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Fort Gibson Central Open Is A Race For Points And Classic Berths


The second Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate heads to Fort Gibson Lake out of Wagoner, Okla., Sept. 10-12., where a field of 172 pro anglers will compete for the top spot and a berth in 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.

Photo by James Overstreet/B.A.S.S.

September 3, 2015

Fort Gibson Central Open Is A Race For Points And Classic Berths


WAGONER, Okla. — Every angler who fishes all three tournaments in any of the three Bassmaster Open divisions shares the same dream. That dream is to win one of the events and qualify for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro.

For Bassmaster Elite Series pro Tommy Biffle, the upcoming Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Central Open presented by Allstate at Fort Gibson Lake could be a dream come true — or a nightmare.

With 19 Bassmaster Classic appearances, seven Bassmaster victories and more than $2 million in winnings, Biffle’s storied career has been a model of consistency. That has not been the case in 2015. With the regular Elite Series season complete, he finds himself in 87th place, well below the Top 50 cutoff for Elite anglers vying for Classic spots and Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year prize money.

His last hope of qualifying for the 2016 Classic at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees lies in winning the Fort Gibson Open.

This is anything but a long shot for Biffle, however. He has been fishing Fort Gibson for more than four decades, has a home on the lake and handily won an Elite Series tournament there in June 2010 with a four-day total of 73 pounds, 11 ounces.

Then again, Biffle finished fourth when he fished a Bassmaster Central Open at Fort Gibson in 2012. Fellow Oklahoman and Elite Series pro Jason Christie won that tournament with a weight of 40-15.

The disparity between the two winning weights is due to the timing of the events. June typically yields good bass fishing. Not so for September.

“September is the worst month to fish here … and just about anywhere,” Biffle said.

Before he left home for the recent Elite Series tournament at Lake St. Clair, he found the fishing at Fort Gibson to be “pretty tough.” He believes it will take 40 to 45 pounds to win the Central Open here.

Drastically fluctuating water levels could make the fishing especially challenging during the Open.

“The lake was 28 feet high most of the summer,” Biffle said. “Then it got down to 9 feet high and then back up to 18. It was still high when I left for Lake St. Clair.” If the lake stabilizes near normal pool, the fishing will improve, he believes. “When the lake gets high, it scatters the fish,” he said.

At normal lake levels, bass gang up on rocks, brushpiles and offshore sweet spots. Because Biffle knows where many of these places exist at Fort Gibson, stable water lets him make the most of his home field advantage.

When bass hang offshore at Gibson, they rarely go deeper than 15 feet. This makes them easy targets for the Gene Larew Biffle Bug/Biffle Hardhead combination that Biffle used to catch every one of his fish during the previous two Bassmaster events he fished here.

Should high water scatter the bass, Biffle’s home field advantage is reduced, giving his competitors a better shot at victory.

Consider that Christie caught his bass less than 2 feet deep when he won the Central Open here in 2012. He relied on a Rebel Wee-R crankbait, a Heddon One Knocker Spook and a Yum Wooly Bug to pick off bass from isolated rocks and any other cover he could find on shallow flats. Christie will be fishing the upcoming Fort Gibson Open, too.

Elite Series pro Scott Ashmore, another Oklahoman, has not entered this tournament, but he has fished many events at Fort Gibson over the past 25 years.

“I prefer to fish Gibson when the water’s high,” Ashmore said. “You can catch them by flipping willow trees and fishing docks.”

Kevin Ledoux, another Oklahoma Elite Series pro, who is not fishing Fort Gibson next week, claims the river bite could be good if the water is high. He expects slow fishing and predicts bass will be scattered at depths ranging from the shallows out to 12 feet deep.

“It’s no fluke that Biffle won at Gibson with a Biffle Bug,” Ledoux said. “Throwing a Biffle Bug and a big Texas worm to brushpiles could be what wins.” He also believes that fishing shallow rocks with a square bill crankbait might produce the winning catch.

Whether the bass are stacked offshore or scattered, Biffle is sure to pull out all stops to win. In his 2010 Fort Gibson win, he famously skipped practice to mow his lawn. Overconfidence may have been his downfall in 2012, but don’t expect him to make the same mistake again.

“I’ve got to win this one to make it to the Classic,” Biffle said. “I’ll be after it from the start this time.”

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