MUSKOGEE, Okla. — If this is how Tommy Biffle performs when the Wagoner, Okla., veteran is just "goofing around," the other 46 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers that qualified for the weekend at the AutoZone Sooner Run should beware.
Biffle smoked 18 pounds, 9 ounces, on Fort Gibson Lake to build his two-day total to 38 pounds, 4 ounces, enough for a healthy 2-plus pound advantage.
With so much on the line — a Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason berth and a $100,000 top prize here — Biffle is hardly being cavalier about his performance. Instead, the four-time Bassmaster winner has executed a risky strategy, eschewing some of his best honey holes in hopes of saving them for the weekend when the competition heats up.
Friday, Biffle cashed in on a fast-and-furious early bite, boating 15 pounds by 7:15 a.m., 45 minutes into his competition day.
"When I say I'm messing around I mean that I'm fishing a couple of different spots," Biffle said.. "When I know I need to go catch one, I know where I can go to quickly get one. But I don't want to give too much away. I just might have to turn it on tomorrow (Saturday)."
Fishing fans can catch all of the on-the-water action from the Sooner Run on The Bassmasters, which airs Sunday, July 11, at 10 a.m. ET on ESPN2. The daily weigh-ins for all regular-season Elite events and the two postseason events will air live on ESPN3.com.
Bassmaster.com will follow the Sooner Run each day with BASSCast, BASSCam, real-time leaderboards during weigh-ins, photo galleries, daily results, and Hooked Up with ESPN Outdoors personalities Mark Zona and Tommy Sanders. Live, streaming video will be carried by ESPN3.com.
Regarded as a shallow-water specialist, Biffle said he is mixing up his execution this week and concentrating at times on deeper water. He didn't execute flawlessly — he lost two big ones — and missed his target of 20 pounds by a small measure. But after leading by just 1 ounce Thursday, he was satisfied to put some distance between himself and the field.
With homefield advantage — Biffle mowed his lawn Wednesday and has been crashing in his own bed all week — it would appear that the 52-year-old is impossible to catch. But Biffle, as straightforward as they come, isn't convinced.
"It's still wide open," Biffle said. "This lake is awfully good and guys can easily sneak up from behind. There is just so many ways to catch them. I won't let up until the last day."
With a solid performance thus far and little evidence that things will change, Biffle looks to be a virtual lock for the Bassmaster Elite Series postseason — only the top 12 from the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings qualify. He was 17th in the AOY standings heading into this week.
Directly behind Biffle was Pat Golden of High Point, N.C., with 35-15. Golden, who has fished on the Elites since 2008, is in position to upgrade his best career Elite finish of 15th. The 41-year-old primarily worked a crankbait on Thursday but after an ineffective spell Friday, Golden switched to a spinnerbait and promptly caught a 4-pounder.
He is working two patterns, one shallow and one deep but is sharing his water with other Elite competitors. His plan for Saturday was to tie on a crankbait and not look back.
"It's kind of a mixed deal out there," Golden said. "One day, they can be biting one thing and then the next day, you cant buy a bite on that lure."
Riding a wave of momentum, Kevin VanDam moved up to third with 34-9. VanDam is getting warm at the right time and the surge has him climbing up the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Just two weeks ago, pundits were wondering if there was something amiss with VanDam but the Kalamazoo, Mich., pro lurks as an intimidating threat for his third consecutive AOY.
VanDam isn't sure he can catch Biffle — heck, no one was — but he was satisfied with his tournament thus far.
"I'm not in an area that has a ton of big fish but I know what I can catch there," said VanDam, a five-time Angler of the Year. "The key for me is that you want to be fishing your best heading into the Postseason. And I feel like I am right now."
Moving up to fourth and thus virtually sealing a postseason birth was Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., with 34-3. Dropping from second to fifth was Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., with 34-0.
Only the top 47 anglers move on to Saturday, the penultimate day of competition. Included in the qualifiers were AOY leader Skeet Reese and his closest competition, Edwin Evers . Reese has reversed a mini-slump this week and sits in ninth here. That performance and a mediocre 38th-place showing by Evers has Reese ahead in the AOY rankings by a comfortable margin.
The last time BASS visited Ft. Gibson was in October 2008 for the now-defunct 2008 BASS Club World Championship.
The public is invited to attend the all festivities surrounding the event. Launches will begin at 7:30 a.m. CT at Sequoyah Bay and weigh-ins will take place at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Weekend festivities will occur at Three Forks Harbor, 5201 Three Forks Rd., Fort Gibson, Okla., beginning at 1 p.m. ET. All events are free and open to the public. Included in the Three Forks Harbor festivities will be a Kid's area with face painting, arts and crafts and games.
On Saturday, the Okie Country Music Fest will take place featuring Jason Boland and the Stragglers; Brandon Jenkins and The Swon Brothers. On Sunday, Brian Jackson will be on hand and will attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of blowing up the most balloons by an individual.
The Postseason, Toyota Trucks Championship Week, is set for July 24-31 and will be played out once again on two productive Alabama fisheries. The first leg, the July 24-25 Trophy Chase, returns to Lake Jordan out of Wetumpka. The finale, the Evan Williams Bourbon Trophy Triumph, is slated for July 30-31 on the Alabama River from Montgomery.