By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Tommy Biffle's 60th birthday will arrive on Feb. 6 – the second day of practice for the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series opener at Lake Martin. When he launched his career back in the 1980s, he not only didn't expect to still be fishing professionally at that age, but he didn't really anticipate being alive.
"My dad died of a heart attack when he was 56," he said. "My brother had a heart attack, and my mom, and my oldest brother had a stroke.
"I was really worried when I got to be about that age, but there's nothing wrong with me. I hope to be doing this for a long time. People ask me when I'm going to retire, but what would I do? Just sit around and go fishing."
On a Bad Run
From a competitive standpoint, Biffle is in the midst of the toughest stretch of his career. Next year's Classic at Lake Hartwell will be the fourth in a row that he's missed. Prior to 2015, he'd never sat out more than two in a row since qualifying for his first in 1987.
He's coming off an 80th-place finish in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race, the second time in three years he's landed in the 80s. His season got off to a horrible start with finishes of 86th at Cherokee Lake and 89th at Lake Okeechobee and he logged only two placements (back-to-back at Sam Rayburn and Dardanelle) that were higher than 50th.
The four-time Elite Series winner and 19-time Classic qualifier, who's had just one regular-season top-10 finish since his victory at the Mississippi River in 2013, is eager to get a new season under way so he can try to right his ship. He said he suffered some misfortune this year (a lot more game-changing fish than usual inexplicably coming unbuttoned), but admits that high finishes are more difficult to achieve than they were a decade or more ago due to the strength of the field.
"Ten years ago or longer, there were 30 or 40 guys with a chance to win," he said. "Now, pretty much everybody has a chance. Some of it has to do with (fish-finders) and waypoints."
He's highly in favor of the new rule that bans the acquisition of information, including waypoints, from local experts once an Elite venue has been announced.
"If they can't get all the stuff they've gotten in years past, that should keep some of them from doing so good. I know I'm hoping that's the case. If they go out and beat my head in again next year, I'll be scratching my own head, that's for sure."
Struggle at St. Clair
Biffle suffered his biggest disappointment of 2017 in the final regular-season derby at St. Clair.
"I told (wife) Sharon that I was going to catch them pretty good, and then on day 1 I had 25 pounds within 3 feet of the boat and lost every one of them," he said. "They'd come right up to the boat and jump three feet in the air and throw (the hook). I was using a 1-ounce (Gene Larew Biffle Hardhead jig) and that made it easier for them to throw, but it was just a bad day."
For the opener at Cherokee, he'd made up his mind ahead of time that he'd employ the Damiki Armor Shad fluke-style swimbait, which is the staple offering at that impoundment. He concentrated on places where he'd found some fish with his Lowrance unit, then discovered later that the whole key was discovering the right cover.
"A lot of guys who caught them good were just looking at the rocks, then they'd see one come out of the rocks or whatever," he said. "I totally missed it because I'd been looking for fish. I was in one cove and the next cove over ended up being real good. I'd been in there a couple times and there was nothing in there but rocks.
"You probably couldn't see the fish the fish on your locator because they were packed into the rocks so tight, but they'd come out and get the bait. That was the little clue you needed."
> Biffle said he has no opinion one way or the other on next year's schedule. "I don't even pay attention to it anymore. I've won tournaments on places I'd never been to and gone back to places where I'd done good and then ended up doing bad. I don't have any favorites or anything like that anymore. I just go and fish."
> Although he's happy with the stiffening of the no-info rule, he'd also have like to see pre-practice outlawed. "I wish they'd made them off-limits from the time they announced them – no practice or anything until (official) practice. That would've been ideal."
> He's never been one to swap practice info with fellow anglers, but thinks that routine is an advantage in today's competitive climate. "I'm beginning to believe you need two or three buddies – the young guys all grew up doing that. The thing is you've got to have guys telling you the right thing; not half the story, but the whole deal. That's hard to get unless you've got a really good buddy."