Fishing in Muskogee, OK
Professional angler Tommy Biffle is accustomed to tournament pressure, but never was that pressure greater than in the June 2010 ESPN Bassmaster Elite Series event held on Fort Gibson Lake near Biffle’s hometown of Muskogee.
“I had to win that tournament,” Biffle joked, “because all my family and friends were there – my wife, my daughter, my cousins. On the final day there were about 70 boats following me around.”
Biffle’s home-lake advantage came through, and he came away with top honors in the “Sooner Run.”
Biffle grew up fishing Fort Gibson and other Muskogee-area waters, and says that gave him an edge over nearly 100 other tournament competitors: “Knowing the lake is important for finding fish, but you still have to offer them the right bait at the right time.”
Biffle wasn’t the tournament’s only winner; the Muskogee area netted a prize when it landed one of the nine Elite Series events held across the country.
“It was a wonderful event, the tournament and related festivities,” says Sue Harris, president of the Greater Muskogee Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism. “In conjunction with the final weigh-in we held a music festival that drew about 5,000 people.”
Local and National Viewers
Approximately 3,600 spectators attended the weigh-ins each day of the four-day tournament. Many were from out of town and required lodging in addition to patronizing restaurants and other businesses.
“We saw license plates from four different states, as well as from counties all across Oklahoma,” Harris says. “Most of our area hotel rooms were filled.”
In addition to the economic impact, ESPN’s tournament coverage attracted a quarter-million viewers nationwide – positive exposure for the area and its outdoor opportunities.
Fishing tournaments have exploded in popularity since Ray Scott founded the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society (BASS) in 1968. Being chosen to host an event is a plum for any community, and ESPN tournament spokesman Doug Grassian says three factors are involved in the selection process:
First, the location has to have a thriving fishery – in other words, waters that produce plenty of big bass.
Second, tournament officials prefer to schedule events in communities and regions that have a high concentration of fishing fans and BASS members.
Third, the site must have the infrastructure in place to host an event of that magnitude (a weigh-in area that can accommodate fans and media, room for an outdoor expo and other festivities, plus lodging for anglers, spectators and staff.)
“Oklahoma is absolutely a place that fits the bill,” Grassian says.
Next year’s tournament schedule is booked and plans are being made for the 2012 circuit. Will Muskogee bid on another?
“We will certainly consider it,” Harris says. “We had a wonderful, positive experience.”
Tommy Biffle is rooting for his hometown.
“It’s a great all-around great event,” he says. “It’s good for the economy and brings a lot of positive exposure to the area. Plus, I’ll take that home-lake advantage anytime I can get it.”
Learn more about why Muskogee is a water city.
Local Anglers Share Fishing Tales
Johnny Teehee, deputy chief of the Muskogee Police Dept.
“As far as fishing goes, I don't known that there's a better location. The thing about it here is you've got so many rivers and lakes within a half hour. There's so many options when it comes to fishing and they're all pretty close by.”
“They used to have a Tuesday night jackpot on Fort Gibson lake. One time the water was up to the trees. Me and a buddy caught our four-fish limit and had over 20 pounds of bass. Even though we had 20 pounds I lost a seven-pounder. My buddy forgot to bring his net. We caught all those without a net.”
Pete Jones, 32-year Muskogee resident
“There's days you can go out and catch good fish... large fish, I'm talking five to six pound bass. A good day is when you're able to put together a pattern and catch a lot of fish. I'm talking 20 or 30 in one day.”
“Other than a boat wreck or two I haven't had too many problems. We lost an engine one time up on Fort Gibson Lake. It didn't sink to the bottom, just came off the back of the boat and was hanging by the wires. I don't like fishing by myself. First it's really boring and second, if you get in the river and get in trouble you need someone to help you. One time on the Arkansas River I lost my equilibrium and fell in the water, had to have a friend pull me back in the boat.”
Terry Butcher, pro fisherman
“I've got a fond memory, it was one of the first tournaments I ever fished, on the Arkansas River in Three Forks, Muskogee. My dad's partner couldn't make it so I asked me along. It was a big deal, the state championships in 1992. After the first day we were in the lead, but we didn't do really good the second day. That event got my interest in tournament fishing up and my blood pumping.”
Tommy Biffle, pro fisherman and winner of the 2010 Sooner Run
“My favorite spot to fish is Fort Gibson Lake. I've fished there my whole life. It's the best lake in the state for bass. It's just got good quality fish and a lot of them. Anytime out out on the water is pretty much a favorite time. Tournament fishing takes some of the fun out of it cause that's what I do for money, but taking someone out on the lake for their first time and watching them catch a bunch of fish is something I really enjoy.”