By BassFan Staff

Six years ago, Randall Tharp was swinging a hammer and building houses in Alabama. Fishing was more of a pastime and a way to earn some extra money.

Now, he’s a Forrest Wood Cup champion and a two-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier with multiple tournament victories and over $1 million in winnings to his credit. He’s put the hammer down and now makes a living with a rod and reel.

He’s coming off his finest season as a pro angler, but Tharp is entering 2014 with a blank slate as far as his title sponsor goes. The No. 8-ranked angler in the BassFan World Rankings presented by Livingston Lures is a free agent, bass fishing’s equivalent of Robinson Cano this year, minus the reported $300 million contract demands.

Tharp told BassFan this week that he has elected to decline an FLW team deal for 2014, a choice that frees him up to pursue other title-sponsor options as he looks ahead to a year during which he'll fish as many as 18 major tournaments, including both the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour. His decision ends a 3-year association with EverStart Batteries.

“I have removed my name as a candidate for a team deal with FLW in 2014,” he said. “I appreciate the opportunities FLW and EverStart have given me over the last 3 years. FLW is certainly a great place for anglers to begin a fishing career. Their programs are a viable gateway into the sport and I am certainly proof of that.”

He said he approached FLW about crafting a new agreement that would allow him to continue under a team deal and still fish both tours, but FLW declined to entertain the proposal.

With the Bassmaster Classic 3 months away on his home waters of Lake Guntersville, Tharp is excited about this fresh start.

“In a way it’s like starting all over again,” he said. “Two tours will present a lot of challenges and pressures, but those are the elements that motivate me the most.”

Business Decision

After some careful thought and reflection, Tharp felt opting out of the team deal situation was the best move for him going forward.

“It’s a business decision that I made,” he said. “I’m aligned with some really good companies and it’s been a gradual increase through my career with all of my sponsors. Another reason I removed my name from FLW team deal consideration was to free myself up from a sponsorship standpoint. As an FLW team deal player, you commit a majority of your endorsement capacity to a single company. Even if another sponsor is interested in you, they look at your current graphics package and realize there is no room. And this week, I just created a lot of room for a potential title sponsor.”

He said other sponsors in his portfolio have re-affirmed their commitment to him for the future, but none have approached him about filling the title sponsor role.

“I do have some options as far as a boat wrap, but ultimately I’d like to find something better to promote myself through the rest of my career,” he said. “I feel like the team thing is a great starting point, but I think it limits your value in the marketplace because you’re almost trapped. You don’t have the relationship with the sponsor that you need to. With all of my other sponsors, I’m always in contact with them and I know where I stand.

“I am looking forward to developing real, meaningful relationships with companies where I am a working part of their advertising and sales initiative,” he added. “I’ve watched other pros who have started with FLW and gone to B.A.S.S. and they have done well by putting together their own portfolio of sponsors and managing them as a professional business. As a former business owner, I know I am capable of that kind of self-discipline.”

Committed To Two Tours

After winning the Angler of the Year crown in the Bassmaster Central Opens this year, Tharp decided to accept the invitation to fish the Elite Series – an opportunity he’s declined on two previous occasions. He’s already paid his Elite Series entry fees and will fish the FLW Tour out of his own pocket at this point.

“I have been patient and deliberate in my decision making process to step up to the Elite Series,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m rushing this at all. I have qualified for the Elites on two other occasions and declined both times. But this time, I’m punching my ticket.”

He said FLW’s reduced schedule did play a role in his decision, as did the back-to-back placement of FLW Tour and Elite Series events on the calendar. As an FLW team angler, if he failed to the make the Top-20 cut at a Tour event, he would've been obligated to stay through at least Saturday before being able to begin traveling to the next tournament.

“I have made my living as a professional angler off of tournament winnings,” he said. “When FLW had 10 major tournaments, I had enough events to keep me busy so I didn’t need to go to the Elites. But with only six major events at FLW, it’s just not enough for me to call it a full-time career. The FLW Tour is a great place to compete if you have another business or job to supplement your income. But for me, professional bass fishing is my only job and more events is what I’m after.”


> By committing to both tours, Tharp’s 2014 schedule is awfully busy from February through August. It breaks down as follows: Bassmaster Classic, Bassmaster Elite Series (eight events, plus possible Angler of the Year championship), FLW Tour (six events), Forrest Wood Cup, Toyota Texas Bass Classic.