Howell Sweet It Is

Many are surprised but the winner was not

By Pete Robbins

Published Spring 2014

Photo of Randy Howell, 2014 Bassmaster Classic winner
Randy Howell raises the Classic trophy as the confetti showers down(James Overstreet photo)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Prior to his come-from-behind victory in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, Randy Howell was known as a utility player, someone who could fulfill any position on the field, but wasn’t known as a master of any particular spot.

Denny Brauer and Tommy Biffle? Your mind automatically flips to a jig.

David Fritts? Crankbaits.

Zell Rowland? The Pop-R.

Randy Howell? More than any particular technique, fans knew him for his ever-present smile and his flattop haircut. He was a singles hitter who got on base again and again and again – qualifying for 11 prior Classics – who couldn’t hit the long ball. In those 11 tries, he’d compiled a lackluster set of results, making the top 10 only once (2013) and finishing 30th or worse on five occasions.

The idea that he wasn’t a home run hitter was a bit unfair. After all, he’d won an FLW event on Wheeler Lake in 1998 and added a Bassmaster Elite 50 victory on Dardanelle in 2004, but then watched for nearly a decade as contemporaries like Kevin VanDam, Skeet Reese and Mike Iaconelli racked up major titles and others like Todd Faircloth and Edwin Evers filled their mantles with Elite Series trophies.

The ultimate indignity came in 2012 at New York’s Oneida Lake, when he led heading into the final day of competition but failed to heed the voices directing him to make a crucial change and fell one fish short of his limit. That allowed Boyd Duckett to pass him by 6 ounces and claim the trophy.

“It was the biggest devastation in fishing I’d ever had,” he said. “I knew it was my fault. I had the voice that day in my head, telling me to go to another place, but I didn’t do it until the last hour and I just ran out of time. I learned from my mistake.”

Indeed, learning from mistakes has become the 40-year-old pro’s mantra. Citing one of the self-help books he read, he said that the greatest lesson he’s internalized is that “You have to lose a lot to learn to win.”

Randy Howell fishing on Spring Creek
Howell’s spot in Spring Creek produced fish after fish. (Bob Payne photo)

It’s hard to accuse anyone with well over a million dollars in B.A.S.S. winnings, 12 Classic appearances and a check cashing rate of over 60 percent of being a loser, but Howell’s failure to take home the titles he coveted made him feel like one at times, especially because he’d seen potential wins – such as at Oneida – slip through his rod guides on more than one occasion.

This was a man who was destined to be a pro angler, guiding at the age of 13 and fishing his first B.A.S.S. tournament straight out of high school. While he may be a young 40, this win seemed like it was a long time coming.

In many respects, the turning point for the flat-topped North Carolina native was winning last summer’s Bassmaster Northern Open on the James River that put him in the Classic. Although he would’ve made it through the Elite Series standings anyway, Howell’s win more importantly helped him get his mojo back. Despite a first day culling error that could’ve cost him dearly, on the last day he abandoned his primary area and made a gut-check call that improved his weight substantially.

“I could’ve tried to make it happen in a place where it wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “Overcoming that hurdle gave me the same confidence to do that at Guntersville.”

After that win, he earned checks in his next five events leading up to the Classic, but also understood that he had to listen to his voices. When the voice in his head told him early on Day Three at the Classic to head to Spring Creek – rather than his planned starting spot – he listened again, and once again it paid off. This time, he mined the voice’s advice to the tune of 29 pounds, 2 ounces and held off a hard-charging Paul Mueller.

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