By Pete Robbins
February 15, 2013
A few days before he left for Oklahoma, Randy Howell was confronted by his young son, Laker, who asked him a simple question: “Are you going to be able to hold that big Bassmaster Classic trophy up?”
It wasn’t necessarily a ridiculous query. After a busy offseason, Howell has endeavored over recent weeks to get back into shape. Under the tutelage of his wife Robin, he’s been involved in a heavy regimen of CrossFit training. Most evenings he is tired and sore. Laker had observed his father’s pain and asked the first thing that came to his mind. Nevertheless, it might’ve had another meaning, not just “Can you lift it?” but “Are you going to win it this year?”
Howell acknowledges that after 10 unsuccessful tries, he’s anxious to put a Classic title on his resume. In 2012, he saw close friends Chris Lane and Brent Chapman become first time title-holders and he’s almost desperate to join their ranks.
“I’ve been in the game for 20 years and I’ve done just about everything I can do promotion-wise,” he said. “I have great relationships with great companies and I make a good living, but I’m at a spot where I can’t go any further until I win a Classic.”
His desire to win is driven by personal goals, to be sure, but he noted that his family drives him as well. His sons, who know the Lane and Chapman children, recognize the magnitude of winning in this sport, like any other, and they want their dad to taste that thrill. Moreover, they recognize the hard work that has gone into his efforts up until this point in a way they might not have just a few years ago.
“They’ve seen the blood, sweat and tears it takes to do well,” Howell said. “Especially after Oneida this year, where I came so close to winning. They know how important it is. My seven year old saw it last year with Chris Lane’s family riding around the arena. He wants daddy to win so he can ride in the boat in a big circle.”
Chapman had similarly toiled for many years as a successful angler who hadn’t been able to capture a title, despite numerous chances. Rather than feel jealous toward his friend’s breakthrough, Howell took it as a challenge to raise his own game.
“I know how hard Brent works,” he said. “It inspired me. They’re just like us. They were in the same position that we’re in, so I realized that if they can do it, we can too.”
To date, Howell’s Classic results have been lackluster. He finished a personal-best 11th in 1999, his second Classic attempt. His only other finish better than 20th came in 2007 at Lay Lake. Despite what appear to be a few clunkers, he actually believes he’s gotten closer to understanding how to win. In fact, while he wasn’t satisfied with last year’s 38th place finish on the Red River, he believes that a better finish might’ve reflected a worse strategy. He could have stayed in the popular McDade backwater and caught a lot of small fish, but in order to have a reasonable chance at winning, he had to abandon that area and take a risk. It didn’t pay off, but he doesn’t regret the decision.
“To use the cliché, I feel like in the past few years I’ve fished more in the moment,” he explained. “It takes a lot of confidence in yourself to do that, and that’s always been the hardest thing for me. Sometimes you just have to go out there and just do it.”
He practiced that strategy at the season-opening Southern Open on Toho a few weeks ago. The vast majority of the field locked down to Kissimmee, but Howell stayed in Toho, where he felt there might be fewer but larger fish. “I wasn’t fishing for points,” he stated. “I was fishing for a chance to make the Classic early. I stayed away from what everyone else was doing to get away from that points mentality. I fished the whole time with that 1 ½ ounce weight in the mats because I knew that could be the way to catch the fish to win it in Toho.” He ended up 87th in a field of 200, but just as with the 2012 Classic, he doesn’t regret that strategy at all. It gave him a chance to win, and in the Classic as in the Opens, winning is really all that matters to him now.
“No one likes going against the grain,” he continued. “It takes discipline. You could go (to Grand) and fish a shakey head or a little jig and catch 12 pounds a day, but you’re probably not going to win that way.”
After three straight years where anglers have largely fished “spots” in the Classic, he’s excited that Grand sets up to be won on a pattern.
“I’m more excited about this Classic than I can remember being about any of them,” he said. “It’s such a great pattern lake and there are lots of fish spread out all over the place. It won’t be one of those tournaments where if you don’t get to your spot first you’re out of it.”
He believes the winning pattern could involve a mid-depth crankbait like a Wiggle Wart, or perhaps a big spinnerbait or a jig in the brush, but he hopes that it comes down to a solid jerkbait bite.
“I have enough jerkbaits with me to suspend my boat,” he laughed. “As I was leaving the house, I found another little skinny box of them and I threw that in the boat, too, but I’ll probably only end up throwing two or three different ones. I consider that a strength of mine, particularly over the last seven or eight years. I’ve always wanted to fish a big event with a jerkbait. The last event where we really had a good jerkbait bite was Clear Lake (in 2010) and I finished 4th there.”
Even his recent CrossFit training may not have prepared the rail-thin Howell to lift the Classic trophy atop his head, but after 20 years on tour and ten cracks at the crown, he’s ready to attempt it. He thinks he has a game plan that’ll put him in contention, and he knows he has the support crew to help him out.
“I’m so glad that I have my family with me all of the time,” he said. “It keeps our unit together and it keeps me mentally together. I feel a lot of responsibility to win it for them.”