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North Allegheny baseball assistant Phil Coffin celebrates state bass fishing title

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, June 24, 2018 5:06 p.m
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Tribune-Review
Phil Coffin
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State championship plaque earned by Phil Coffin at the Bass Nation Eastern Regional in Georgetown, S.C.

Phil Coffin was in South Carolina this week, but the North Allegheny assistant baseball coach wasn’t there for the beach.

He was there for the fish.

An avid fisherman, Coffin won a Pennsylvania state title Friday at the BASS Nation Eastern Regional in Georgetown, S.C., earning him a spot in the national championship tournament for club fishermen.

“I was very emotional,” he said. “My wife called me, and she was crying. It was a bit overwhelming, but it was a cool feeling.”

In three days, Coffin caught six bass weighing a combined 11 pounds, nine ounces. He won Pennsylvania’s non-boater title by two pounds.

The tournament field included anglers from 18 states and parts of Canada. Coffin finished 14th overall among all non-boaters.

Organizers have not yet announced a date or location for the BASS Nation Championship, but it’s usually in October or November.

“Over the past few years, it’s been at the Bassmaster Classic site,” Coffin said. “The Classic is in Knoxville, Tenn. next (March), so a lot of people think our tournament is going to be in Tennessee. But we have no idea.”

Bass tournaments pair two fishermen per boat: the “boater” who controls the watercraft and the “non-boater” who’s essentially along for the ride. They compete for separate titles. Pennsylvania had a dozen non-boaters in the field.

The BASS Nation Eastern Regional was held on Winyah Bay, a coastal estuary that’s the confluence of four rivers. Western Pennsylvania rivers have their confluences and Coffin fishes them often, but South Carolina’s featured tides and some saltwater.

“You have to go probably 30 miles on each river to get out of the saltwater,” he said. “The tide swings were so crazy. When we were up the Black or Waccamaw rivers, the tide swings were four feet. You can be on a spot where the water is halfway up the trees, and then three hours later, it’s just bare sand.”

Coffin recently finished his second season on coach Andrew Heck’s staff at North Allegheny, which reached the WPIAL Class 6A finals. Before joining NA, Coffin was head coach for eight seasons at Avonworth, where he teaches health and physical education.

Along with coaching baseball and fishing competitively, he and his wife Loretta have two young daughters, so his schedule is quite busy.

“Believe me, it’s brought to my attention on a daily basis,” Coffin said with a laugh. “I’m hoping that at least one of my girls really, really enjoys being out on the boat with me. That’s my hope.”

The Eastern Pennsylvania native remembers fishing since he was growing up around Allentown and Bethlehem. As a student at Slippery Rock University, he tried his luck in the ponds near campus. After buying a bass boat in 2010, he started fishing local club tournaments.

He now spends multiple days a week on the rivers.

“At minimum three days a week,” he said. “As a school teacher, obviously I have the summers off.”

Coffin also qualified for the BASS regional tournament in 2014 but didn’t reach the championship. To qualify for the regional, an angler must earn points at three state tournaments. Coffin fished BASS Nation events last season on Raystown Lake, Lake Erie and the Potomac River.

Coffin started strong at this week’s regional tournament. Paired with a fisherman from North Carolina on Wednesday, Coffin caught his daily limit of three fish while casting buzz baits. His catch weighed a combined six pounds, 13 ounces — fourth among all non-boaters.

Then came Day Two, and Coffin was shut out.

Paired with a partner from New Hampshire, they never found the fish. Coffin dropped from fourth to 33rd among non-boaters after Thursday, and slipped to second among Pennsylvanians.

“I’d basically told my boater, ‘I’m going to try to end this today,'” said Coffin, who used the same aggressive 2,000-cast, buzz-bait strategy as Day One. “I’m either going to hit a grand slam or I’m going to strike out. Boy, did I strike out.”

On Day Three, paired with another North Carolina angler, Coffin’s luck turned.

He caught three fish Friday and added four pounds, 12 ounces to his total catch. He changed strategies and switched to soft plastic worms, a technique that requires more finesse.

“I sort of counted myself out to be honest with you,” Coffin said. “I knew that there were others that would struggle as the days went by because this place is tough. But you normally don’t just blank and win something like this.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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