Tommy Biffle and other tales from the trip to La Crosse

He has won more than $2 million while bass fishing.

Panhandlers give him money.

At 55 years old, he is beating men half his age on the Bassmaster Elite Series.

His beard alone has experienced more than a lesser bass fisherman's entire body.

On Saturday in La Crosse, he put Bassmaster Elite Series emcee Dave Mercer in a head-lock in front of 5,000 people. He made Mercer smell his armpit after he'd fished for eight hours in sweltering June heat. Mercer liked it.

If he were to punch you in the face, you would have to fight off the urge to thank him.

He once witnessed a helicopter hit a power line and crash into his best fishing spot during a tournament. He took it in stride.

When he pulls a new boat off the lot, it increases in value.

Mosquitoes refuse to bite him purely out of respect.

Tommy Biffle IS the most interesting bass fisherman in the world.

Biffle: "I don't always drink soda pop, but when I do, I prefer Diet Mountain Dew.

"Stay thirsty my friends."

The Bugs Were Out

Of all the bugs that appeared during the Elite Series Diet Mountain Dew Mississippi River Rumble presented by Power-Pole in La Crosse, Wis., last week, the Biffle Bug won out. If you didn't already know this, Tommy Biffle is one serious piece of work.

You can make a case for the often cantankerous Okie being the most interesting man in bass fishing.

Just prior to the 7 a.m. Day Four launch Sunday in La Crosse, Biffle, in his usual deadpan mode, said, "It will be over by 8:30. (Aaron Martens) might not even have his lures tied on yet."

Biffle entered the day in second place, trailing Martens by a mere 7 ounces and confident he would quickly overcome the deficit. But Biffle's day didn't follow his smack-talk script. He may have been trailing Martens by 3 pounds with less than two hours left in the competition.

Biffle was so frustrated at that point, he recalled, "I was fishing to save second place for awhile."

You often hear victorious Elite Series anglers talk about "making good decisions." This was hardly Biffle's first rodeo. It marked his 301st B.A.S.S. tournament.

"I got a little frustrated, and you could feel it slip away. That's when I thought it was time to make a move."

It was one of those "good decisions" winners always seem to mention. Over the final 45 minutes, before he had to run back up the river for the 3 p.m. check-in, Biffle boated two 4-pounders and a 3-pounder – all smallmouth.

"It was every cast," he said.

Biffle Showed Versatility

Biffle is branded as someone who primarily flips shallow cover for largemouth bass. It's undoubtedly his strength. Biffle won an Elite Series event in 2006 at New York's chock-full-o'-smallmouth Oneida Lake by going against the grain and concentrating on largemouth.

But Biffle won on the Mississippi River – where largemouth are abundant – by concentrating on smallmouth.

"I went almost the whole first day of practice without a bite," he said of his early attempt to follow his "green fish" style.

You don't last long at this level by sticking to a game plan that isn't producing. Biffle found a smallmouth spot late on that first practice day. He used it sparingly throughout the tournament, while flipping up some largemouth in Black River.

That was the source of his confidence at Sunday's start: He hadn't really mined his smallmouth hot spot yet. As it turned out, he had to find another one in the final hour to strike gold in the form of a $100,000 win Sunday and automatic 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

Biffle was using a green-pumpkin Gene Larew Biffle Bug and tipping it with orange dye to match the crawfish that smallmouth were snatching from a slight ditch in a sandy bottom that had heavy current flowing around it. The Biffle Bug was weighted with Larew's Biffle Hardhead ­– a football head/swiveling hook combination that allows the bait to move freely in the water.

Everyone knows Biffle is often throwing his Bug. But not often in these conditions.

"I'd never caught 'em on it off of sand before," Biffle said.

Interesting man, undoubtedly.

P.S. When Tommy Biffle picks up a restaurant tab (seldom), he always pays with a credit card. On the blank line for "tip," he always writes a negative number, and gets cash back.

PROPS FOR PALANIUK

Enough has been written about Day Two leader – by a whopping 6 pounds – Brandon Palaniuk getting his second-day catch disqualified because of inadvertently violating Minnesota's no-cull rule.

Not enough can ever be written about the class manner in which Palaniuk handled adversity.

I witnessed Palaniuk's roommate, Chris Zaldain, catch a 4-pound, 6-ounce smallmouth bass Saturday just below the 701.3 mile marker sign, which is nailed to a tree on the bank. Zaldain was quick to share the fact that Palaniuk had pointed him to the spot. This was the scene of Palaniuk's demise – a place that appears to be in Wisconsin, but apparently isn't.

And I witnessed an example of Palaniuk's grace on Sunday. About 10 a.m., he was preparing to leave La Crosse's Veterans Freedom Park after doing yet one more interview about the whole mess. Mostly in jest, I mentioned that my camera boat had suffered a mechanical failure and it was being repaired.

"I've got a boat," said Palaniuk, just as serious as he could be. "That's what it's for. I'll take you out."

After pondering just how cool that would be to have Palaniuk as a boat driver for James Overstreet and me on this day, I just couldn't accept. A storm was brewing at the time, our boat was being repaired and I figured Palaniuk had already endured enough rough water for one week.

But the fact that he made that offer – in all sincerity – was an example of just a little thing that says a lot about Brandon Palaniuk.

OPPORTUNE TIME FOR POWER-POLE

Power-Pole couldn't have picked a better tournament to be a presenting sponsor. The weigh-in that took place after the heavy storms and powerful straight-line winds blew through here Friday sounded like a constant Power-Pole commercial.

Once the big wind passed, it stayed rough in many sections of the Mississippi River all day long. If it seemed like every Elite Series angler mentioned how he wouldn't have been able to fish Friday without Power-Poles, that's because 97 of the 99 at La Crosse have Power-Poles, according to Robert Shamblin, the company's vice president.

No one had to convince these guys of the value of Power-Poles. But that combination of high wind and shallow water on the Mississippi River created quite a sales pitch.

Shamblin's duties in La Crosse included overseeing the installation of some new "fast up" and "fast down" Power-Pole foot control buttons for some of the Elite Series anglers. It's a product that will be available to the public in the fall.

Shamblin hinted at some bigger announcements from Power-Pole at July's ICAST show in Las Vegas.

New products are always nice. But if you want to hear a good ol' story about hard work, ask Shamblin about the company's first years of sponsoring Chris Lane. This was long before Chris Lane was a Bassmaster Classic champion, and before Power-Pole was a success in the bass fishing world.

Short version: Chris never said no when Power-Pole asked him to make an appearance, no matter how small the venue, no matter how far away from home.

There's a lesson in the story for those trying to make it in this sport.

FISH HOOK REMOVAL PORN

In an obscenity case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, Justice Potter Stewart famously said, "I know it when I see it," in attempting to define pornography.

James Overstreet, Brian Beebe and I started telling our various fish hook removal stories last Sunday while on the water following Aaron Martens. We've got some good ones, almost obscene in their goriness. But nothing tops this YouTube video.

I've successfully done the "string method" of hook removal – once on Mike McClelland, in fact – and this guy doesn't quite get it right. To watch this is closer to sickness than fun. But, just so you know, the only exposed flesh in the video is one man's arm.

Maybe you'll learn something here for future fish-hook emergencies. That's the purpose of it. Keep the kids away. If there's such a thing as fish hook removal pornography, I think I've seen it.