Unless you’ve been living under a rock for nearly 30 years there’s no doubt you’ve heard the name Tommy Biffle. Having made a living bass fishing since his first event on the St Lawrence River in New York, Biffle is one of the stalwarts of the sport – rarely out of contention rarely going home without a check.
As Classic XLIV approached, Tommy Biffle had made the big show 18 times – Guntersville was his 19th appearance in the sport’s most-heralded championship. That’s batting 660 folks – a darn good average.
After 305 Bassmaster events, 92 FLW tournaments, and countless other tournaments with other organizations, he’s finished in the money better than 60% of the time. A consistent angler without a doubt.
Prior to the event I had a chance to talk to Tommy about how he got his start bass fishing. Like many, he grew up fishing with his dad and that parlayed into a love for the sport which eventually led to him making it a profession. This story is about his early years, some of the first big events he fished and Classics past.
Meet at the First Pond
“I was probably four or five years old when I started fishing with my dad,” Biffle said. “We had a cabin on a lake and those were some of my first memories of fishing.
“We also lived in an area that had four or five ponds close by. My friends and I would call each other after school or on the weekend and say, ‘let’s meet at the first pond, let’s meet at the second pond or let’s meet at the ocean pond.’ We had all the ponds named like that, you know. We fished all the time.
“We fished for everything but bass were our favorite. Crappie and catfish were good to eat but they weren’t fun to catch. Bass were fun to catch.
After a while he started getting the itch to compete. Biffle had been a competitive archer since the age of 12 and competition was in his blood. It was only natural for him to move into competitive bass fishing.
“I shot competitive archery through my early 20s,” he said. “I just like to compete. I fished my first jackpot when I was 15 years old with a guy everyone called Little Bill. Everyone wanted to fish with Little Bill because he had a bass boat that had a car engine in it. I think it was a 454 or something like that. It was a jet and I think it was called a Lunker. That was a long time ago.
The Move to Pro
“After I’d fished a few jackpots, I moved on to some of the bigger local events,” Biffle said. “Then after I got out of high school and got a good job I told my dad I wanted to buy a bass boat. He said, ‘go ahead.’ So I bought my first Ranger and I’ve been in one ever since.”
Biffle graduated from local jackpots to events like Poor Boy and Red Man. But he got a big lift in his first true national event.
“The first national event I fished was either Western Bass or US Bass (Editor’s Note: Western Bass changed to US Bass in 1984) on Table Rock. That’s where I got my start.
“A buddy of mine who fished Table Rock a lot talked me into going and told me he’d show me where to fish. After riding in the boat with him for two days we didn’t have anything to show for it. I’d been seeing brush all over the shoreline and told him, ‘bud, I gotta go over there and fish those bushes.’
“We went over to the shoreline and every bush had a fish in it.
“Guido (Hibdon) won that tournament, I came in second and I think Denny (Brauer) came in third. We all caught our fish flipping.
“At that time I was fishing some tournament it seemed every weekend.”
Biffle started with the Bassmaster Tour in 1985 but it took him a year before he’d qualify for his first Bassmaster Classic in 1987 on the Ohio River.
“That Classic was special,” he said. “There was over 5000 people that went to the launch every day. It was mind blowing at the time. Compared to now, I don’t if I’ve ever seen that kind of turnout.
“It was an exciting time for me. It was all brand new. I finished in the top 20. It was a good tournament but it was really tough because it was on the Ohio River.” (Editor’s Note: Biffle finished 17th with 7-01, just ahead of Denny Brauer. George Cochran won with a then-record-setting low weight of 15-05).
Biffle reflected back on Classics past. Like every angler out there, it’s the ones that slipped away that haunt him.
“I should have won two of them,” he said. “I came in second place twice. The first time it was to Bryan Kerchal in 1994. I don’t think I missed any fish in that tournament and he beat me by a couple of ounces.
“The second time, though, I had a 9-pound lead going into the final day. That was on the James River in 1990. We had a giant rain and it muddied the water up. It turned my area red. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have even slowed down. I would have gone right past my area and just fished and won the Classic. Instead I stayed and caught one fish. But Clunn caught the biggest limit to have ever been weighed on the James at the time and beat me.
“The Classic has changed a lot since those early days,” Biffle said. “The weigh-ins have a lot more people and they’re much more of a show. It’s still exciting – I get excited when we start to come into the stage area and on the first day launch. Maybe not after the first fish but you bet I get excited after I boat my fifth. It’s a special event.”
After nearly 30 years on tour Biffle doesn’t seem to be quitting anytime soon. Within the last five years he’s upped his game placing 10th place or better in 17 events. Amongst those finishes he has nine top 5s, a 3rd, a 2nd and four wins. Without a doubt we’ll see him in the winner’s circle in the future and I’m sure his early days fishing the “ocean pond” played well into how he developed as one of the sport’s top anglers.