Biffle, who joined the top 12 pros Friday on a pre-set course on the Alabama River, is fishing with the goal of qualifying for this summer's CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer, the world championship culmination of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer. If he finishes the four-event Elite 50 points race in the top 10, he will earn one of the coveted berths to his home water, Lake Wylie, S.C. At the moment, he believes he is in fine shape.
"I've done what I set out to do," Biffle said. "I've made the cut, so I'm going to get the good points. I got five bonus points yesterday for leading it, so I should be in good shape to make the Classic."
Biffle and the rest of the top six pros after Friday's round will fish in Saturday's finals in the same pre-set course near Catoma Creek. The course format lends an additional strategic element to bass fishing's normally straightforward competition.
As the leader, Biffle was first to select his starting area in the six-hole course for Saturday. Although each angler gets an hour and 20 minutes on each section, there is a distinct advantage in being the first angler to fish a good spot during the day, essentially getting the first crack at the area's largest (or more catchable) bass.
During the selection meeting, Biffle selected Hole One, widely regarded as the pick of the bass fishing litter. Second-place angler Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., caught 12-2 on Friday and selected Hole Six, which allows him to fish Hole One immediately after Biffle. The rest of the top six anglers stacked up in order behind him, although they had a few novel suggestions for BASS tournament director Trip Weldon.
"Why don't we all fish that hole all day?" asked Floridian Dean Rojas, who is in third with 11-12 and selected Hole Five.
"A shotgun start," Auten suggested.
In all seriousness, Oklahoma's Edwin Evers, who was left to start in Hole Two, admitted that his visit to Hole One in the last rotation of the day was a disappointment but not unanticipated.
"It doesn't matter," said Evers, who qualified for the 2004 Classic through the CITGO Bassmaster Open series presented by Busch Beer. "It's (Hole Two) where I started today."
Evers said he is focused on fishing for a big chunk of the Elite 50's $1.6 million prize purse, now that the pressure to make the Classic is off his shoulders.
"It takes a bunch of pressure off," Evers said. "It allows you to swing more freely and to take more chances. It can be a bad thing, too. If I was struggling to make the Classic, I'd probably push harder at times."
In addition to Biffle, Auten, Rojas and Evers, the rest of the top six is rounded out by veteran pro Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo., who caught 10-13, mostly with his trademark jig, and Arkansas' Mark Davis, who is capping his victory at the last Elite 50 with a 10-3 effort and fifth place.
Although only the top 12 fished the separate course on Friday, the remaining anglers had the opportunity to improve their positions in the tournament standings for 13th through 49th place. (50th place is reserved for Florida's Shaw Grigsby Jr., who competed in the first Elite 50 but had to withdraw from the remaining events in order to recover from heart surgery.) The two $1,000 incentive prizes awarded by BASS sponsors went to anglers in the larger field Friday.
Alton Jones of Waco, Texas, hauled in a 5-pound, 9-ounce brute to earn the $1,000 Purolator Big Bass of the Day Award. However, it wasn't enough for him to unseat fellow Texan Kelly Jordon, whose 6-9 lunker from day one looks good to earn the $1,000 Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament bonus.
It was a vindication for Stacey King of Reeds Spring, Mo., on Friday when he brought in 18-1 to earn the Busch Heavyweight award, given to the angler with the largest sack of fish each day of the event. King and a BASS staff member reported on Thursday that a man fired a weapon in their direction while King fished the bank near the man's property. On Friday, King said he had determined not to be shaken by the previous day's events.
"I had already made up my mind that I was going to fish fresh water," said King, who did not return to the same spot Friday. "I believe that if it messes up your thinking, you're not going to do well."
His huge catch in Friday's round certainly supported that argument.
Saturday's launch will take place at Cooters Pond at 10 a.m. The final weigh-in, including a fireworks display, will begin at 7:15 p.m. at the Stanley-Jensen Stadium and is free to the public.
Fans can catch the third event of the Bassmaster Elite 50 series on the Alabama River in two parts, Saturday, June 12 and Saturday, June 19 at 10:30 a.m. ET/9:30 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
The Bassmaster CastingKids program sponsored by CITGO will be held in conjunction with the BASS Sponsor Expo Saturday, June 5, from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. at the Stanley-Jensen Stadium. Children between the ages of 7 and 14 can participate in the contest with the chance to earn scholarships. The event and instruction to youngsters will be facilitated by the Alabama BASS Federation.
A popular component of the CITGO Bassmaster Tour events this season is the highly interactive and family-friendly BASS Sponsor Expo area. Sponsors present interactive exhibits and provide a fun family experience for all ages. The Expos take place from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. on Saturday at the Stanley-Jensen Stadium.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.
Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Skeeter Boats, Mercury Marine, Yamaha Outboards, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Lowrance Electronics, Flowmaster Exhaust Systems, MotorGuide, Bass Pro Shops, and BankOne.
Associate Sponsors include G3 Boats.
Local Sponsors include the Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce and the City of Prattville.
MR. BASS RETURNS BASS founder Ray Scott will be on hand during Saturday's launch to meet fans, sign autographs, and share a few words of wisdom with the top six pros over breakfast. Scott, known for his outspokenness and iconic cowboy hat, will meet fans beginning at 9:30 a.m. at Cooters Pond, prior to the 10 a.m. anglers' launch.
LOTS FOR KIDS In addition to the Bassmaster CastingKids event at the BASS Sponsor Expo, the City of Prattville and the Alabama Department of Conservation are offering a free children's fishing derby. The Kids Fish Fest will be held in two sessions, from 8 to 11 a.m. and 12 to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Two hundred free tickets will be offered at Pratt Park Pond to the first comers for both sessions.
"We stocked the pond with 4,000 pounds of fish and the senior adults fished today," said Drew Peterson, director of Prattville's Department of Leisure Services. "The kids will just fish tomorrow. We work with the Department. of Conservation to promote fishing and they come out and work it with us. They provide lures to people who don't have them, and tackle."
LOTS FOR TOTS The United States Marine Corps got some support from anglers' wives this week and showed up at Friday's weigh-in to say thanks.
Many of the pro's wives were represented by Judy Martin, wife of BASS legend Roland Martin, who presented Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jason Smith with more than $400 worth of toys for the USMC's Toys for Tots program.
"It's Christmas in June," Martin said. "All the fishermen, all the observers and their families contributed not just toys, but money. We just want to do something good for these communities."
Smith accepted the toys and the crowd's standing ovation on behalf of the Marine Corps.
"This is something the Marine Corps has done every year to give back to the community, to give back to kids in the community, to give them something to believe in," Smith said. "In the Marine Corps, we believe in taking care of our own."
The toys, which are collected year 'round, are distributed to children during the holiday season. Martin invited the crowd to make their own contributions, which they may leave at the BASS merchandise booth at Stanley-Jensenn Stadium. Smith added that toys may be left at any U.S. Marine Corps recruiting station or base throughout the year.
For more information, call BASS Communications at (334) 551-2375 or visit Bassmaster.com.