Congratulations to JWM for correctly answering this week’s trivia contest! Although we didn’t expect it, he even got the sponsorship question right! Even Randy’s wife didn’t think anyone would get that answer! Great job JWM. For the complete answer and a little history on Randy Howell, read below.
Look carefully at the picture above. The angler in question has experienced success on both the B.A.S.S. and FLW Tours. In order to win, you’ll need to answer the following three questions:
1) Who is the angler seen in the picture?
2) What popular tournament lake was his home base as a teenager?
3) What company was his first title sponsor?
We recognize that Question #3 is a tough one, so if no one answers it correctly by the time the contest closes, we’ll award the prize to the first participant who answered #1 and #2 correctly.
Here’s the answer.
The angler seen above is veteran pro Randy Howell. You may not have recognized him because at age 13 he did not yet have his signature flat-top haircut. While Howell has not yet reached his 40th birthday, he’s been fishing professionally with B.A.S.S. since he was 18 – straight out of high school he fished the Opens and qualified for the tour in his first attempt.
Zooming out to the full picture, you can see the teenaged Randy with his first boat, a Dynatrak paired with a carbureted 150HP Mercury. Perhaps more importantly to his development as an angler, you can also see lettering advertising his guide service. Like many veteran pros including Mark Davis, Rick Clunn and Denny Brauer, Howell honed his angling chops by being on the water as much as possible, working hard to put clients on fish.
His family purchased what became Howell’s Timber Lodge on Big Stonehouse Creek in Lake Gaston when he was 10 years old. “It was kind of a rundown fish camp type place,” he recalled. While his father loved to fish, he had to work to renovate the property in order to make it a profitable business. Accordingly, he put his young son to work, too. “I was already all eaten up with the sport,” Randy said. “So I started guiding when I was 11 years old and it quickly grew into a steady business. I’d guide all through the summer and all of the weekends in spring.” In fact, during peak times, like April, he’d get permission to miss a couple of days of school during the week and make up the work later so that he could be out on the water. “I probably guided 50 to 75 days a year, which is a lot for someone that age.”
Needless to say, some clients were not thrilled to show up at the dock and see a preteen behind the driver’s seat. The elder Howell would make them a deal – he’d tell them that not only did his son know how to operate a boat safely, but if they didn’t catch fish they wouldn’t have to pay. “That got them every time,” Randy said. “They never had to give the money back.”
Howell said that Gaston was a particularly good proving ground because of both the character of the lake and the quality of the competition – he regularly competed in Red Man events against stalwart regional anglers including David Fritts, Gerald Beck and David Wright. Furthermore, the lake was peaking and had a wide variety of classrooms: “It’s not as good anymore, but back then it had a good mix of everything. There was clear to moderately stained water, or even muddy water if you went up the rivers. There was hydrilla and lily pads and a lot of good offshore structure, and the lake was full of boat docks, so that’s where I learned to fish a floating worm and really got good at sight fishing. Those two techniques accounted for a lot of my repeat business.”
Long before wrapped boats were widespread, Howell gained a title sponsor in Hardees restaurants at age 16. The company was sponsored in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where Howell and his now-wife Robin attended school, and many of his clients were associated with the company.
In his early years, Howell won many regional events on Gaston, but his experience there in B.A.S.S. tournaments has been underwhelming. Prior to his 1998 breakthrough win in an FLW Tour event on Alabama’s Lake Wheeler, he fished two B.A.S.S. events on his home lake and they did not turn out the way he would have liked. The 1996 Eastern Invitational, eventually won by David Ashcraft, was scheduled to take place on Kerr Reservoir (AKA, Buggs Island), one lake up from Gaston, on which Howell had also guided. “I would have rather fished Buggs,” he recalled, lamenting his 80th place finish (out of over 300 competitors). “I still remember the fish I lost, four or five 5 to 7 pounders that got off under boat docks. Back then we didn’t have the same good equipment we have now. If I’d had it, it would have been a different story.” A year later, in a Top 100 event won by Peter Thliveros, he finished 73rd out of 112.
Shortly thereafter, he and wife Robin moved to Alabama, the state that most fishing fans associate him with today. Nevertheless, Gaston – and the guiding experience – remain a critical part of Howell’s tournament history. Even today, as he looks at his fans and his own young sons, he marvels at the precociousness he exhibited.
“A lot of times I’ll be speaking and doing seminars,” he said. “I’ll ask kids in the audience how old they are and when they tell me they’re 12, I’ll ask if anyone would pay $200 to go fishing with them. It still seems like the craziest thing to me.”