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Randy Howell finished 13th in the Bassmaster Classic.
Daily photo by Paul Stackhouse
Randy Howell finished 13th in the Bassmaster Classic.

Riding with Howell makes for Classic day

Having planned to take a February fishing trip of a different kind for several months, I was thrilled when it played out smooth and perfect.

It was a weekend outdoor getaway that friends would call a working vacation. But for me, it was just plain fun.

Getting to ride with Alabama bass fishing pro Randy Howell as a media observer on the opening day of February’s Bassmaster Classic was nothing short of a treat. But watching Howell catch 17 pounds, 15 ounces of spotted bass on Lay Lake was something I won’t forget any time soon.

Back at the ramp, I was swamped by fans wanting to know what Howell was using to catch his fish. I maintained my right to remain silent, but I did tell them that every competitor was given the exact same equipment from BASS. That equipment included a Triton bass boat pushed by a Mercury 250 outboard engine and a Motorguide trolling motor up front.

For the time being, they would just have to accept my answer because I was not talking and as far as I could tell, Howell wasn’t giving out any secrets either.

After the tournament, I was more than happy to give away Howell’s secrets — with his permission, of course.

Even though he may have used other tackle at times, I did observe some of the equipment that he used. Lifting a 4-pound spotted bass into the boat, I could see where Howell was using a 7-6 Tommy Biffle Flipping Stick and a 7:0:1 blue-faced, Quantum Tour Edition PT fast-retrieve reel. Attached to the reel was 20-pound-test Berkley line and a one-half-ounce Lunker Lure Ultimate Rattling Jig. The jig was several colors combined, including watermelon/
seed and pumpkin/seed.

The presentation was simple. Cast the lure into an eddy near the bank and let the current carry the jig down the bank, bumping into rocks, logs and branches. Using this technique, you have to keep a close eye on the line to detect a strike without feeling it.

Leaving the ramp each morning, Howell and his media observer would climb into the boat and drive about 25 minutes to reach the Logan Martin Dam. It was in the currents provided by the dam where Howell would catch the spotted bass he was casting for almost nonstop.

Picking Howell

More than a week before the Classic began, I predicted Howell would win the event.

You see, Howell, 33, is a good friend of mine. I met him while covering an FLW tournament in 1998 on Wheeler Lake. As was common back then, many of the reporters and event volunteers got together after the first day of the tournament and cast our votes for who we felt would win.

While some of the others picked big-name anglers (Rick Clunn, Larry Nixon, etc.), I chose this unknown, nervous youngster who brought 14 pounds of bass to the scales. He was excited about his day’s catch, as was his wife, Robin.

After listening to everybody laugh at me, I went to speak with this young fisherman who has been known according to rumors to sleep in the back of a truck or anywhere else uncomfortable back then just to have enough money for food and gas.

“I’m picking you to win this tournament,” I said.

Howell looked backward at Nixon and some other anglers close by. I got his attention again and explained how I was picking Randy Howell, not the other guys behind him.

I remember him thanking me and saying something about how nice it would be for him and his wife to sleep in a motel room or a comfortable bed at a friend’s house, if he could do well enough to stand out and make some friends.

Oh, and he added that he thought I was crazy for picking him to win.

Well, on the last day of competition, the two names atop a nearby leaderboard were Howell and Clunn.

They came up on stage to weigh in their fish. Howell kept looking at me, and I could tell by looking at his eyes that he was scared stiff.

Here was this 23-year-old trying to beat one of the biggest names in the bass-fishing industry in Clunn.

At stake for the winner was a box full of money — $100,000 to be exact.

I don’t think it had crossed his mind at the time that he already had won at least $40,000, which was the second-place prize.

Clunn weighed in his limit of bass that had Howell shaking his head. He knew it was going to be close. He put his fish on the scale, and Howell’s sack weighed one ounce more than Clunn’s.

Howell threw his arms high into the air and tears started flowing from his eyes like waterfalls. At that precise moment, I snapped the perfect picture of Howell, who now has made a name for himself in the world of competitive bass fishing.

A few minutes after he won, I handed him a Sharpie pen. He had no idea why I gave him the gift until a large crowd of children and adults flocked around the new fishing star wanting to get his autograph. It didn’t take long to sink in what the pen was for.

I also gave Randy permission to use the photograph as needed and we have been good friends ever since.

Still in his corner

Nearly a decade later, I can look at Randy Howell and see where success hasn’t gone to his head. He’s the same Christian man he was before when I first met him.

Howell moved to Springville from North Carolina to be closer to the tournaments he would fish and closer to some relatives.

I have a feeling that his sponsors probably appreciated the move, which also got him closer to boat shows and other outdoor demonstrations that are common in the deep Southeast.

Even though Randy ended up 13th in the three-day Classic tournament, he didn’t lower his head and pout. With head held high, he smiled, signed autographs and continued to be the same good person I met several years ago.

All in all, it was a great weekend that produced memories that will last a lifetime.

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Paul Stackhouse
Outdoors
Paul Stackhouse

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