The home-field advantage was in full effect on Friday at the Bass Pro Shops PAA Tournament Series presented by Carrot Stix on the Arkansas River in Muskogee, Okla.
Heading in to the second day of competition, North Carolina’s Guy Eaker held a slim lead over hometown favorite Tommy Biffle, but a host of other river experts and local pros including Chris Jones, Mark Rose, Mark Tyler, Billy McCaghren and Jason Christie were lurking in the top 10.
Friday brought a change in the weather as well as change at the top of the leader board. After already suffering through six days of 100+ degree temperatures in the month of September, the temperature in Muskogee topped out in the mid 60s with persistent rain showers throughout the day.
That did little to cool off Tommy Biffle, to put together the tournament’s heaviest limit weighing 16.37 pounds on Friday to boost his total weight to 30.49 pounds with one day of competition remaining. He will enter Saturday with a 4.36 pound lead over his closers pursuer, Mark Rose.
Thursday’s leader, Guy Eaker, struggled with the overcast conditions and was unable to back up his day one effort. He brought just three bass to the scales weighing 6.02 pounds to finish the tournament in 15th place with a total weight of 20.41.
“Well, this is kind of going like I planned it,” said Biffle after taking the lead in front of the crowd gathered at Three Forks Harbor. “I just need to make sure that I’m still in the lead after tomorrow.”
On Thursday, Biffle divulged that he made one pass through his primary area before backing off of his fish to save them for the remainder of the tournament. He returned to the same area on Friday but was met with less than stellar results. “The really didn’t bite well this morning,” he admitted. “I caught one early, but I didn’t catch my second keeper until 10:30 or 11:00.”
Tommy Biffle - Eagle Productions
Making a long run to an area that required ample idle time to access, Biffle said that his only option was to play the waiting game and hope that the bites would materialize. “I was really committed to that area, so I just went back down the bank and they started biting this afternoon.”
Throughout the day, Biffle said that he boated around a dozen keepers.
“The fish moved a little bit and got a little bit shallower than they had been,” he stated. Even though he has years of experience on the Arkansas River, Biffle's weight on Friday came from an area that he had never fished prior to this week.
“I’ve always known about it, but the area is just so hard to get to that I haven’t ever really needed to go there in the past. It takes me an hour to access the area after I shut down.” Biffle said that after a long run and even longer idle, he only had about five hours of actual fishing time on Friday.
“I really planned on doing something totally different tomorrow, but I was hoping that I’d have a little bit more than a four pound lead,” stated the Wagoner, Oklahoma pro. “It’s a gamble, so I’ll see how much it rains during the night and then make my decision. It’s already muddy where I’m fishing and I don’t know what will happen if it gets even muddier.”
Looking to chase down Biffle is West Memphis, Arkansas’ Mark Rose. After finishing Thursday in 4rd place with 12.37 pounds, Rose climbed up to 2nd place on Friday with another solid 13.76 pound effort to boost his total weight to 26.13 pounds.
While he had never seen the Webbers Falls Pool on the Arkansas River prior to the first day of official practice, the accomplished FLW Tour pro immediately felt at home on the river fishery. “The Arkansas River meets the Mississippi River down around where I live, so I’m familiar with how it fishes and I’m comfortable out here,” he explained.
Knowing that he has his work cut out for him if he is to track down Biffle on Saturday, Rose said that executing on kicker bites will be critical. “If I get a couple big bites, I might have a shot,” said Rose. “I fished really clean yesterday and caught both of the three pounders that bit me. Today, I had a really big fish in the grass that missed my bait twice. The potential is there to get a couple five pound bites, but I’m really just scratching and clawing to survive.”
Rose said that fished new water on Friday and relied on his instincts by targeting anything that looked good. He boated seven keepers over the course of the day and didn’t box a limit until after 1:00. “It’s a grind,” he concluded.
Sitting just .02 pounds behind Rose in 3rd place is Vian, Oklahoma’s Mark Tyler. The former Bassmaster Elite Series pro brought a 13.89 pound limit to the scales on Friday to increase his total weight to 26.11 pounds and remain within striking distance of the leaders.
“I fished different areas today and caught them early again,” said Tyler, who has boated a limit each of the first two days before 10:00. “After I put a limit in the boat, I backed off of my fish. The plan is to go back to a couple areas tomorrow and really see what’s in there.”
Nervous about the drastic weather changes, Tyler said that it really didn’t affect his bite at all. “I tried a lot of different techniques today anticipating what they should be biting under these conditions. Other than one key fish, the majority of my bites came on the same bait that I caught them on when it was sunny,” he explained.
Keying on what he described as a “compilation of past history and small milk runs,” Tyler admitted that he feels like catching Biffle will be nearly impossible on Saturday. “He’s a superstar,” said Tyler with a smile. “If this was a five day tournament I could outdistance the field with consistency, but I really don’t think that I can win right now.”
Alabama’s Steve Kennedy pieced together an impressive comeback after weighing a limit for just 9.71 pounds on Thursday. Kennedy’s 5.42 pound largemouth on Friday anchored his 15.43 pound limit that vaulted him up to 4th place.
“I’m just trying to qualify for the TTBC (Toyota Texas Bass Classic), so I’m not really worried about trying to win this tournament,” said an elated Kennedy. “I made up my mind that I was going to stay within sight of the ramp and fish for release fish.”
After boating a limit on Friday, Kennedy said that he went looking for a big bite. “I caught the big one with about an hour left in the day, and it came off of a stretch that I’d never fished before. I threw a little crankbait up there and the fish just choked it.”
Arkansas’ Mike McClelland earned the Humminbird/Minn Kota Big Bass award on Friday with a 5.44 pound largemouth.
With a total weight of 20.88 pounds, David Hendrick finished in 10th palace and was the last angler inside the top 10 cut to fish on championship Saturday.
On the co-angler side, Muskogee, Oklahoma’s Shannon Prophet took the victory with a total weight of 16.03 pounds. On Thursday, Prophet fished with Mark Tyler and weighed-in a three bass limit for 9.69 pounds that included a 5.48 pound kicker largemouth. He fished with Texas’ Justin Rackley on Friday and boated a three bass limit weighing 6.34 pounds.
“Mark (Tyler) really put me on fish yesterday,” said Prophet. “I’m really happy with the pros that I drew both days.” Throughout the tournament, Prophet relied on a Sweet Beaver, spinnerbait, and a tube. “I was actually thinking about fishing this tournament on the professional side, but I decided not to do that and it turned out to be a good decision,” he concluded.
Atlanta, Georgia’s Undre Montgomery also earned some hardware on Friday, taking home the Bass Pro Shops PAA Tournament Series presented by Carrot Stix Co-Angler Of the Year title. In the three regular season tournaments, Montgomery recorded finishes of 12th place at Old Hickory Lake, 18th place at Neely Henry Lake, and 12th place this week on the Arkansas River.
“I’ve fished a lot of different tournament trails, and this PAA Tournament Series is just top notch,” said Montgomery, who had never before fished any of the three bodies of water on the 2012 schedule. “I’m pleasantly surprised. I really didn’t even think about the Angler Of the Year at all during the season.”