Randy Howell is living an angler’s dream: He gets paid to fish.
“It’s all I ever wanted to do,” the 40-year-old pro angler from Alabama said this week with a classic southern drawl. “I’ve been real blessed to make a living at it.”
Last month, it got even better.
Howell won the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing. Already well-known nationally from 21 years on the pro fishing tour — that’s right, he’s been fishing professionally since he was 19 — Howell landed more fame and fortune, including a $300,000 first-place prize.
“It’s the dream of every pro angler,” he said. “Everything has to fall into place. It’s a miracle how it all happened for me.”
He was in 11th place after two days of the three-day tourney but had an astounding final day to win the classic for the first time in 12 tries.
“No one has ever come from that far back to win in the 44-year history of the classic,” he said. “That’s pretty cool.”
Howell will tell the tale, and talk crankbaits and electronics, Wednesday at the Northwest Sportshow at the Minneapolis Convention Center. But time is short when you’re a bass fishing superstar: He’ll be at the show for only one day.
Can tips from pros help weekend anglers catch more fish? “Yeah, no doubt,” he said. “We have more time on the water and experience; we’ve tried and failed, and tried and succeeded, so we can get the learning curve down for a lot of people.”
Said Howell: “A lot of times it’s the small details that separate a bad day from a great day.”
The tale of his Classic victory is amazing.
Howell said wind and rain changed conditions the final day on Lake Guntersville in Alabama, and as he was motoring in his boat to a spot where he had told family, friends and sponsors he planned to fish first, he had second thoughts.
“I had an overwhelming feeling to turn around and go to a bridge in Spring Creek. I fought it off for a minute — I hated not to go where I told them I would — but I needed to listen to my feeling, so I turned around.”
The “feeling” was quickly rewarded. He caught big bass on his first three casts, and the third was a giant 7-pounder. The action was incredible. “I caught ’em and caught ’em and caught ’em,” he said, drawing a crowd who cheered and whooped with each catch. A phone call alerted his wife, Robin, and two boys, Oakley, 8, and Laker, 12, and others to his change in plans, and they arrived to watch the historic action.
A few hours later, he had another “feeling” and headed to a spot where he had caught a nice fish earlier in the tournament. He caught a 6 ¼-pounder there.
A day’s end, his five-fish limit weighed 29 pounds, 2 ounces — the most ever in his 21 years of pro fishing.
“It was just a magical day,” he said. “And my kids and wife got to be part of it, firsthand. That’s the coolest thing ever.”
Was it luck?
“There’s no luck in my world,” he said, chuckling. “I’m a Christian, and believe strongly in the power of God and Him allowing things to happen. There’s no doubt in my mind that overwhelming feeling that morning was coming from Him and showing me where I needed to be. It was too powerful and too amazing to be anything I did myself.
“I just listened and went and did it and it all came together. It really was amazing.”
Howell was raised in North Carolina. “I grew up as a bass fisherman, and I started guiding for bass when I was 12.” He was just 10 when he fished in his first tournament with his dad. He started fishing in the Bassmaster pro tour at 19.
“It’s been my whole life. The only living I’ve ever made is through fishing,” he said. “I’ve been real blessed. It’s not like you just jump in and make money. It took about four years of struggling.”
Then he won an FLW tour event in 1998, winning $100,000, moved to Alabama and never looked back.
“It’s a lot of work, determination, perseverance and getting the right breaks,” he said.
Howell has won three or four tournaments, including the Classic. “But most of my career is built on consistency, being a top 25 or top 10 finisher,” he said. “That’s how you make your living and career.”
But as any angler knows, there are no guarantees in fishing. You can be on top of the world one day, and at the bottom the next. After winning the Bassmaster Classic, he finished 106th in the next tournament.
“No matter how good you get or how much you learn, you still have days where you feel like you don’t know anything,” he said. “That’s the honest truth.”
Continued Howell: “That’s fishing. You try to outsmart them. I don’t think about trying to beat the other anglers, I’m thinking about trying to beat the fish.
“Sometimes they win.”