Coulter frogs his way to lead on Day 1 at Heavy Hitters, Salzman’s 9-3 earns him $10,000 - Major League Fishing

Coulter frogs his way to lead on Day 1 at Heavy Hitters, Salzman’s 9-3 earns him $10,000

Image for Coulter frogs his way to lead on Day 1 at Heavy Hitters, Salzman’s 9-3 earns him $10,000
Brandon Coulter's slow start turned into a strong finish with 12 bass for 39-3 on the first day of General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops. Photo by Tyler Brinks. Angler: Brandon Coulter.
May 18, 2024 • Tyler Brinks • Bass Pro Tour

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – While the bite on the first day of General Tire Heavy Hitters Presented by Bass Pro Shops was feast or famine for much of the 15-angler field, Florida’s Kissimmee Chain of Lakes served up everything a bass angler could ask for. Kissimmee produced quality bites on a diverse mix of techniques, and surrendered a 9-pound Florida stud for the first Heavy Hitters big-bass bonus of the event.

Tennessee pro Brandon Coulter led the group after catching 12 bass for 39 pounds, 3 ounces, a near 7-pound lead over Brent Ehrler. Alabama pro Ryan Salzman claimed the $10,000 bonus for the top bass of the day, with his 9-3 caught near the end of the first period. 

With tight weights, every angler still has a legitimate chance to advance to the Knockout Round, where the stakes are raised and the big bass payout increases to $30,000.

Coulter cruises to lead

Brandon Coulter credits his success on Saturday to switching from a punching pattern to a frog.

After a slow start to the day, where he failed to catch a scoreable bass for the first two hours, Coulter caught fire for the rest of the day. He estimates catching well over 60 bass, with a dozen reaching this round’s 2-pound variable minimum weight. Coulter is also right on the mark for his goal weight and shouldn’t have to catch many more fish to advance when his group returns to the water on Monday.

“It was a heck of a day, and I barely missed my goal – I was hoping for 40 pounds and came up a little short,” he said. “The first period, I didn’t have anything going until right before the period ended. What a day it turned into after that, once I figured out the bite.”

Coulter surmised that switching from a punching pattern to a frog was the key. 

“I didn’t even have a bite on a frog in practice and was catching them in the hydrilla punching,” he said. “Toward the end of practice, I noticed I was getting bites as soon as the bait came through the mat, which told me they were higher in the water column, so I threw a few frogs in the boat.”

Since his mat-punching pattern was so strong in practice, he stuck with it until switching to a bone Berkley Swamp Lord frog at the end of the first period. 

“My first bite was a 4-15 and she choked it,” Coulter said. “We started counting and it was 62 bass on that same frog, which was brand new out of the package earlier in the day. A lot of the fish were around 1-12, and I don’t care who you are; that’s still fun to catch a bunch of fish that size in the slop.”

Coulter fished his frog on a 7-foot, 5-inch extra-heavy Fenwick World Class rod with an 8.3:1 Abu Garcia Zenon X and 65-pound Berkley X5 braided line. Another key was reading the grass and finding the right areas.

“It’s the same thing I do on Guntersville and Chickamauga, and when you find the right grass mix, it becomes much easier,” he said. “It was an absolutely perfect day for frog fishing since many people haven’t gotten on the bite yet. It’s like when the fish first get out on the ledges and haven’t been harassed yet.”

Coulter is thrilled with his catch, but looking ahead he knows that things will change when he returns to Kissimmee on Friday. 

“The conditions are going to be different, and I know I’m going to do some different stuff,” he said. “I’ll treat Monday as a practice day to expand and try my best to catch the biggest bass of the day.”

Salzman pockets $10k

Ryan Salzman scored $10,000 on Saturday thanks to this 9-3.

The big bass payouts are still the showcase in the fifth edition of this Major League Fishing all-star event, but the awards have changed slightly this year. Instead of one big bass per group after two days of fishing the qualifying rounds, the angler who catches the biggest bass each day now pockets $10,000 before the payout ratchets up with each new round. Salzman was the first benefactor with his 9-3 brute.

His big-money bass came almost immediately after losing a quality bass. 

“I lost one and then had another bite and made the same cast,” he said. “That fish thumped it, and I set the hook, and it didn’t move; it just locked up. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh,’ and knew it was big, but I didn’t know how big until I saw how big her head was when I tried to grab her by the side of the boat.”

Salzman caught the prize fish on a Z-Man Evergreen Jack Hammer ChatterBait with a Houdini-colored Z-Man RaZor ShadZ, though he alternated and caught some fish with a Z-Man ChatterSpike as the trailer. He targeted shallow grass and opted for 20-pound Yo-Zuri T7 fluorocarbon line.

“Once I qualified for Heavy Hitters, catching one of the big bass was my main goal,” he said. “Now that I’ve done that, I hope to advance and get one of the bigger checks later in the event.”

Looking ahead

Group B gets its first shot at the Kissimmee Chain Sunday under quickly changing weather conditions, with wind, rain, and possible lightning in the forecast. Tomorrow’s anglers include two past Heavy Hitters winners: Jordan Lee (2020) and Ott DeFoe (2022), who will compete with 13 other qualifiers in their group. 

Catch the action for every day of the event on the MLFNOW! livestream at MajorLeagueFishing.com, on the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app and on Rumble. Coverage begins at 7:45 a.m. ET and continues to 4:30 p.m. each day.