Tommy Biffle had to almost shout to be heard over the wind.
“Practicing … Bassmaster Classic. Wind … hear.” The reporter who had reached him on his cell phone caught only a few words.
Biffle was bucking what he later explained were winds of 20 to 25 mph. He said he welcomed the challenges of fishing against that wind. Between now and the Feb. 22-24 Bassmaster Classic presented by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tulsa out of Tulsa, he wants to put in as much fishing time as possible, preferably in adverse weather. Conditioning, he called it.
That windy day was in early January, and he was on Tenkiller Lake near his home in Wagoner, Okla., not on Classic competition waters of Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees. Grand Lake has been off limits to Classic qualifiers since Dec. 10. Biffle scouted Grand for about a week’s time before cutoff, and then shifted his practice sessions to Tenkiller and other lakes near his home. As experienced an angler as he is, Biffle had not put in much time on Oklahoma waters in winter.
“It’s for the Classic. It’s important,” Biffle said. “I know I’ve spent more time scouting and practicing for this Classic than for any other Classic. I’m not out for a Top 10, I’m going to fish it to win. That’s how I approach any Classic, but it would be great to win this one. I’ve come in second twice in a Classic (1990 and 1993) and three times in the FLW Cup, so it would be redemption to win this one here in Oklahoma.”
Biffle is one of only three anglers who could win a Classic crown at home in 2013. The other two are Edwin Evers, who lives in Talala, Okla., and Jason Christie from Park Hill, Okla. (Another of the 53 qualifiers, Mike McClelland, who won a 2006 Bassmaster Elite Series event on Grand Lake, is just a hop away in Bella Vista, Ark.
An Oklahoma winner would join a very exclusive club. That club’s sole member is Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala. When he won the Classic on Alabama’s Lay Lake in 2007, Duckett became the first to get it done in his own backyard.
“To win a Classic anywhere is unbelievable,” said Duckett, who has qualified for every Classic since that 2007 win with the exception of a 2012 blip. He’ll be back in 2013. “It’s sweeter to win in your home state and especially for me because it hadn’t been done.”
Duckett contends that a home-state advantage in the Bassmaster Classic can come into play, but not in the way that some people might imagine. But for the most part, he said, the advantage doesn’t exist. Experience on a lake isn’t enough in today’s Classic. Competitors are more highly skilled. Anglers are better than ever at picking apart an unfamiliar fishery. Besides, Duckett pointed out, the Classic is so important that many qualifiers devote weeks to practice and study.
“Classic waters have become like everyone’s home lake,” added Duckett.
So how’d Duckett do it? The short answer: The weather changed. Duckett knew Lay Lake well enough to know where the bass moved when the water warmed up quickly.
Such an overnight change, Duckett said, is just about the only factor that gives a local angler an advantage in a Classic.
“A home-lake angler can make good, on-the-fly decisions when conditions change rapidly,” said the 2007 champ.
Perhaps the Classic competitor most likely to bring such an advantage into play is Christie. He grew up fishing Grand Lake. He’s won, by his off-the-cuff estimate, 15 or 20 local tournaments over the past 15 years. Knowing a fishery that well can help you, but such knowledge can turn on you, he said.
“Say things aren’t working out. You have a hundred places you know you can go. By the end of the day, you’ve spent most of the day driving place to place and not fishing,” he said.
Biffle and Evers have many Classics under their belts. For Evers, 2013 will be his 12th; for Biffle, his 18th. Both are looking for their first Classic win. Likewise for Christie, but with a twist: Grand Lake will be his Classic debut.
“It’s a lot of pressure. I expect myself to do well, not to mention the pressure from friends and all the local guys,” said Christie, who claimed his Classic berth by winning a 2012 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Opens Series event on the Detroit River. He then went on to win yet another Open in 2012 — near home on Fort Gibson Lake. At season’s end, he had enough Northern points for an Elite invitation, and he opted in.
His unfolding Elite career might be one reason Christie broke his rule about never pre-fishing. He spent considerable time on Grand Lake before the off-limits period began.
“I felt like, with the lake being so close, I needed to so I could give myself a better chance,” Christie said.
Evers also scouted Grand Lake. Like most scouts, he drove the boat and mapped and marked, then turned around and did it again. His electronics’ trip counter surpassed 2,200 miles. From that scouting time and from the two Elite competitions on Grand, he knows the lake, he said, but not like Christie or others might know it.
“When you grow up fishing a lake, you fish every team tournament, every weekend, and you see what happens throughout the year on a body of water. I’ve not had that experience on Grand,” said Evers, who has called northeastern Oklahoma home for about seven years.
Evers is looking forward to representing his adopted state. At the same time, he’s on guard against the home-lake sirens that can lead an angler astray. Fishing too fast is one, he said.
“And I have to make sure I’m ‘fishing the fish,’ not memories of where the fish were,” he added.
Evers can only guess how he’d feel if he won his first Classic title at home.
“To be able to do it with all your friends and family there would be the most perfect scenario you could ever, ever ask for,” he said.
Tommy Biffle had to almost shout to be heard over the wind.
'Twice as Nice'
When it comes to the 3A State Tournament and Oklahoma City, the Verdigris High School basketball teams are a household name.
Head coaches Randy Upshaw and Mike Buntin lead their programs back to the 'Capitol City' this week for a chance to hoist the coveted 3A state championship on Saturday night at the Big House.
Cards fly into 3A State Tournament
Verdigris junior guard Cade Upshaw lives for March Madness.
The 5-foot-10 sharp-shooter overcame a sluggish performance in a loss to Tahlequah Sequoyah to bounce back for a 20-point outing in the Cardinals’ 72-42 win over Antlers Saturday evening in the Class 3A Area Tournament at Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Vinita eliminates Inola
Vinita used an 18-point third quarter — highlighted by the sophomore leadership of Carsyn Spurgeon — and converted 21-of-34 free throws to notch a 61-55 win over the Inola Lady Longhorns Saturday night in the Class 4A Area Tournament.
‘Soaring to State’
In the hometown of Carrie Underwood, Verdigris senior point guard Baileigh O’Dell proved to be Oklahoma’s ‘Basketball Idol’ in Class 3A Girls Basketball.
The 5-foot-8 floor general put the No. 4-ranked Lady Cardinals on her shoulders and carried Verdigris back to the the state tournament with the 53-40 win over No. 5 Tahlequah Sequoyah Friday night in the Area Championship at the Checotah Event Center.
CLASS 4A AREA TOURNEY: Stilwell advances to State
A jam-packed, vocal crowd — aided by the control of several Claremore Police officers — witnessed Stilwell’s come-from-behind 57-51 win over Harrah Saturday night in the must-win game of the Class 4A Area Tournament at the Claremore High School Gymnasium.
MLB: Furcal mounting comeback with Miami Marlins
Coming off surgery to his throwing elbow, Rafael Furcal showed the Miami Marlins he can still deliver a sales pitch.
After sitting out the 2013 season, the 36-year-old infielder met last fall with Marlins executives Mike Hill and Dan Jennings and convinced them he could be their second baseman this year.
NFL: Redskins, Cowboys released from salary cap jail
When the Washington Redskins were placed in salary cap jail by the NFL, Kedric Golston had to say goodbye to his best friend on the team.
For the past two years, the Redskins and Dallas Cowboys - otherwise rivals to the bitter end in the NFC East - have been constrained by a much-disputed ruling limiting how much money they could spend on players.
NFL: Jets release WR Santonio Holmes after 4 seasons
Tone Time is over for the New York Jets.
The Jets parted ways with wide receiver Santonio Holmes on Monday, cutting the talented but injury-plagued playmaker after four seasons.
The move, which had been expected, saves the Jets $8.25 million, which Holmes was due to make as his base salary this season. He was also scheduled to have a $10.75 million cap number, a lofty total for a one-time Super Bowl MVP who has struggled with injuries and inconsistency the last two seasons.
NFL: Seattle re-signs DE Michael Bennett
Free agent defensive end Michael Bennett is returning to Seattle after agreeing to a multi-year deal with the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
Terms of the contract were not immediately available on Monday. Bennett was considered one of the top free agents in the NFL after a breakout season with the Seahawks where he led the team in sacks and proved a versatile option as a defensive end and defensive tackle.
High School Basketball State Tournament Brackets
The Oklahoma High School Basketball State Tournaments will get under way this week in Oklahoma City and the Tulsa-Metro Area.
Below is a listing of the Class 3A-6A State Tournament Pairings.
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