When the Ft. Gibson Elite series began, most pros in the field and most pundits expected to see Tommy Biffle walk away with the event. That's because the tournament was originally scheduled for the Arkansas River in Muskogee, Okla. but floods forced a move 18 miles to the north.
When BASS tournament director Trip Weldon announced the relocation to the field via text message, Biffle called right away he wanted to make sure one of his pals wasn't playing a joke.
It wasn't a joke, of course, which meant Biffle would finish the Elite Series regular season a lake he's fished for 40-plus years. His hometown, Wagoner, is on the shores of Ft. Gibson, he owns a Polaris dealership there, and his primary bait sponsor Gene Larew is just to the north in Tulsa.
In fact, Biffle knows Ft. Gibson so well,
he didn't even practice on the single day allotted to prepare for the new venue. Instead, he mowed his lawn.
But he didn't skip practice because he was confident he'd win. He skipped it because he didn't want anyone else in the field to see where he planned to fish.
And Biffle never said he considered himself a lock to win. All he said was he was going to catch them. And deep inside, he likely knew that with today's electronics complete with side-scanning capability and precise hydrographic maps guys like Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese, Gary Klein, Davy Hite and so many others would catch them too.
It is fairly stunning that given a single, short practice day with no information, several pros were nearly able to best Biffle on water he'd fished his whole life.
But in the end, Biffle had too much stuff, and despite a hefty total of lost fish that could have pushed his daily bags well above 20 pounds, he held on with an 18-03 catch today to win by a 2-12 margin. Biffle's 4-day total settled out at 73-11 (about 18 1/2 pounds a day).
Biffle, whose career now spans 25 years, added an additional win to a stats sheet that already included four BASS wins, an FLW Tour win, a staggering 49 BASS Top 10s, plus 16 Bassmaster Classic appearances.
Pat Golden certainly made it easier for Biffle. Golden trailed Biffle by just 12 ounces at the start of the day, but lost three 4-pounders, came in light with 15-12, and fell to finish 3rd.
Skeet Reese, on the other hand, weighed 18 pounds even and climbed a spot to finish 2nd. It marked Reese's sixth Top 5 across the eight-event season beyond doubt a statistic that'll be historically significant far into the future of the sport. He also ended the regular season as the points leader for the third time in 4 years.
Reese will carry a substantial points lead into the post-season, but must continue to lead after two post-season events to be crowned Angler of the Year.
With a 16 1/2-pound limit today, Matt Herren improved two spots to finish 4th, while Rick Morris never got a big bite, weighed 14 pounds even, and slipped two spots to finish 5th.
The Elite Series points are now final, and both Biffle and Russ Lane moved into post-season qualification based on their finish today. They bumped out Bill Lowen and Brian Snowden.
As previously reported, Paul Elias occupies the 37th-place spot in the standings and is thus last man in the Bassmaster Classic. He caught a 5-pounder on his very last cast of the season yesterday, and that was the fish that put him in.
Across the 4 days of competition here, a number of patterns showed themselves. But by far, shallow-cranking, flipping and big-worming produced the best catches.
Biffle, however, added a twist to his heavy-cover arsenal. More on that below. First, a word about the year-end points.
Biffle's primary technique this week was something new and could be described as "bottom buggin'" he was reeling a hinged football-head jig, tipped with a Gene Larew Biffle Bug, that acted much like a crankbait.
Below is a look at the Top 12 who'll fish the post-season. For the post-season, BASS simplifies the points by moving the decimal one place to the left and rounding. It then adds 2 points for each event an angler won this season. The points below reflect those two adjustments. Note the two-way tie for 4th and the four-way tie for 9th. (For the record, Reese won two events, VanDam one, Biffle one and John Crews one).
1. Skeet Reese -- Calif. -- 216
2. Edwin Evers -- Okla. -- 201
3. Cliff Pace -- Miss. -- 187
4. Derek Remitz -- Ala. -- 185
4. Kevin VanDam -- Mich. -- 185
6. Terry Butcher -- Okla. -- 184
7. Tommy Biffle -- Okla. -- 182
8. John Crews -- Va. -- 181
9. Gary Klein -- Texas -- 177
9. Greg Hackney -- La. -- 177
9. Russ Lane -- Ala. -- 177
9. Aaron Martens -- Ala. -- 177
The post-season features two 2-day events, with points awarded on a sliding scale after each 50 points for a win, 10 points for 12th. The chart looks like this:
1st -- 50 points
2nd -- 45 points
3rd -- 40 points
4th -- 36 points
5th -- 32 points
6th -- 28 points
7th -- 25 points
8th -- 22 points
9th -- 19 points
10th -- 16 points
11th -- 13 points
12th -- 10 points
As an example of just how tight the points actually are, if Reese finishes 5th in both events and Evers finishes 3rd in both, Evers would win AOY by a single point.
The complete and up-to-date Toyota Tundra BASS AOY standings can be found here.
Biffle Uses New 'Bug' Technique
"I figured it would be close if I didn't catch 20, and I knew I didn't have 20, so I was sweating it," Biffle said. "It was closer than you'd like."
Given that he's made the Top 10 50 different times in BASS competition, but won only five of them, shows how difficult it is to win. And nobody knows that better than Biffle, who's finished 2nd five times with BASS and three times at the Forrest Wood Cup.
"They're hard to win," he said, but added that he couldn't describe what it felt like to win this one. "I'm just tired right now," he said. "But it's good because if I'd have finished 2nd or anything other than 1st, them boys would be telling me, 'We came down here and kicked your butt on your home lake.' I'd have had to listen to that all year."
Biffle's regarded as the father of pitching and probably the best pitcher and flipper on the tours right now, especially if there's any odd water-level fluctuations in play.
But he didn't rely primarily on such a classic presentation this week. Instead, he did something that he only learned a few months ago. He didn't offer up any name for the technique, but "bottom buggin'" would be an appropriate description.
The bait combination is a Gene Larew Biffle Bug rigged on a special football-head jig. The hook on the jig is attached by a wire so it swings free, which allows the creature bait to swim much like a crankbait.
Here's what he said about the technique.
"I have a friend who makes that head. He gave it to me about the time we went to Smith Mt. I used it at Smith Mt., but I didn't use it there enough, because ever since then I've caught the snot out of them on it.
"It's a hinged football-head. There's a continuous piece of wire that runs through it you have to put the hook on the wire before you put it in the mold to make it. My buddy was using it with a little worm and different things. I asked him if he'd ever flipped a Bug on it. He never had, so the first thing I did when I got it was I put the Bug on and it caught them 10 to 1.
"The Bug flops around free on it and I guess it looks like a crawdad. You're not really swimming it you fish it like you do a football-head. You just go to reeling it and you want it in contact with the bottom. You feel it bumping along and when you don't feel it anymore, jerk, because one's got it.
"It's pretty neat because you cover a lot of water with it real quick. It's just about like throwing a crankbait you just reel it back but the good thing is it's got a single hook, so you usually don't lose them. And with the head being free, you don't lose so many."
Skeet Reese capped his stunning 2010 season with his sixth Top 5 in eight events.
The full details of Biffle's winning pattern, plus pattern information for the other top finishers, will be published soon.
2nd: Reese Frustrated Early
Reese's mark of six Top 5s across eight events is remarkable, and might become legend. His intensity the past few years is clearly visible, but today on the water, it was on full display.
"I think I've been fortunate," he said in reference to his finish and points lead. "I've been doing this long enough (to have) learned from the school of hard knocks that you can't control everything. I was able to keep a cool head for a while until I lost two 5-pounders. Then I wasn't so cool for a while.
"But I had a great week this week. Right now I'm happy we got off that river and over to this lake. I had a great week."
Under the old AOY system, Reese would have won the title today. And he would have won it last year as well. Instead, he's got two 12-man events in Alabama next month that stand between him and the title.
"I've got to go to work," he said. "I had a great season. If they did AOY at the end of the season, I'd have won three out of the last 4 years. The post-season changes everything. I have two more events that I have to go into and I'm not looking to finish 2nd or 3rd. I'm looking to win each of those and not worry about what everybody else is doing."
3rd: Golden Mixed
It's a classic conundrum Golden posted the best finish of his 3-year Elite Series career, but lost the fish that would have won it. Of course others lost fish Reese and his two 5-pounders today, or Biffle's big ones the first 2 days but that doesn't diminish the sting.
"I'm glad to be 3rd my best finish yet in the Elites but I'm disappointed because I had the fish on to win today," Golden said. "They just came unglued. They jumped off. One of them I hit and pulled him up and got a good look. The other just jumped on me right at the boat and threw the bait. It just broke my heart.
"I lost six or seven this week, and I know other guys were losing them, but you really work hard at your game and try to figure out what's going wrong. But it seems like whatever you do, you don't get the results you want. It's kind of upsetting."
Pat Golden can't help but be disappointed he had the fish on today to win.
He fine-tuned his tackle for today, he said, and went to heavier line because he had some line-failure issues earlier in the week. But the fish came off as he pulled them through the water with more force.
"I'm pretty happy, though, that I'm 100% sure I was on the pattern to win the thing," he added. He flipped back in creeks and caught a significant portion of his weight off a single piece of cover.
4th: Herren Still Haunted
Matt Herren weighed 18-03 on day 1, which put him in 7th. And everything was pointing toward a potential win until disaster struck on day 2.
"All my fish died on day 2," he said. "The penalties cost me 2 1/2 pounds. I had a 4-pounder in hand that I was going to use to cull, and I went to the livewell and all my fish were dead. I had to quit fishing at 2:00. (The culling of dead fish is prohibited.Ed.) I caught that 4-pounder on a crank and a bunch of 3-pounders followed it right in.
"The dead fish and that 4-pounder was a 4 1/2-pound swing, not to mention the culls I might have made after that. It was the difference between 4th and 2nd for sure, and it might have been enough to win."
If he'd have weighed 4 1/2 more pounds that day, he would have been within an ounce or two of Biffle's 4-day total.
"I'm not sure what happened," he added. "It was crazy. I culled at 2:00, then went to cull again at 2:30 and they were all dead. Something happened.
"It is what it is. That's all I can say. I'll always wonder what could have been things have happened this year that are beyond my control. But the ultimate thing is I made the Classic. I had a couple of decent finishes and all you can do is move on. If you dwell on the past it'll just eat you up inside."
5th: Morris or Merle?
Echoes of Merle Haggard rang through the BASS PA tonight when Morris took the stage. The Virginian looked out at the crowd of 3,600 in Muskogee, then said: "All right Oklahoma! True Americans! What a fishing community we've got here!"
Then, as if he was an Okie from Muskogee, he shouted: "I caught so many big fish it's unbelievable. I didn't get any big bites today but I'm not complaining. I had a great, awesome tournament. I caught them all on the RPM Custom rod, which is my own rod company which I started 5 years ago, American-made blanks, made by Americans, for Americans, no micro-eyes, no China, no Mexico, and no vegetable colors!"
Later, he told BassFan: "In 18 years as an Elite pro, I never heard of a tournament getting rescheduled because of us. They rescheduled a 50-boat championship tournament this week because some of the guys said they weren't going to fish with the Elites here. That forced them to reschedule it. The energy here was just unbelievable. Even with how hot it was, these people, the crowds Oklahomans are true Americans."
Morris actually suffered heat stroke yesterday under temperatures that neared or reached 100 degrees. He couldn't appear onstage and missed the Top 10 meeting.
About his finish, he said: "I'm extremely happy with my tournament. I fished perfect flawless. I caught giants and swung them all in the boat even the 7-pounder yesterday. I never lipped one. And I river-fished, which is what I like to do. If there's a river and current, that's what I'm going to do."
> Day 4 stats 12 anglers, 12 limits.
> The list of Elite Series Classic qualifiers appears below the final standings.
Day 4 (Final) Standings
1. Tommy Biffle -- Wagoner, Okla. -- 20, 73-11 -- 320 -- $100,000
Day 1: 5, 19-11 -- Day 2: 5, 18-09 -- Day 3: 5, 17-04 -- Day 4: 5, 18-03
2. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, Calif. -- 20, 70-15 -- 295 -- $26,000
Day 1: 5, 15-11 -- Day 2: 5, 17-05 -- Day 3: 5, 19-15 -- Day 4: 5, 18-00
3. Pat Golden -- High Point, N.C. -- 20, 70-08 -- 290 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 18-15 -- Day 2: 5, 17-00 -- Day 3: 5, 18-13 -- Day 4: 5, 15-12
4. Matt Herren -- Trussville, Ala. -- 20, 69-01 -- 285 -- $16,000
Day 1: 5, 18-03 -- Day 2: 5, 14-13 -- Day 3: 5, 19-09 -- Day 4: 5, 16-08
5. Rick Morris -- Virginia Beach, Va. -- 20, 67-06 -- 280 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 15-00 -- Day 2: 5, 18-06 -- Day 3: 5, 20-00 -- Day 4: 5, 14-00
6. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, Mich. -- 20, 67-06 -- 276 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 17-10 -- Day 2: 5: -- 16-15 -- Day 3: 5, 18-02 -- Day 4: 5, 14-11
7. Cliff Pace -- Petal, Miss. -- 20, 66-00 -- 272 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 14-04 -- Day 2: 5, 19-15 -- Day 3: 5, 16-14 -- Day 4: 5, 14-15
8. Russ Lane -- Prattville, Ala. -- 20, 65-10 -- 268 -- $12,500
Day 1: 5, 19-10 -- Day 2: 5, 14-06 -- Day 3: 5, 15-11 -- Day 4: 5, 15-15
9. Mike McClelland -- Bella Vista, Ark. -- 20, 62-08 -- 264 -- $12,000
Day 1: 5, 19-08 -- Day 2: 5, 13-05 -- Day 3: 5, 15-07 -- Day 4: 5, 14-04
10. Gary Klein -- Weatherford, Texas -- 20, 60-10 -- 260 -- $11,500
Day 1: 5, 16-00 -- Day 2: 5, 17-10 -- Day 3: 5, 17-01 -- Day 4: 5, 9-15
11. Davy Hite -- Ninety Six, S.C. -- 20, 59-02 -- 257 -- $11,000
Day 1: 5, 16-05 -- Day 2: 5, 16-07 -- Day 3: 5, 14-04 -- Day 4: 5, 12-02
12. Boyd Duckett -- Demopolis, Ala. -- 20, 58-13 -- 254 -- $10,500
Day 1: 5, 16-09 -- Day 2: 5, 14-04 -- Day 3: 5, 18-05 -- Day 4: 5, 9-11
> Matt Herren -- Trussville, Ala. -- 7-05 -- $1,000
Berkley Big Bag
> John Crews -- Salem, Va. -- 20-01 -- $500
Bassmater Classic Elite Series Qualifiers
1 Skeet Reese -- Calif. -- 2116
2 Edwin Evers -- Okla. -- 2010
3 Cliff Pace -- Miss. -- 1868
4 Derek Remitz -- Ala. -- 1854
5 Terry Butcher -- Okla. -- 1841
6 Kevin VanDam -- Mich. -- 1825
7 Tommy Biffle -- Okla. -- 1801
8 John Crews -- Va. -- 1792
9 Gary Klein -- Texas -- 1771
10 Greg Hackney -- La. -- 1767
11 Russ Lane -- Ala. -- 1766
11 Aaron Martens -- Ala. -- 1766
13 Brian Snowden -- Mo. -- 1732
14 Mark Davis -- Ark. -- 1726
15 Mike McClelland -- Ark. -- 1723
16 Todd Faircloth -- Texas -- 1712
17 Scott Rook -- Ark. -- 1705
18 Morizo Shimizu -- Japan -- 1690
19 Matt Herren -- Ala. -- 1686
20 Bill Lowen -- Ohio -- 1669
21 Stephen Browning -- Ark. -- 1663
22 Michael Iaconelli -- N.J. -- 1644
23 Dave Wolak -- N.C. -- 1643
24 Shaw Grigsby -- Fla. -- 1622
25 Boyd Duckett -- Ala. -- 1618
26 Bobby Lane -- Fla. -- 1608
26 Jeff Kriet -- Okla. -- 1608
28 Gerald Swindle -- Ala. -- 1601
29 Jason Williamson -- S.C. -- 1597
30 Greg Vinson -- Ala. -- 1578
31 Steve Kennedy -- Ala. -- 1573
32 Dean Rojas -- Ariz. -- 1572
33 Brent Chapman -- Kan. -- 1547
34 Kevin Wirth -- Ky. -- 1546
35 Kelly Jordon -- Texas -- 1531
36 Terry Scroggins -- Fla. -- 1530
37 Paul Elias -- Miss. -- 1525