Left in Biffle's wake

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DECATUR, Ala. — When Tommy Biffle heads into the last day of any tournament in the top spot, it's hard to build up much suspense in the outcome.True to form, Biffle slam-dunked the final round here in the Evan Williams Bourbon Dixie Duel on Sunday with a stringer that weighed almost 15 pounds and gave him a 4½-pound bulge over runner-up Casey Ashley .Biffle's performance was one of the few constants in the weather-plagued event, which was shortened to three days because of windy onditions on Friday. More a workhorse than a show horse, Biffle found bass exactly where he wanted them to be, and proceeded to load the boat using the lures and presentations that have made him a millionaire in the Elite Series pro ranks.In the process, he left other pros thinking about what might have been and wondering if they made the best decisions in a tournament where the normal spring patterns just never seemed to stick.


Among the casualties that fell to the wayside was Takahiro Omori, who did manage to instill some sense of the dramatic in the final round when he left the launch site only a shade under 3 pounds behind Biffle. Not only did Omori not overcome Biffle but was himself passed in the standings by Casey Ashley.Though Omori lost few fish prior to Sunday, they kept coming unbuttoned Sunday and perhaps cost him second place. He had a 3½-pounder pull off under a tree, bid adieu to a 4-pounder at the boat and had another good fish pull off before he could see it. He figured the three lost fish subtracted about 4 pounds from his last stringer.Save for Takahiro Omori's fall from grace, there were few dramatic changes in the standings. Some fishermen such as Rick Morris, Gary Klein and Mark Menendez were downright tickled by their top 12 finishes and enhanced point standings. Other anglers second-guessed themselves, however."It would have been better for me if I'd never fished this lake before," Randy Howell said. "The fishing slacked up for me Sunday morning and then I started thinking about all those old memories of the flats near Decatur and finally went that way. It was a mistake. I probably would have helped myself better if I'd stayed put, but I wasted some time running."Mike Iaconelli seemed to bear out Howell's contention that this tournament benefitted the newbies who never heard of the Decatur Flats, much less fished them. Actually, Iaconelli has fished four tournaments at Wheeler, but they occurred in post-spawn periods of late spring or early summer when the flats were just part of the fishing package.

"If there was one thing I wish I had done differently, it was to fish new water every day," Ike said. "I'd catch a good fish somewhere and go back expecting to catch another, and it didn't happen. I caught my best fish when I was fishing new water.Though perhaps Iaconelli's new-water pattern was more a product of coincidence rather than anything scientific, he also couldn't rationalize why he seemed to catch hefty stringers junk-fishing when others doing the same thing never got the kicker fish they needed to keep them in contention.Iaconneli's lure selection — shakyhead jigs and worms, and a Laser Lure crankbait in an unusual black and blue pattern — was mainly responsible for his catch, but Iaconellis's laid-back approach to junk-fishing spots that simply looked good to him was equally important.


Which doesn't help explain why the human shoreline vacuum cleaner, Kevin VanDam, didn't do better and wound up in 45th place.VanDam had what was for him a miserable tournament, in more ways than one. He defended his decision to stick with shallow water, though he admitted he should have changed water more often. For the most part, VanDam stayed fairly close to Ingalls Harbor, mainly because he fished spots where he found success in past tournaments, and because he was suffering flu-like symptoms through much of the week."I'm about as sick as I've ever been in a tournament," said the Michigan pro. "I'm not making any excuses, though. I had a game plan that I thought would work for me and I did the best I could. I lost a 5-pounder just before it was time to come in, but who didn't this week? It just didn't come together for me."



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