By Todd Ceisner
Every tournament angler goes through ups and downs on and off the water. Overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges is simply part of the routine.
But when those hurdles stack up, one after the other, like waves rolling toward shore, they sometimes can be too overwhelming to set aside. Collectively, they can do a number on one’s ability to maintain a clear focus on fishing. Such was the case for Randy Blaukat over the past 3 years.
The hardships came from all angles, a series of life’s left hooks followed up by right uppercuts that rendered bass fishing – his chosen line of work since 1986 – a mere afterthought at times.
He was immune to nothing, it seemed. Financial losses, marital problems, heartbreaking family health issues, sponsorship uncertainty and natural disasters – they all paid him a visit over the last couple years. Coping with them all has proved to be the ultimate challenge for the 50-year-old FLW Tour pro.
“These last couple of years, I’ve had quite a few challenges for a lot of different reasons,” he said.
As a result, his on-the-water results have suffered greatly. Since sitting out 2010 due to lack of sponsorship support, he’s cashed five checks in 17 FLW Tour events over the last two seasons, finishing 73rd (2011) and in a tie for 94th (2012) in points in the process. He finished 110th or worse seven times over that span and his 4th-place showing at Beaver Lake in early 2011 was the only time he cracked the Top 30.
Needless to say, it’s been a bumpy road recently for the two-time B.A.S.S. winner who’s qualified for eight Bassmaster Classics and nine Forrest Wood Cups.
One After Another
Blaukat’s troubles trace back to the 2009 season when he cashed as many checks – three – as he missed. He wound up 54th in FLW Angler of the Year points and missed the Cup by 8 points.
Not long after, his deal with title sponsor Megabass was not renewed. Based on the timing, he was unable to secure another main sponsor for the 2010 season and he didn’t fish the Tour the following year. At the same time, he watched “significant” investments he’d made prior to the recession in 2008 begin to sink farther into the red.
“It was incredibly difficult,” he said. “Obviously, that was a real tough time in a lot of different areas.”
The 2010 season came and went and in the fall of that year FLW approached him about returning to the Tour in 2011 with a team deal underwritten by The Pickens Plan. He accepted, but another obstacle arose soon after.
“In January of 2011, I went through a very unexpected, very painful and very financially devastating divorce after 18 years,” he said. “Obviously, my mind was not totally focused during that first season back. I was going through a divorce. It was extremely painful and fishing was the last thing on my mind.”
Shortly after his divorce was finalized in May 2011, a massive EF5 tornado hit his hometown of Joplin, Mo., destroying much of the town and killing more than 150 people. Blaukat’s home was spared, but it was a devastating storm that will have a lasting effect on the southwest Missouri city.
“If you can just imagine a lawnmower a mile wide and it going through town for 6 miles, that’s what Joplin looked like after the tornado,” he said. “Between the divorce and the tornado, it was another huge distraction. Around the same time, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. So here was the 2011 season and I was so excited to get back into fishing and I had all of these personal dramas going on and I was totally unable to focus.”
In the six events following the tornado, a 33rd-place finish at the Pickwick Lake Tour Major in July 2011 served as his only money finish.
Last fall, he had another ordeal to contend with – this time a vicious puncture wound to his left hand suffered while laying landscaping fabric in his yard. The freak accident required 10 stitches on both sides and by the time the 2012 season rolled around it was virtually impossible for him to use baitcasting tackle.
“The past 3 months, I’ve healed up to nearly 100 percent,” he said. “It’s gradually gotten better, but the problem I had was the nerve was severed where my middle finger met the palm so I had no way to grip my rod with my left hand for the majority of the year. I’ve been doing a lot of therapy with it and it’s nearly back to 100 percent.”
Not long after he injured his hand, his mom suffered a massive stroke and is now bed-ridden and requires round-the-clock care, something he assists his father with.
“That last 2 years I’ve had a tremendous amount of personal challenges that have not been conducive to performing at the top level,” he said. “There’s a lot that goes with that physically and mentally. That’s been the overriding theme the last couple years. I’ve been in this sport long enough to know everything runs in cycles. You have your periods where everything is clicking and then you go through periods where you get derailed a little bit. It’s just part of the cycle of life.”
And just recently, he was informed by FLW that The Pickens Plan deal would not continue into 2013, opening the possibility that he could sit out again next year.
Blaukat may have to sit out 2013 if he's unable to secure a main sponsor.
“I’ve gotten my personal life back on track with getting remarried here soon,” he said. “My hand’s better and mentally and physically I feel stronger than ever and I really do hope I get an opportunity to fish next year because it’s really the first time in the last 3 years I’d be able to go into it without a distraction.
“There are so many uncontrollable variables out there right now. I didn’t see the loss of The Pickens Plan deal coming. Every feedback I was getting, I thought it was a pretty solid relationship and I don’t know their reasoning behind it, but whenever you lose a sponsor this late in the year it’s almost impossible to gain another title sponsorship that allows you to fish. I’m in the position where I can’t fish without a title sponsor. That’s just the reality of the situation.”
Blaukat has lived in Joplin his whole life and there’s no way to amply describe the connection he has to the area or the anguish he felt after the tornado flattened much of the town. More than 15 months have passed since the storm and rebuilding efforts have started to reshape old neighborhoods. Still, it’s going to take a long time for the wounds to fully heal.
“It’s slow and steady, but there’s still a long way to go,” he said. “Half of the town is still nothing – it’s just been flattened and cleaned out. It’s probably something that’ll take decades to get any resemblance back to what it used to be. The biggest thing you notice is all of the trees that were lost. The path of the tornado probably took out 15,000 mature trees.
“A lot of the businesses are being rebuilt and a lot of new zoning has taken place in the town that’s really benefited the town a lot. In the long run, the tornado will make the town a lot better because it really updated a lot of the dated part of the town. Everything’s going to be more modern. The zoning and planning laws that were put in place should help the town and the local economy and the energy of the town out quite a bit.”
He said work is still being done to clear away debris in part of the town and estimates the cleanup effort is about 90 percent complete.
“It had a big emotional toll on the town,” he said. “It hit my fiancée’s house right in the middle of it and she thought she was going to die. There are so many stories like that that stay with people. People get freaked out now every time there’s a thunderstorm warning here.”
> Blaukat would give anything to fish the Classic next February at Grand Lake, his favorite fishery. He expects it to take at least 15 pounds a day to win and says if rumors about B.A.S.S. possibly allowing one-hook umbrella rigs are true, that number could increase.
“Even with a single-hook Alabama Rig, it’s going to get won on it and it’ll probably take 20 to 25 pounds a day to win it,” he said. “If they don’t, it’ll get won on a jerkbait and it’ll take 15 to 18 pounds a day. It’s going to be good tournament, but it’s not going to be easy for everyone to have limits. Everyone’s freaking out about the cold, but it just doesn’t get that cold around here. At the end of February, you’re probably looking at the temperatures in the 50s. Unless some sort of Arctic front passes through you’re probably looking at water temperatures in the upper 40s, and it’s going to be a good pre-spawn tournament.”