By Todd Ceisner
The way Randall Tharp measures success is simple.
“At the end of the year, I don’t like to count paychecks,” he says. “I like to count trophies.”
Some may think it a bit extreme to boil a season on the pro bass tournament trails down to wins and losses, but Tharp’s not about to apologize for the lofty standard he has set for himself. His goal every time out is to win and when he doesn’t, he deems it a failure in some manner.
Despite not hoisting a trophy this year, though, he stopped short of calling the 2014 campaign a disappointment when looking back over his first go-around at fishing both the Elite Series and FLW Tour simultaneously. It was a grueling grind, indeed, that included a six-week tournament bender in March and April.
He was one of 14 anglers to fish both tours this season – he and Jason Christie were the only two to fish 18 tour-level events – and his average finish of 37.72 was 6th-best in the group.
“There were definitely some stretches where you just ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ It’s just the travel and stuff. I didn’t like missing practice days at a few events. That happened a few times. It’s not an excuse, but when you're up against the competition I fished against you can’t afford to miss practice days, especially on lakes I’d never been on.”
He said it’s unlikely he’ll fish both tours next year. He said his focus at this point will be on the Elite Series.
“If the schedules were the same, would I do it again? Probably,” he said. “I make my living fishing bass tournaments. For me, I’d prefer to fish to both tours again, but there has to be some give and take with the anglers. They can’t have all the tournaments in a 3 1/2- to 4-month span.”
Fast Start, Steady Throughout
Tharp got off to a hot start with a 4th-place effort the Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour, an event he won a few years ago and one he expects to be a threat to win every time. He followed that with a 5th at the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville, where he was the day-1 leader and just an ounce off the pace after day 2.
“Those are two lakes that I have a ton of history on and I was in contention to win both,” he said. “Financially, it was a great start to the season, but I don’t go to Guntersville and Okeechobee to finish 4th and 5th. Those aren’t successful finishes for me when I go there. It was a confidence boost, but I wasn’t all that happy with the results.”
From there, he rattled off three more top-25 finishes. After a 41st at the Sam Rayburn Reservoir FLW Tour, he missed checks at the Table Rock Lake Elite Series and Beaver Lake FLW Tour before bouncing back with a 3rd at the Toledo Bend Lake Elite Series. He notched a 14th at BASSFest and closed the year with a 21st at the Forrest Wood Cup, a 25th at the Cayuga Lake Elite Series and an 18th at the Elite Series AOY Championship.
“Looking back on it, I don’t feel like I can complain,” he said. “Was I satisfied? No. I finished third in the (Elite Series) Rookie of the Year and was 13th in points and made the Classic, which I’m proud of, but I had some weak finishes in there.”
He said the Table Rock outcome “bothers” him, but the one that really irks him is the 80th-place finish at the Lake Dardanelle Elite Series in May.
“That place was tailor made for me,” he said. “I’d found winning fish but didn’t capitalize on them. I started and finished next to Christie, but I left the spot every day and he stayed there. That was my biggest disappointment by far.
“I’d only fished there once before, but had a really solid tournament. Even with what happened during practice and the tournament, I felt like I should’ve been in contention and I didn’t even cash a check.”
Tharp said he had to alter his practice routines out of necessity this year because of the compacted schedule. Missing the first day of practice at some events forced him to eliminate water by default.
“I had to change my routines,” he said. “When you lose a day of practice, it changes how much water you can cover and there were several events where I picked an area of the lake and didn’t feel like I was in the right area to do well. I just didn’t cover the water I needed to in practice.”
There were times, however, where a shorter practice was a benefit more than a detriment.
“I missed a day at Toledo Bend and it ended up helping me,” he said. “I fished close to the ramp because I didn’t have time to cover the whole lake, and wound up 3rd.”
As far as skill sets go, Tharp also said fishing the broad range of fisheries has made him a more well-rounded angler, which he says has its pros and cons.
“I’m definitely a more versatile angler than I used to be, but that’s not always a positive thing,” he said. “Being a more versatile angler is a way to get those trophies, but there comes a time when you have to figure out a way to go catch ‘em. Then there are other times where I know being stubborn and sticking to one thing has been the way to go.”