BROKEN ARROW, Okla. — While the win was expected, what with his 9-pound, 15-ounce lead, it didn’t come easy for Tommy Biffle.
The Wagoner, Okla., Elite Series pro caught an 11-8 limit Saturday for a three-day total of 45-13, good enough to win the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River by over 8 pounds.
“It was a slow day,” said Biffle, one of few accessing productive shallow water with a jet drive outboard boat. “I didn’t get my first bite until about 10:20, where I’ve been getting my fish by 9 o’clock on the other days. It was cloudy early, and that’s probably what kept the fish from biting.”
Biffle estimates he caught 20 fish during the course of the day, including drum and shorts. He was throwing a Biffle Bug during the entire event.
“I wasn’t liking it for a while,” he said. “I thought I’d be done by 9:30, so I was beginning to worry a little bit.”
Lendell Martin of Nacogdoches, Texas, started the day in second with 24-6, almost 10 pounds behind Biffle. He rolled the dice and ran to a new area hoping to find fish that hadn’t been pressured during the tournament, but managed to catch only three fish weighing 5-9, dropping him into seventh.
“I just didn’t get many bites today,” Martin said. “I’d been catching all my biggest fish in the middle of the day, and today I didn’t get that bite. I did hook a huge fish in the brush that I went back and forth with, and when its face came out of the water it about scared me.”
That fish turned out to be a 35-pound catfish.
The big move of the day came from San Jose, Calif., pro Chris Zaldain with 14-15, the biggest of the day and good enough to bump him from seventh to second with 37-4. While most of the other anglers in the tournament were focusing on rocks and wood, Zaldain was fishing grass, something he’s more familiar with from his experience out west.
“I spent two days in practice in this one particular creek that had a lot of grass,” Zaldain said. “I knew all the other guys were going to focus on rocks and stumps, so I went the complete opposite. The first thing I noticed when I went in there were all the bluegills.”
Zaldain spent his entire three days flipping the edges of the grass mats and paying close attention to when the nearby locks would open and close. He was fishing a Sweet Beaver in Sprayed Grass color on 60-pound braided line and a medium heavy flippin’ stick.
“It’s a small little creek, and when the locks would open it would create current and the water would move out and then it would move back in. When the current changed, that’s when I’d get bit,” Zaldain said.
Fishing with Zaldain was co-angler leader Matt McMillan of Fort Worth, Texas. Unlike his pro partner, he didn’t catch his limit, coming to the scales with two fish weighing 3-6, dropping him back to fourth place with 16-13.
“It was frustrating, and looking at the limit Adrian got, I don’t know that a third fish would have done me any good,” McMillan said.
Starting the day in fifth place on the co-angler side was Adrian Smiley of Bossier City, La., who was fishing with pro Janet Parker. Smiley was leading after Day One with 8-14 and caught 9-2 on the final day to win with a total of 20-10.
“It took us until noon to find this one rock point that was holding some fish, and about an hour before weigh-in, Janet threw in with a jig, sets the hook and rod bends over and she yells for the net, and it turned out to be a drum” Smiley said. “I was throwing a KD 1.5 and threw back in the same spot and turned it two times and the rod loaded up and I said, ‘I got one too.’ It turned out to be a 4.5 pounder.”
Parker started the day in 12th place, so they were the first to weigh-in. Smiley had to spend the rest of the weigh-in on stage on the hot seat sweating everyone else’s catch.
“I knew all these guys are good, so I was a little stressed up there. I just feel very fortunate. This is an amazing place to fish,” Smiley said.
Clayton Coppin of Wagoner, Okla., finished second among co-anglers with 18-15, includgin 6-2 on Saturday. Copping won the co-angler division in the first Central Open in Lewisville, Texas.
Although Biffle was pleased with the victory, he missed securing a spot in the Bassmaster Classic that goes with an Open win and participation in all three events within the division. A sponsor commitment prevented him from fishing at Lewisville.