by Jeff Samsel
I guess I should have thrown this at Smith Mountain,” said pro bass angler Tommy Biffle with a smirk. He twisted his hook out of the mouth of his fourth bass in as many casts.
The rig consisted of a Gene Larew Biffle Bug — a lure of the veteran pro’s own design — matched with a unique jighead that sported a hinged worm hook on a football-shaped head. A friend had been making the specialized heads for Biffle, and he had used some previously but had not combined one with a Biffle Bug. That was about to change — in a big way!
Biffle had told me about the head and noted that he had rigged it during the most recent Bassmaster Elite Series event at Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake but had not picked up the rod. A Biffle Bug had been the pro’s lure of choice during that tournament, but he had relied on Pearl Pepper Biffle Bugs, Texas rigged, and had pitched them to spawning fish that he could see.
Those four consecutive fish and a handful of others caught later in the same short afternoon gave Biffle real confidence in the rig, which he was dragging across the bottom at a semi-slow but steady clip. He liked the way it felt and the way the offering danced when he swam it just beneath the surface for observation. Most importantly, he was impressed with the way it caught fish. Biffle soon began to fish with rig more often, and every time he played with it, he gained more confidence. It ended up producing every fish he brought to the scales during the Elite Series event at Kentucky Lake.
But the breakthrough came at the Sooner Run in Oklahoma.
Biffle won the Sooner Run, which was moved to his home waters of Fort Gibson Lake because of flooding at the original venue. He caught all his fish by “bottom-buggin'” — a nickname coined by BassFan during its daily coverage of the Sooner Run. Later the term was adopted by Biffle and Gene Larew.
A couple of weeks after that, Biffle won a Professional Anglers Association event on Tennessee’s Cherokee Lake using the same color of Biffle Bug, partly with the bottom-buggin’ technique
Biffle’s pair of wins created such a buzz that Gene Larew decided to mass-produce the specialized jighead, releasing it last summer as the Biffle HardHead. The win also prompted the release of the custom color of Biffle Bug that Biffle had been throwing under the name “Sooner Run.”
A REEL DRAG
Biffle’s bottom-buggin’ technique falls somewhere between tube-dragging and cranking cover. He drags the lure across the bottom, probing every nook and cranny, but he moves the offering with his reel, not his rod. He employs none of the rod pulls and pauses normally associated with dragging techniques for football jigs, tubes or Carolina rigs. The lure stays in motion — albeit slow motion — all the time as he cranks.
“I’m holding my rod at about an 8 o’clock position and cranking the Bug so that it’s dragging and bumping everything it comes in contact with along the bottom,” Biffle said.
The technique allows Biffle to feel the bottom constantly, so if he ever loses contact, even for a moment, he immediately sets the hook with a sideways sweep of the rod. Often, there will be no distinctive thump. The rod tip will simply stop jiggling for a moment when the fish lifts the lure off the bottom. An angler who waits to “feel” more a stereotypical strike will miss many of the fish.
Biffle has used his crawling technique both shallow and deep with similar effectiveness, fishing everything from washes in the backs of pockets to offshore humps. Anytime the bass are holding near the bottom it is apt to work.
The bottom-buggin’ technique has great tournament applications.
The bait is always moving, so it’s a great way to cover a lot of water and a broad range of depths. However, it’s also very precise, and the exact cast that produces a fish can be repeated and often will produce more fish that are relating to the same structure. Bottom-buggin’ also provides a great feel of the bottom, which is extremely helpful for understanding a lake and refining a day’s pattern.
The football-shaped HardHead creates a lot of commotion along the bottom and allows the rig to traverse very rough terrain, following uneven contours and rocking free without getting hung frequently. The hinged worm hook allows for straight weedless hooking and tremendous lure mobility. The HardHead comes in four sizes that range from 3/16-ounce to 11/16-ounce.
The Biffle Bug is a 4 1/4-inch flat, creature-type lure that Biffle originally designed for pitching. Its curled and paddle-tipped back legs dance wildly.
The Sooner Run color is a watermelon red flake with a dark back that Biffle believes causes it to imitate a crawfish. He soon proved that the bass also liked this color.
One thing I couldn’t help but notice while fishing with pro Tommy Biffle is that he ALWAYS re-ties after his bait gets hung in the rocks — even if only for a moment. In fact, he doesn’t even finish the presentation. He doesn’t want to risk hooking the big fish when his tackle is in less-than-perfect condition. Instead, he quickly reels back the bait, snips it off, clips off the last couple of feet of line and re-ties.
Biffle and other pros fish for their livelihood, sometimes with thousands of dollars on the line. It helps encourage good habits. You can be sure that many pros have learned some lessons the hard and expensive way. However, these same lessons can help every angler catch more fish, whether you’re fishing for fun or in your local club tournament.
On a recent fishing trip, Tommy and I had no tournament pots on the line. We were just fishing. But if Biffle has a rod in his hand, he’s doing everything he can to put fish in the boat, and that means re-tying any time there could be a weak spot in his line.
Because Biffle re-ties so frequently, his knot only takes a moment. He hardly misses a beat. And when he does hook a fish — which he does often — he lands it.
– Jeff Samsel is a veteran outdoor fishing writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications.