how far away from his Day 1 spot he could find fish, Coulter boated the 7-10. Afterward, he ran to a completely new area of matted hydrilla in Lake Toho. Within minutes, a 7-6 inhaled his Swamp Lord.

“I just ran around, I found some grass, idled around it, and literally the first grass mat I pull up to, I catch a 7-something,” he said.

That was one of four new spots where Coulter found populations of bass Monday. While he doesn’t think any is as productive as his starting spot, he knows the reconnaissance could pay off if that area gets overcrowded during the Knockout or Championship Rounds.

“I probably expanded to four different little areas – none of them as good as what I had, but places I think I can go catch a bass,” Coulter explained. “The Knockout Round can come down to that if there’s five guys in that juice area and all of a sudden it’s getting beat up and you have to go find one here and one there, and I think I got a few places.”

Ultimately, restraining himself from returning to his “juice area” only made Coulter more eager to get back on the water Wednesday. Even though there will almost certainly be other anglers jostling over the zone, he feels confident it can continue to produce.

“I know what I’m going to do,” he said. “There’s no debating what I’m going to do, where I’m going to go. I feel very confident in my setup, what I’ve got going on. I know what I’m looking for.”

Ehrler’s big-bass gamble

Brent Ehrler tied with Brandon Coulter for the Berkley Big Bass Bonus on Monday as both anglers caught a 7-10. Photo by Phoenix Moore

Coulter set the big-bass bar early with his 7-10, so Ehrler – who also entered the day without much worry about the cut line – knew the mark he had to beat. When he caught his 7-10 around noon, he faced an unusual dilemma: to re-weigh or not to re-weigh. Doing so could have gained him the additional ounce he needed to claim the $10,000 prize for himself. At least as likely, though, would be the official weight decreasing by an ounce, costing him a $5,000 share of the award.

Ehrler took the risk. He had his boat official put the brute on his Bubba scale two more times, then broke out his boat’s backup scale. Per Ehrler, the bass wavered between 7-10 and 7-11 but ultimately settled on 7-10 every time.

“I get it in the boat, I weigh it, and it weighs 7-10,” Ehrler said. “And we weigh it again, and it weighed 7-10, but it sat on 7-11 for a little bit, and I knew big fish was 7-10. So, it goes 7-10 again, so I go, ‘Get the other scale.’ Pulls the other scale out, and we weigh it, and it was 7-10. … So, I did everything I could to get that extra ounce, and unfortunately, I didn’t get it. But it’s kind of crazy to think that out of all the fishing today, that we ended up tying for big fish.”

As for Coulter, while he wasn’t thrilled to get the news that Ehrler had tied his big bass, he’s at least happy to earn a little extra cash. He’d caught the second-biggest bass in his group during qualifying at two prior Heavy Hitters events plus finished second to Salzman in Saturday’s big bass standings.

“It just felt good to not be second,” he said.

Reigning champ staves off elimination

Alton Jones Jr. surged back from behind to claim the final qualifying spot to advance to the Knockout Round. Photo by Phoenix Moore

A better bite for most of the field made for a lot of action around the cut line, with just about every angler who finished outside the top eight pulling within striking distance at some point during the day. Ultimately, it was defending Heavy Hitters champion Alton Jones Jr. who rallied to claim the eighth and final spot in the Knockout Round.

Jones started the day in 13th place, and after failing to catch a scorable bass during the first two hours, he fell to last in the 15-angler group. However, he stayed the course and put seven bass for 24-13 on SCORETRACKER®, the biggest being a 5-5 that ate a bladed jig three minutes into the third period. That kept Jones’ hopes alive to add to the $265,000 he’s earned across the last two editions of Heavy Hitters.

Jones was one of two anglers who started the day well outside the top eight yet made the Knockout Round, the other being Marty Robinson. Robinson caught a pair of 4-pounders on consecutive casts in the third period to bring his single-day total to 32-15 and climb to sixth place, marking the second event in a row he’s engineered a dramatic comeback to make the Knockout Round.

What’s next

The 15 anglers in Group B will return to the water Tuesday for their second day of qualifying. The battle to finish among the top eight should once again take center stage. Anthony Gagliardi sits in eighth place after Day 1 with 15-6, but four anglers lurk within 2 1/2 pounds of his total.

The eight qualifiers from Group A will meet the top eight from Group B on Wednesday. Weights will zero, and the Top 10 will qualify for Thursday’s Championship Round, where $100,000 will be on the line for the winner and another $100,000 for the angler who boats the biggest bass. Tune in to MLFNOW! on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app to watch all the action live from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET each day.