|It's Spring Forward Time For Biffle:|
All Bass Anglers Can Benefit From The Pitch Man
Veteran professional bass angler Tommy Biffle gets teased a lot by today's younger pros, some making fun of his throwback shorts, others wanting to know if he's heard from Grecian Formula about a sponsorship yet, and a few offering to help carry his bag of fish from the boat to the scales.
Now at age 51, and with aching back and creaking knees from more than 30 years of standing and running a trolling motor in all kinds of weather, it was Biffle who was laughing and holding the trophy overhead at the end of the recent Bassmaster Elite Series tournament held on Alabama's Wheeler Reservoir.
The story here isn't about another tournament win though; it's more about Biffle providing a demonstrative reminder on what bass do in the spring and how the old school basics of flipping and pitching are still among the very best ways to catch them.
While Dee Thomas and Dave Gliebe from out west are credited with the start of flipping, it was Biffle who gets credit for introducing the technique known as "pitching." In both techniques, long heavy-action rods are used to present baits accurately and softly to specific targets, typically thick cover. Pitching differs from flipping in that the reel is actually used to payout line, allowing the angler to reach farther distances.
Longtime outdoor writer Mark Hicks says Biffle is truly the "godfather of pitching." "If you ever spend a day in a boat with Tommy Biffle, as I have, you'll be amazed by how effortlessly he pitches his baits precisely on target every cast," Hicks said.
Mark Zona, ESPN Outdoors, got his own in-the-field lesson recently. He spent some time observing Biffle during the Wheeler tournament while cameras rolled for the Bassmaster television series about the event.
"It was an honor to have witnessed this epic unfold," Zona said. "Pre-spawn conditions, rising water and warming temperatures … things could not have been set up any better in the Biffle wheelhouse than what they were. As throwback as pitching is, Tommy used every piece of modern equipment available to totally shred each piece of visible cover to the fullest extent. He is truly at the top of the list of anglers when it comes to this time of year and technique. Sure glad I didn't have to fish behind him."
Even the most casual bass anglers understand that bass get especially active in springtime as waters warm and spawning season approaches. What typically contributes to the feast or famine of catching them often comes in the form of weather variables, usually cold fronts and/or rain. As water rises from spring runoff, bass move up with the new water levels. Falling water moves the fish to deeper confines.
"My eyes really lit up when I saw the water was coming up in the shallow spawning pockets I was targeting on Wheeler," explained Biffle. "While the cold front and rain cooled water temps from the 60s back into the 50s, I knew they would warm again quickly, so I stayed with my plan."
On the first day of the rise, he found the fish to be extremely aggressive, chasing his lures swum through the freshly flooded grass and bushes. However, as the water stabilized on day two, and then receded overnight leading into day three, the fish held much tighter to cover and needed more coaxing to bite.
"When the water level dropped about 8 inches overnight, I was surprised to find the majority of my fish still holding in cover at the edge instead of moving to isolated pieces away from the banks as usually happens. This was fun for me."
Biffle used his signature series Quantum 7'6" Flipping stick in extra-heavy action for his presentation. The rod is custom designed to his specs, as is the case with all PT rods in Quantum's signature series lineup. The company allowed each of their top-tier prostaffers to develop their specialty rods exactly as they wanted them, with the understanding the rods would also be made available to the fishing public. Biffle's specialty rods, along with those of Kevin VanDam, Gary Klein, Greg Hackney, Shaw Grigsby, Gerald Swindle and Dean Rojas can be found at www.QuantumFishing.com and then clicking on "Custom Shop."
"A flipping stick allows you to precisely put a bait into the deepest part of cover, but what good is that if you can't get a fish out of there?" he asked. "Custom made to my specs, my rod is extra stiff to give me the upper hand in getting a fish out of cover fast, yet is also super sensitive to detect even the lightest bites."
For this particular application, Biffle uses a Quantum Tour Edition baitcast reel, the "Burner" model, featuring a high-speed 7:1 gear ratio. He says the fast retrieve is an asset for getting his bait back quickly and into another spot, adding to the number of pitches he can make in a day's time.
"Some make fun of my broomstick-action rod, but I guarantee this isn't like the flipping sticks of old that many remember being so stiff, heavy and unbalanced. I spent a lot of time with Quantum's product engineers to get this rod's weight distributed exactly where it needs to be so the angler's hand is the fulcrum point. The advancement in rod materials, plus the new and lighter Tour Edition reel makes this whole combo amazingly lightweight."
His line of choice is 25 lb. Sun Line Shooter. He keeps three baits on the ready, alternating as necessary to meet the moods of the fish. One is Reaction Innovation's Sweet Beaver, a soft plastic "creature" bait. Biffle rigs it on a 4/0 BMF hook with a pegged 5/16-ounce Tru-Tungsten sinker. Another is a 3/8-ounce Triple Rattleback jig, fitted with a 5" Larew Biffle Craw, typically in black and blue. The third is the 8.5" Larew Biffle-O Lizard. He rigs it on an Owner 5/0 Wide-Gap offset hook, again with sinker pegged for fishing the shallow cover.
"Black neon is always a good color for soft plastics fished in stained water, and usually my first choice to try," Biffle added.
As for where to start, Biffle says it depends entirely on the body of water and the stage it is in. "The north end of a lake, or at least the northern pockets and banks, warm first in spring. I'm constantly watching my temperature gauge looking for the warmest sur