MUSKOGEE, Okla. — On Wednesday, 92 Bassmaster Elite Series anglers scoured Fort Gibson Lake, looking to glean any bit of knowledge from the Oklahoma fishery during the truncated one-day practice period.
The 93rd, Tommy Biffle, mowed his lawn. After all, the Wagoner, Okla., has been fishing Fort Gibson for 40-plus years so an extra day of practice could only reveal key spots to the rest of the field.
And the strategy paid off for Biffle. The Wagoner, Okla., veteran smacked 19 pounds, 11 ounces, Thursday to take the opening-round lead at the AutoZone Sooner Run. While the 16-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier used his intimate knowledge of Gibson and worked a multitude of areas, he is still keeping a few things to himself.
"I goofed around a little too much," said Biffle, 52. "I wanted to save some spots and not show too much and I might have to hit it a little bit harder tomorrow (Friday). But you can bet that I'm still going to keep some stuff secret until the final day."
Assuming Biffle makes it to the final day on Sunday — only the top 12 anglers qualify — it would do wonders for his bid to make the Bassmaster Elite Series Postseason, which only the top 12 in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings qualify for.
Biffle, who was 17th in the AOY standings heading into this week, participated in the postseason in 2009 and is itching to get back.
"I need to get into the postseason," said Biffle, a four-time Bassmaster winner. "That is the goal now. Well, that, and catching 20 pounds a day. It's all going pretty good now. But that doesn't mean I will catch them every day."
The hits keep on coming for Biffle and perhaps instead of mowing his lawn, he should have hit the local casino Wednesday. First, the event moved to Fort Gibson Lake, essentially his backyard, due to unsafe conditions on the Arkansas River. Then, an uncooperative trolling motor was quickly fixed Thursday morning by service crew members costing Biffle zero tournament time. To top it off, Biffle's lead was the slimmest of margins – 1 ounce.
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.
As expected judging by his practice philosophy, Biffle kept the details of his pattern extremely close to the vest. He caught fish all throughout the day and given his shallow-water chops, it's a good bet Biffle is flipping the bank. What excites Biffle the most — given his local ties — is the rebound that the fishery has experienced over the last couple of years.
Biffle said it's stocked with bass in the 3- to 5-pound range and while it's rare, there are some monsters in the waters. Matt Herren landed the largest of the day, a 7-5 brute.
Biffle's biggest concern is that his productive areas would dwindle as the pros gain more knowledge of the fishery. That being said, he said he dealt with no competitor pressure in all the areas he fished Thursday, though he did have up to 25 spectator boats connected to him at one time.
Right behind Biffle was Russ Lane of Prattville, Ala., with 19-10. Like Biffle, Lane, in 15th in the AOY standings, is fighting tooth and nail to get into the postseason.
It would offer Lane a chance to fish in his backyard — it's on Lake Jordan and the Alabama River — and sleep in his own bed. He can look no further than Biffle to see the advantages of that.
Lane said he is relying on schooling bass and found two productive schools: early in the day and then late in the day. His first spot yielded 15 pounds in his first 10 casts but he was only able to upgrade at 2 p.m., after locating the late school.
While Lane is working the schools, he said that the dirty water gives him another option and he can head toward the bank if he needs to move to a contingency plan.
"I'm hoping that they keep running that current because I need it to make them bite," said Lane, 37. "I'm really comfortable with the way I'm fishing. To get into the Postseason would be incredible. Like a dream come true."
Two ounces behind Lane was Mike McClelland of Bella Vista, Ark., with 19-8. McClelland is no stranger to success on Oklahoma fisheries. He won an Elite event on Grand Lake — which he said fishes similar to Gibson — in 2006.
In fourth was Pat Golden of High Point, N.C., with 18-15. Rounding out the top five was Jared Lintner of Arroyo Grande, Calif., with 18-5.
With the Angler of the Year race getting near the regular-season finish line, points leader Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., dug deep and stopped his temporary skid, boating 15-11 for 19th place. His closest competition in the AOY rankings, Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., registered a 43rd-place showing with 13-3. If it holds, Reese would gain significant ground heading into the postseason.
Kevin VanDam, winner of the past two Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year, continues his charge and was in eighth. With Postseason spots (top 12) and Bassmaster Classic spots (top 37) being determined this week, many pros are biting fingernails. The list of qualifiers will be determined on the final day of competition on Sunday.
The last time BASS visited Ft. Gibson was in October 2008 for the now-defunct 2008 BASS Club World Championship.
For the first two days of competition, weigh-ins will be held at Sequoyah Bay. Daily launches will be conducted from there as well. The public is invited to attend the all festivities surrounding the event. Launches will begin at 7:30 a.m. ET and weigh-ins will take place at 4:30 p.m. ET.
Weekend festivities will kick off Saturday and Sunday at Three Forks Harbor, 5201 Three Forks Rd., Fort Gibson, Okla., 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.