2014 Bassmaster Classic In-Depth – Randy Howell – Champion

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by Dan O’Sullivan

Randy Howell Day One Takeoff - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Randy Howell Day One Takeoff – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

When one looks back at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic the records will of course reflect that Randy Howell was the winner.  What will take a storyteller to remind everyone of is that Howell set a record for coming from the most places behind to win a Classic, and was the second largest weight deficit to come back from and win a Classic.

While he was certainly steady in his performances the first two days, he was not exactly putting fear into the hearts of anyone sitting atop the leaderboard.  When Howell started the final day in 11th place, nine pounds behind the leader Edwin Evers, nobody was even thinking about the possibility of the Springville, Ala. pro being a factor to win.

He had already put himself in position to have his best finish in his 12 Bassmaster Classics (his 10th place at Grand Lake in 2013 was his highest position in a Classic), and he was following along in the footsteps of the career he has built.  Howell is a skilled angler, who has put in steady work, cashing checks in more than half of the events he has fished in his career.

Like others, he has reached a stride since the inception of the Elite Series that has seen him grow as an angler, and his progression seemed set, move up in the  Classic standings, and possibly give himself a nice top five finish and follow his steady progression as one of the most recognizable and steady anglers in the business.

Then, the miraculous happened.

Howell made a move that was unplanned, lit the leaderboard on fire and did enough to move into the lead and keep it until he was the only angler left standing.   But, even as he has said, even though he’s from Alabama, he wasn’t a favorite, he did not have a great practice that would leave him filled with confidence.  He fished in survival mode, and followed leadings that created a Classic win for the ages.

Pre-Practice
Because his home is in Springville, little more than an hour from Guntersville, Howell said that he spent 10 days on the lake scouting it prior to the lake becoming off limits to the competitors.  He said that he fished a little, and when he did, he caught a lot of fish, just not a lot of big ones.  His main concern was that grass in the lake.

“I waited into late December because I wanted it to be as close to winter conditions as it could be,” said Howell.  “I wanted to give the grass as much time as I could to respond to cold conditions so that I could find as much as I could to have waypoints for the event.”

Randy Howell's Day One Biggest - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Randy Howell’s Day One Biggest – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Practice
The North Alabama area as a whole had one of the coldest winters that anyone we spoke to could remember.  In fact, some of the pockets around Guntersville had actually frozen over.  The result for Howell, and the rest of the competitors was significant.  Those guaranteed patterns that had been so dominant in the past two years was gone; the grass dies off as did a lot of the shad.

He had hoped to be able to find large schools of bass relating to offshore ridges and humps covered in grass, but he knew immediately that things were different.  “Everything had changed,” said Howell.  “Most of the grass patches I had marked on my Lowrance were dead, and now most of the areas were completely barren.”

He spent the first day of practice sick, battling a stomach ailment that left it hard to concentrate.  He said that he spent the day looking for those offshore haunts and had no response.  He spent the second day looking for the same, but only had two bites.  However, he reported that both were on different humps and nothing he could begin to pattern.

On the last official pre practice day, he switched up completely; he went to the backs of the creeks.  Instead of finding freezing water, he found that the back ends of creeks had as high as 52 degrees in the back ends and 42 on main river.  That carried on into the Official Practice Day on Wednesday, and he caught a few fish, so he decided to work the creeks.

Day One
He was staying across the lake from the takeoff, and when he was heading over to the marina for the festivities, he noticed things were changing again.  “As the sun came up, I could see that the water was turning muddy from the strong storms we had the night before,” he said.  “I knew that the dirty water could affect the water of about half the field, and I also knew that it could make the creeks better because they were too clear and needed a little color.”

Armed with that little bit of knowledge, he started the tournament in Mill Creek because it was the smallest and could have the most dramatic impact made by increased current.  He reported catching fish very quickly, but only one of them was a decent four-pounder.  He hit Town Creek and Short Creek, but was only able to guess that he was just short of 18 pounds in his livewell.

He ran into Spring Creek, went to the back end and caught a six pounder on a bladed vibrating jig.  That fish would help him cull; he weighed 20 pounds, 3 ounces and settled into 12th place.

Randy Howell Day Two Biggest - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Randy Howell Day Two Biggest – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Day Two
As the second day began, Howell made the run into the back of Spring Creek.  After spending an hour and a half there, he had yet to get a bite.  He moved to the bridge and fished both corners of the rip rap without a bite. He moved deeper, and although he could see a bunch of fish resting on the bottom on his Lowrance, he could not get any of them to eat.

He decided to make a run back to Mill Creek, where he had started the first day, and caught several fish; including a six pounder.  After filling his limit, he moved back to Spring Creek in the afternoon to see if the fish he saw on his Lowrance had pulled up.  “I was still in survival mode  as Mark Zona called it,” said Howell.  “I was doing everything I could to try and adjust to the conditions and put fish in the boat.”

Some of them had, and he caught four or five fish and was able to cull his way up to around 18 pounds before having to return to check-in.  His limit weighed 18 pounds, 3 ounces and his total weight of 38 pounds, 6 ounces moved him up to 11th place.

Day Three
Howell said that he had decided to return to Mill Creek to start the final day of the tournament.  He told his wife and sons, as well as his sponsors at Livingston Lures that he would be there so they could do some on the water photographing of him from the bridge.  He never made it.

While he was running at full throttle, he said he heard a voice in his head tell him to go to Spring Creek.  He thought about all of the people waiting on him at Mill Creek and decided to continue.  He then heard another statement asking him if he wanted to be good, or did he want to be great?  He turned his Triton Boat around and headed back to Spring Creek.

He said he arrived to find nobody else fishing it; which is unusual.  The bridge and causeway at Spring Creek is a community hole that often serve as a merry-go-round of boat and bank angler traffic.  as he passed under the bridge, the water temperature shot up to 58 degrees, and he started making casts with a Rapala DT-6 to the rip rap corners of the bridge.

He quickly caught two fish that weighed around two and a half pounds.  The third fish he caught weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces and he started to get excited.  “I said oh man, here it goes,” said Howell.  “I sat there and smoked ’em for a while making repetitive casts with that red DT-6.”  By the time the initial flurry was over, he had put more than 20 pounds in his livewell.

Randy Howell Reacts to Edwin Evers' Weight Falling Short - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Randy Howell Reacts to Edwin Evers’ Weight Falling Short – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

As the sun broke over the bridge and the causeway, the current began to die down as well.  he felt like he needed to make a change, so he started looking through his tackle for a deeper diving red and orange crankbait.  The only one he found was a final prototype from Livingston Lures that he was supposed to test for action.

The problem was, he received the package of test lures from Livingston Lures immediately prior to Media Day on Thursday and he didn’t have any time to test it.  “I had thrown one of the early samples in a pool and remembered the action, but I hadn’t thrown this one, and it was a hand mold glued together,” he said.  “I changed out the cheap tester hooks on it for Daichii Bleeding Bait Trebles and started making casts.”

He said he caught one almost immediately, and that the bait was deep in the fish’s mouth, indicating that the action, sound and color of the bait was right.  he then caught a five pounder that culled again and several more that pushed his weight slightly, and some solid fish that didn’t help.

After a while, he started to get that feeling and hearing a voice that told him to go to the back of the creek.  He told his cameraman to sit down, that he was moving.  His cameraman remarked that he thought it was silly because he was catching so many.  Howell ran to the back of the creek, made a few casts and caught a six pounder on the Fizzle Jig vibrating jig.  he then ran back to the bridge and caught two more five pounders on the Livingston Lure prototype (now named the Howeller Dream Master Classic) and culled with both of them.

“I was hoping I didn’t make a mistake by leaving the bridge to go the back of the creek when I made the move,” he said.  “But, that fish really made the biggest difference.”  He returned to the BJCC and was one of the first anglers to weigh-in.  His limit weighed 29 pounds, 2 ounces and pushed his total weight to 67 pounds, 8 ounces to take the lead.

They ushered him backstage where he would wait until the Super Six arrived, then B.A.S.S. Officials brought him back to the Skeeter Hot Seat.  He watched anxiously as Casey Ashley, Paul Mueller, Jason Christie, Ott Defoe and Randall Tharp all weighed bags lighter than they needed to take the lead from him; Howell breathing sighs of relief each time.

Then, they ushered Edwin Evers to the scales, needing a little more than 20 pounds to overtake him.  When the scales settled and Bassmaster Emcee Dave Mercer called the weight at 18 pounds, 5 ounces; Howell had won the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

Randy Howell as the Confetti Flies - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Randy Howell as the Confetti Flies – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Techniques and Equipment
Three primary lures produced fish that he weighed during the tournament.  Early on, the main producer was the DT-6 in Ike’s Custom Ink color called Demon, red and orange crawdad pattern.  He caught two of his biggest fish throughout the event on a Fizzle Jig, a bladed vibrating jig he go from the Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits store and finally, his clinching day three flurry on the Livingston Lures Howeller Dream Master Classic in the bright red and orange crawdad finish.  While those were his main weapons, he also reported that he caught two of his weigh-in fish from day one on another prototype lure from Livingston  called a School Master, a sinking gliding bait that is designed to be able to make long casts and sit balanced in the water but flutter side to side as it sinks.

He threw the DT-6 on a 7′ medium Light Daiwa Tatula Rod and 6.3:1 Daiwa Tatula Type R reel spooled with 12-pound-test Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon line.

The Fizzle Jig was thrown on a 7’2″ medium heavy Tatula rod matched with the same 6.3:1 Tatula reel and 16-pound-test Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon.

His Livingston Lures Howeller Dream Master Classic was thrown on a 7’2″ medium-heavy Daiwa Steez Fle-X-lite rod with the same Tatula reel and 14-pound-test Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon.

Hindsight
He and his family have of course been in the whirlwind of activity since that final weigh-in.  He had meetings and toasts and sponsor meet and greets at the hotel in the restaurant after the event.  He took pictures with fans and his trophy in the lobby until almost 1:30 in the morning after the event was over.  “It was after we got back up to our room and put the trophy on the sill in there that the adrenaline left me,” he said. “Robin and I looked at the trophy and then each other in shock at what had happened and we started to get emotional all over again.”

While there have been moments of revelation, he said that he really hasn’t had time to think much about everything with all of the media attention following the event.  But, he said he does realize that he feels a sense of responsibility to the sport and its fans as the reigning Bassmaster Classic Champion.

Randy Howell Greeted by Wife Robin and Sons Laker and Oakley - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Randy Howell Greeted by Wife Robin and Sons Laker and Oakley – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

“There has been a lot of activity and Robin and I have had little time to just sit and think about what has been accomplished,” he said.  “We’ve tried to handle all of the requests and still make sure we spend time with Laker and Oakley, our two sons.  But, after they’ve gone to bed, we’ve sat up answering emails and social media posts to fans and the emotion of it all does hit us again.”

he said the most touching ones come from people who don’t want to even talk about fishing.  “We’ve gotten message from people telling us about meeting me and me giving them a hat or something and how happy they are for us,” he said.  “Then we’ve had those who say how proud of me they are for sharing the story of feeling God’s leadings to make moves in the event and not being ashamed to share our faith through it; and those types of things just touch us so deeply.”

He said that he still wakes up in the middle of the night at times, almost two weeks afterwards and it hits him that he won the Bassmaster Classic and it gets hard to go back to sleep.  “It just serves as a reminder to me and I hope a lot of other people that if you work hard and – to steal a line from Ike – never give up, these kinds of things can happen,” he said.  “I still feel like a kid inside and have so much to learn that it still amazes me that we can accomplish things like this.

“With all of that, I have to admit that it will be nice to get on the road in our motor home, and get to Seminole for the beginning of the Elite Series season and to be able to get on the water and get some solitude,” he said.  “I’m looking forward to the start of the year to fishing as hard as I ever do and then do the work of a Classic Champion along the way; it’s already been a blessing, but it’s going to be a fun year.”

Randy Howell 2014 Bassmaster Classic Champion’s Photo Gallery