By Todd Ceisner
It’s no secret Tommy Biffle is in his comfort zone when fishing shallow water. But when that water happens to be on the Arkansas River not far from his Wagoner, Okla., home, most times that means the rest of the field is fishing for 2nd place.
That seemed to be the case at last week’s Arkansas River PAA Tournament Series.
The veteran pro maneuvered his way into some untouched backwater in the Afton pool and proceeded to wrangle 46.46 pounds of resident bass out of the shallows over 3 days to win the season finale by more than 7 pounds over Mark Tyler.
The win pairs nicely with his late-season surge on the Bassmaster Elite Series that helped him clinch a berth in next year’s Bassmaster Classic at nearby Grand Lake. It also marks his third win in as many years in his backyard. He won a Bassmaster Central Open out of Muskogee, Okla., last year and the Fort Gibson Elite Series in 2010.
“You always want to win around the house, so it feels good,” he said.
Here’s how he did it.
Always known as a sly competitor, Biffle fished the Kerr Reservoir, the Muskogee pool and the Wagoner pool during practice, all the while knowing he’d likely head to his backwater area once competition got under way. Bascially, he didn’t want to be seen where he was ultimately going to be.
“I’d known about the area for a long time,” he said. “I figured nobody else had been in there. It was really hard to access and was rough getting in there.”
> Day 1: 5, 14.12
> Day 2: 5, 16.37
> Day 3: 5, 15.96
> Total = 15, 46.46
Prior to the tournament, the Muskogee area had been hit with a half dozen 100-plus-degree days in September. Day 1 fell right in line with bright skies and air temperatures in the low 90s. That all changed over the final 2 days when heavy rains moved in and the temperature didn’t get out of the 60s.
As Biffle stated above, access to the area he fished was just as grueling as the Midwest summer heat. Not only did he have to lock through to the Afton pool, he faced an hour-long idle into the backwater so as to avoid the plentiful stumps and other impediments. Once he got settled in, though, he found himself catching 10 to 15 quality keepers per day.
On day 1, he sacked 14.12 pounds flipping typical river cover – stumps, laydowns, overhanging brush and trees – in 2 to 6 feet of water. He knew 14 pounds would be a solid day for the river and it was good enough for 2nd place. He likely would’ve grabbed the lead if not for a 5-pounder that came unbuttoned.
“I figured that was a good stringer for the river,” he said. “I figured somebody in Kerr might catch an 18- or 20-pound stringer one day, but they never did.”
Entering the second day, he was understandably concerned how the sudden weather change would affect the area that held the resident fish he was targeting.
“The first day it was sunny and bright and the next 2 days it was going to be clouds and rain, so I was really worried about how it would affect whether they were going to bite,” he said.
Committing to such a remote area left him with few options if the fish weren’t there.
“Once you commit to this place, you’re pretty well done,” he said. “You have to lock through and then run and then get in there. That’s pretty much your day. You can’t go in there and fish and then come out and go somewhere else.”
He gambled and went back to his primary area and he found the fish hadn’t left – they'd just moved back under the cover of the hanging brush and trees. The bite didn’t pick up until later in the day and he was able to bring in a tournament-best 16.37 and seize the lead with 30.49 through 2 days.
“I could’ve fished another area and caught 12 to 14 pounds doing a different technique and be pretty sure I was going to catch them,” he added. “In this area, I didn’t know because when I went back I didn’t know how many fish were still left or if they’d bite the second day.”
Biffle flipped shallow wood and overhangs to catch his fish.
Day 3 brought more clouds and rain, but he seemed more concerned with being able to navigate the Chouteau Lock in the afternoon.
“I called before we took off and they said there were no barges,” he said. “When I got to the lock in the morning, (the lockmaster) said a barge had just called and said he’d be there around 12:30 or 1, which was the time I needed to come back. It ended up working out for me, but it was probably 1:40 before the barge ever got out of the lock. He could’ve stayed in there until 2 and I would’ve made it, but you always get to worrying about being locked out when you have a good sack.”
Despite losing a couple keeper bites early on, he sorted through 10 fish on the final day and brought in 15.96 to secure the victory.
“I needed to catch a solid sack,” he said. “If I’d have gotten up around 19 or 20 I pretty well figured I would’ve had it won if I could get through the lock because there hadn’t been any big stringers caught down at Kerr. Being cloudy and rainy, they could’ve caught one anywhere, but for some reason they just weren’t biting the topwater good.”
> With the changing conditions, Biffle said it was important to stay committed as he knew the presence of adequate cover and an abundance of shad kept the fish hunkered down in the area.
“The weird thing was the first day they were on the stumps when it was bright and sunny,” he said. “Then it got cloudy and rained the second day and they seemed to get under the overhanging trees or brush or vines – whatever it was that was hanging in the water. On the third day, they were still in that a little bit and it was still cloudy and rainy. Then they worked out on a few laydown logs, which they hadn’t been doing. They were just moving around. The shad in there were moving and the fish were always in the area of where the shad were.”
Winning Gear Notes
> Flipping gear: 7’6” heavy-action Quantum Tour Tommy Biffle flipping rod, Quantum Exo PT 100 casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 25-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, unnamed 5/16-ounce bullet weight, 4/0 Paycheck Baits Punch Hook, 4 1/4” Gene Larew Biffle Bug (blackberry/sapphire).
> Biffle rotated through a couple other colors (smoke silver and black neon) in his Bug before settling on the blackberry/sapphire.
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “Just knowing the area and fishing hard and catching most of them when they’d bite. I only lost three fish all tournament. That always helps. Having the area to myself helped and I had a good friend going in there with me, Gerald Brown, but he was fishing a different area. He had ‘em on, but he lost too many the first day to do good. He even went up there the third day and sat and watched and made sure I didn’t have any trouble getting in and out. That was a pretty good deal.”
> Performance edge – “My Ranger boat and MotorGuide trolling motor held up. In those places where it’s real bad, you just have to ease around. You can’t put your trolling motor on medium and take off because you’re going to hit a stump and tear the shaft up. You just have to ease around. The Bug was the key. They wanted that Bug and they wanted that color.”
> For complete tournament results, click here.
> For the win, Biffle took home a Nitro Z8 boat, which he estimates is the 35th boat he’s won during his career. BassFans in the market for a boat may want to contact Biffle. He said he now has three boats – a Triton, a Phoenix and now a Nitro – he’s looking to unload.
Much of the tackle referenced above is available at the BassFan Store. To browse the selection, click here.