HOWELL MOUNTED CLASSIC COMEBACK
Randy Howell is one of those fishermen who has been at the tournament bass fishing game for a long time- 29 years to be exact, having started as a 20 year-old in 1993. He has been in the news recently for setting an MLF Bass Pro Tour lunker record and scoring a knockout round win. He has 48 Top 10 finishes, 79 Top 20’s, and accumulated approximately $2.2 Million in career winnings. In his long career, he has won 5 major tournaments and qualified for 16 Bassmaster Classics, but none of those were bigger than the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on his home lake, Alabama’s legendary Guntersville, where he raised the Champion’s trophy over his head.
When you look back at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, the record shows Randy was the winner, but the statistics don’t tell the real story, the story of the biggest comeback in Classic history. On the final day, he was the most places behind, and overcame the second largest weight deficit ever to win a Classic. The fact of the matter was that his first two days, didn’t exactly identify him as someone to watch for the win. It was doubtful that on that final day any of his competitors at the top of the leaderboard were feeling his footsteps behind them as he started off from11th place, nine pounds behind leader Edwin Evers, but that is what legends are made of- overcoming impossible odds. He had ten years in as a pro and was working on 11. Randy’s best finish at the time was a 10th place at Grand Lake during the previous year. His reputation was that of a skilled angler, who put in steady work, and cashed checks at a little more than half the events he fished. That was all about to change. What happened next was certainly unplanned, and lit the leaderboard on fire. When the smoke cleared, he was the only angler left standing.
Randy is an Alabama boy. His home is in Springville, not too far from Guntersville, making the logistics of scouting relatively easy. During the time before “off limits” he fished a little, caught a lot of fish, but no big ones. He knew it was important that his scouting time be under winter conditions since it would be a “cold water Classic”. That particular winter was a very cold one by North Alabama standards. In fact, some of Guntersville’s pockets had actually frozen over. A lot of grass died off, and so did a lot of shad. Randy’s original plan was to find large schools of bass relating to offshore ridges and humps covered in grass, but he after seeing the impact winter was having on the grass, he knew that plan would have to change. The it hit him… no, not an idea, a stomach bug. He spent much of the official practice time feeling very sick it hard to focus on developing patterns. For two days he spent time looking for offshore honey holes without any real success, but he managed two fish on two new humps- maybe something meaningful.
To try to get a different perspective, he spent the final day of practice in the back of creeks, where surprisingly he found 52 degree water at the back ends whereas he had been staring at 42 in the main river. He caught a few and decided that might be the ticket.
Strong storms had preceded Day 1, and Randy noted on his way to the start that the water was getting dirty. That raised his hopes as he that might make improve the bite in the creeks as that water had been a little too clear and “needed some color”. They say a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and that was about to prove true for Randy Howell. Because of its limited size, he started the tournament in Mill Creek where increased current would have a good effect. He caught fish quickly including a 4-pounder. He moved on to two other creeks after which he estimated having about 18 lbs. He ran into Spring Creek, went to the back end and caught a 6-pounder to help him cull up to 20-3, good for 12th place.
After the late big fish on Day 1, Randy opened Day 2 with a run back to Spring Creek. Nothing. He moved to the bridge and fished both corners of the rip rap. Nothing. He moved deeper, and although he saw fish, he could not get any of them to eat. He decided to make a run back to Mill Creek. This proved a good decision as he caught several fish, including a six. Based on his first day afternoon experience, and now with a limit, he moved back to Spring Creek to see if the fish he saw had moved in. Some had, and culled up to around 18 pounds before check-in. This put his total weight at 38-6 for 11th place- enough to fish another day.
Decisions, decisions. Mill Creek had been good to Randy, so he decided to return to start the final day. He told his family and name sponsor Livingston Lures that he would be there so they could do some photography. He never made it. Was it a message from God? Randy is a man of faith. Whether it was or not, he was running full throttle for Mill Creek when he heard a voice in his head telling him to go to Spring Creek. He thought about his family waiting on him at Mill Creek and decided to continue. Then the voice in his head asked him if he wanted to be good, or want to be great? He turned the Triton around and headed to Spring Creek. There was nobody fishing there. Strange he thought. The bridge and causeway at Spring Creek is a community hole, often a jammed with boat and bank anglers.
As he passed under the bridge, he noted the water temp had risen to 58 degrees. He started casting a Rapala DT-6 to the rip rap corners of the bridge. He caught two quick fish that weighed, but it was the third fish, 7- 03, that really got him thinking that this was the day to be great! He caught fish after fish the now tried and true red-colored lure. When that bite ended, he more than 20 pounds in the box. The current began to die down and he felt the need to change it up. He knew the fish would back off and go deeper. He needed something that would dive down to them, something in the red/orange that was doing so well. His only choice meeting the criteria he had set was a prototype from Livingston that he had been given for testing. The problem was, he hadn’t had time to test it. He knew it was do or die so he changed out the tester hooks, replacing them with Daichii Bleeding Bait Trebles. He started making and started casting.
He caught one almost immediately and the fish was hooked deep in the mouth. This told him the action, sound and color was right. He followed that with a 5-pounder that pushed his weight slightly higher. He caught a few more solid fish but they didn’t help. Then he got that feeling again, heard that voice deep in his head- go back of the creek. Time to move. His cameraman later said he thought it was silly because Randy was catching, but the angler followed that voice to the back of the creek. He made a few casts and caught a six. Surprisingly he then ran back to the bridge and caught two more 5-pounders on the Livingston prototype (now named the Howeller Dream Master Classic). Both culled up.
At weigh-in time, his position after Day 2 meant he would be one of the first anglers to weigh-in. His limit weighed 29-02, which pushed his total weight to 67- 08 for the lead. It was not time to take the “Hot Seat”. They ushered him backstage to wait for the Super Six. When they came to the stage, he was taken to the Hot Seat. There he nervously waited as Casey Ashley, Paul Mueller, Jason Christie, Ott Defoe and Randall Tharp all weighed bags lighter than needed to unseat Randy. Talk about tension. Then Edwin Evers came to the scales needing only a little more than 20 to lift the trophy. The fish rattled the scale, then Randy heard another voice, emcee Dave Mercer- “18 pounds, 5 ounces!”. The place erupted. Randy Howell had won the 2014 Bassmaster Classic- the greatest come from behind win in Classic history.
He and his family were sucked into a whirlwind of activity, and as a Classic Champion, it has been that way ever since. The confetti, the ride around, meetings and greetings with fans and sponsors. He posed for pictures with fans and his trophy until almost 1:30 in the morning. It serves as a reminder to anglers everywhere, and Randy has stolen theline from Ike many times, - "Never give up!". Oh yes, and trust that voice.
Randy has also said God truly blessed him that day and that he may just have had a bit of Divine guidance. At that magic event he bested seven former Classic Champs- Kevin Van Dam, Chris Lane, Mark Davis, Alton Jones, Mike Iaconelli, Takahiro Omori, and Skeet Reese. None of them
had made the final. Four of the super six that day have gone on to win the Classic, including this year’s Champ Jason Christie. I would say, Randy Howell keeps good company.
Life has changed for Howell. He has invitations to speak at many events, dinners and seminars. He has left B.A.S.S to fish Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour. He is passionate about mentoring student anglers not only about fishing techniques, but about the fishing industry, and his faith. The 2014 Bassmaster Classic veteran has helped raise over $1.2 million for Kings Home charity through an annual giveaway of his tournament boat. His dedication to giving back makes him another of the anglers who put the CLASS in Classic Champion.