By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor


The dock talk at the TBF National Championship at Grand Lake last week was that big fish were being caught off beds. The week before, the Central Rayovac Series was won throwing small swimbaits up shallow.

James Biggs knew all of that and decided to go a different route.

The firefighter from Richland Hills, Texas, who finished 2nd in the 2011 TBF championship due to a culling error, opted this time to build a two-pronged strategy around flipping wood in the morning and slinging an umbrella rig in the afternoon. The game plan looked shaky after day 1 when he boated just three keepers, but he stuck with it and totaled 43-11 over 3 days, including 19-05 on day 2, to capture this year's TBF National Championship.

The victory came with a substantial prize package that includes a berth in this year's Forrest Wood Cup, paid entry fees for next year's FLW Tour, a wrapped boat and Chevy truck to use in 2015 and $500 in travel expenses for each Tour event next season.

"It still hasn't set in yet," he said. "Things have been so busy for me lately. I've been working on getting my house on the market and I was gone 2 days and had a contract on it already."

If not for mistakenly tossing back a bigger fish on day 2 of the 2011 TBF championship at Nickajack Lake, Biggs would be a two-time winner of the event. That error cost him 7 ounces in an event he lost by 5 ounces, so when he earned the opportunity to fish the championship again, he was focused on not making the same mistake again.

"I really wanted this tournament bad after that," he said. "It's the first chance I've had to fish the TBF (since). I made nationals last year, but I fished the Tour because I wanted to get to the Red River (Forrest Wood Cup) because I felt like I could compete there in the summer. I've been close a couple times and it's very rewarding to seal the deal in one of these.

"All I did was fish to win. Usually, I fish to survive and cut a check, but it was a pretty easy decision to swing for a home run in this one."

Here's how he did it.

Practice

Biggs' experience at Grand was limited to his appearance on the now-defunct World Series of Bass TV show a couple years ago (he won the amateur portion), a couple local events and last year's FLW Tour stop in which he finished 14th.

"It fishes real similar to Lewisville Lake back home," he said. "I knew coming into it that to catch the really big stringers I'd probably need to fish the umbrella rig on the south end of the lake. The pre-spawners group up and they're big."

He fished some local community holes, "spots that are supposed to be good this time of year," he said, but couldn't get bit.

"I noticed that I was able find fish deep and they were suspended and I'd get a couple bites a day with the umbrella rig," he added. "I'd get maybe six bites a day, but a couple of them were over 4 pounds."

He figured he needed another option in addition to the offshore umbrella-rig bite. On the final day of practice, he went to the north end of the lake and was able to run around in the morning and catch a handful of 2-pounders off shallow wood cover.

Competition

> Day 1: 3, 10-01
> Day 2: 5, 19-05
> Day 3: 5, 14-05
> Total = 13, 43-11

Biggs got off to a quick start on day 1, flipping up a couple 2 1/2-pounders before running to his offshore fish. He stuck a 5-pounder on the umbrella rig fairly early on, but it proved to be his last bite of the day.

"I started thinking I may have shot myself in the foot," he said. "I probably could've caught two more 2-pounders flipping."

His three-fish bag put him in 16th place, 10 pounds behind leader John Talton.

"Even though I had only three fish, I was proud of myself because I fished to win," he said.

On day 2, he hit the same area in the morning and caught two more 2 1/2-pounders flipping wood and then went to his umbrella-rig areas.

"I thought, 'Surely these fish won't shut me out again,'" he said.

He finished his limit with a 4-pounder, a 4 1/2 and a 5 1/2 that gave him 19-02 and moved him to within 4 ounces of the lead after Talton came in with four fish for less than 10 pounds.

"I know I only got three bites out there, but those three were huge," he said. "Those fish were suspended 8 to 15 feet down over 20 to 40 feet depending on where I was."

The seven finalists had a 1 p.m. check-in time on the final day since the weigh-in was in Rogers, Ark., a 2-hour drive from Grove, Okla. That meant Biggs' timing had to be just right.

Things started slowly as he worked through Honey Creek, Horse Creek, Drowning Creek, all places that yielded fish on day 2, without a bite.

At 10 a.m., he ran back to Honey Creek and was able to put a 14-incher in the boat. He added a 2-pounder caught off a bed near Shangri-La Marina before heading back to Honey Creek to top off his bag with a 3-pounder, a 5-pounder and another 14-incher.

"I fished all of my best stuff and I knew it was nothing but a timing deal in Honey Creek," he said. "On days 1 and 2, I backed off and let them sit, but on day 3 there were a lot of locals out pre-fishing for the Nichols (Marina tournament). I was fortunate to get the bites when they came up to feed.

"I didn't get very many bites, they were just quality bites."

Winning Gear Notes

> Flipping gear: 7' heavy-action G. Loomis IMX Mag Bass casting rod, Shimano Chronarch Ci4+ casting reel (7.6:1 ratio), 20-pound Sunline Super FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, 5/16-oz. unnamed worm weight, 4/0 Roboworm Rebarb hook, Zoom Baby Brush Hog (green-pumpkin red).

> Umbrella rig gear: 7'11" medium-light G. Loomis swimbait rod, same reel (6.2:1 ratio), same line, 5-wire HogFarmer umbrella rig, 3/32-oz. Bite Me jigs, 4" Keitech Easy Shiner (bluegill flash), 3.25" Double ZZ Swayback Swimmer (voodoo shad).

The Bottom Line

> Main factor in his success "Mental toughness. It was all about keeping my head on straight under pressure and making good decisions. Having one year of fishing the tour under my belt helped the mental aspect and helped me stay confident to stick with what I know."

> Performance edge "The Double ZZ swimbait was the key to triggering strikes. It has a lot more of a rocking action whereas the Keitech has a tighter wiggle. The Double ZZ has a wide, injured-looking action. It's the one bait that looked like it was struggling."

Notable

> Biggs hasn't done much research on Lake Murray, site of this year's Cup, but his co-angler from day 1 of the TBF championship was from South Carolina and from what he told him, he feels it could set up well for him.

"In general, I'm a finesse and dock fisherman," he said. "I'd rather be around marinas and bridges and docks man-made stuff."

Final Standings

1. James Biggs -- Richland Hills, Tx 10-01 (3) 19-05 (5) 29-06 (8) 14-05 (5) -- 43--11 (13) -- $5,000 + boat + Living the Dream package ($139,000 value)

2. John J. Talton -- Georgetown, Tn 20-01 (5) -- 9-09 (4) -- 29-10 (9) -- 6-10 (2) -- 36--04 (11) -- $1,500

3. Dino Moutogiannis -- Newington, Ct -- 14-05 (5) -- 14--07 (5) -- 28-12 (10) -- 6-01 (3) -- 34-13 (13) -- $1,500

4. Steve Dinkler -- Daniels, WV -- 14--07 (4) -- 12--06 (5) -- 26--13 (9) -- 5--08 (2) -- 32--05 (11) -- $1,500

5. Nicholas Fitzsimmons -- Lyle, Wa -- 5--01 (2) -- 14--12 (3) -- 19--13 (5) -- 7--03 (3) -- 27--00 (8) -- $1,500

6. Jon Griffith -- Mesa, Az -- 9--12 (5) -- 6--04 (3) -- 16--00 (8) -- 5--03 (2) -- 21--03 (10) -- $1,500

7. Dave Cermak -- Hebron, In -- 15--09 (5) -- 2--01 (1) -- 17--10 (6) -- 0--00 (0) -- 17--10 (6) -- $1,500

The following anglers did not make the cut and did not fish on day 3.

8. Jeremy Sorensen -- Fremont, Ne -- 12--12 (5) -- 11--10 (4) -- 24--06 (9) -- $500

9. Thomas Turner -- Kingsville, Md -- 15--07 (5) -- 8--15 (3) -- 24--06 (8) -- $500

10. Brian Hickey -- Cadiz, Ky -- 10--12 (5) -- 13--06 (5) -- 24--02 (10) -- $500

11. David Barnes Sr -- China, Me -- 12--15 (5) -- 10--15 (5) -- 23--14 (10) -- $400

12. Nick Turner -- Clanton, Al -- 13--07 (4) -- 9--08 (4) -- 22--15 (8) -- $400

13. Mike Zachary -- Ada, Ok -- 12--05 (5) -- 9--10 (3) -- 21--15 (8) -- $400

14. Scott Amig -- New Oxford, Pa -- 11--00 (4) -- 10--09 (5) -- 21--09 (9) -- $400

15. Jason Benjamin -- Lawrence, Ks -- 9--03 (3) -- 12--06 (5) -- 21--09 (8) -- $400

16. Scott Weiland -- Wayne, NJ -- 7--08 (4) -- 12--04 (5) -- 19--12 (9) -- $400

17. Troy Ladehoff -- Pleasant Valley, Mo -- 11--05 (3) -- 8--01 (3) -- 19--06 (6) -- $400

18. Joe Pacholec -- Moosic, Pa -- 13--05 (5) -- 5--12 (2) -- 19--01 (7) -- $400

19. Matt Thoin -- Rindge, NH -- 9--12 (3) -- 9--02 (3) -- 18--14 (6) -- $400

20. Burnie Haney -- Calcium, NY -- 5--02 (2) -- 12--10 (3) -- 17--12 (5) -- $400

21. Bill Simpson -- Stanton, Mi -- 12--04 (3) -- 5--04 (3) -- 17--08 (6) -- $200

22. Lance Hildebrandt -- Sioux Falls, SD -- 7--05 (2) -- 9--14 (4) -- 17--03 (6) -- $200

23. Aaron Echternkamp -- Moses Lake, Wa -- 5--04 (2) -- 11--05 (5) -- 16--09 (7) -- $200

24. Jim Jones -- Big Bend, Wi -- 0--00 (0) -- 16--07 (5) -- 16--07 (5) -- $200

25. David Kneece -- Gilbert, SC -- 2--02 (1) -- 13--11 (4) -- 15--13 (5) -- $200

26. Wade Headrick -- Herriman, Ut -- 11--02 (4) -- 4--10 (2) -- 15--12 (6) -- $200

27. Jerry Jackson -- Piketon, Oh -- 3--14 (1) -- 11--13 (5) -- 15--11 (6) -- $200

28. Doug Brownridge -- Halton Hills, On -- 7--03 (4) -- 7--03 (3) -- 14--06 (7) -- $200

29. Stephen Way -- Fountain, Co -- 9--03 (4) -- 4--06 (2) -- 13--09 (6) -- $200

30. Ronald Bestwick -- Griswold, Ct -- 6--10 (3) -- 5--04 (3) -- 11--14 (6) -- $200

31. Steve Goodman -- Castaic, Ca -- 4--06 (2) -- 6--12 (2) -- 11--02 (4) -- $200

32. Todd Punke -- Eureka, Ill -- 1--14 (1) -- 8--01 (3) -- 9--15 (4) -- $200

33. Jamie Foy -- Greenwood, De -- 7--08 (2) -- 1--14 (1) -- 9--06 (3) -- $200

34. Gary Abernethy -- Skyland, NC -- 8--15 (4) -- 0--00 (0) -- 8--15 (4) -- $200

35. Paul Helton -- Russellville, Ar -- 3--09 (2) -- 4--13 (3) -- 8--06 (5) -- $200

36. Taylor Minick -- Valdosta, Ga -- 5--13 (3) -- 2--09 (1) -- 8--06 (4) -- $200

37. Jared Dial -- Winter Haven, Fl -- 0--00 (0) -- 8--03 (2) -- 8--03 (2) -- $200

38. Scott Stephenson -- South Prince George, Va -- 1--11 (1) -- 6--05 (2) -- 8--00 (3) -- $200

39. Tim Roberts -- Green River, Wy -- 4--07 (2) -- 3--02 (1) -- 7--09 (3) -- $200

40. Bob Perkins -- Crosslake, Mn -- 3--10 (2) -- 3--14 (2) -- 7--08 (4) -- $200

41. Jamie Long -- Okolona, Ms -- 0--00 (0) -- 6--14 (2) -- 6--14 (2) -- $200

42. Ben Cayer -- Bethel, Vt -- 0--00 (0) -- 6--11 (2) -- 6--11 (2) -- $200

43. Chad Kaiser -- Hayden, Id -- 2--00 (1) -- 3--08 (2) -- 5--08 (3) -- $200

44. Jim Gildea -- Weston, Ma -- 4--12 (2) -- 0--00 (0) -- 4--12 (2) -- $200

45. Stan Fisher -- Trout Creek, Mt -- 3--08 (1) -- 0--00 (0) -- 3--08 (1) -- $200

46. Gary Freeman -- Las Vegas, Nv -- 2--01 (1) -- 0--00 (0) -- 2--01 (1) -- $200

47. Sam Jenkins -- Abita Springs, La -- 0--00 (0) -- 0--00 (0) -- 0--00 (0) -- $200