By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Randall Tharp's official residence is listed as Gardendale, Ala., but he spends more time at Florida's Lake Okeechobee than he does at any other single locale in the country. And why not? The place has become a virtual gold mine for him.
He and his wife pull their 40-foot fifth-wheel trailer down to the Big O in the late fall every year, and they stay through most of the winter. He competes (quite successfully, mind you) in an average of one local event per week through the holiday season, and then he goes out and wins (or comes very close to winning) the first FLW Tour event of the new year.
His initial victory of the 2012-13 season is already in the books – he and Brandon McMillan (who edged him out for the 2011 Okeechobee FLW Tour Open crown before Tharp won this year's edition) caught 18 1/2 pounds to win a derby out of Clewiston against some stiff competition.
"I don't have my own boat here yet; I should get it today or tomorrow," he said Monday. "Once I get it, I'll be on the water about 4 days a week. It's not just preparing for the Tour event, it's just that this is where I like to go fishing.
"It's a pretty unique lifestyle. It's just my wife and I and our two beagles, and most of our friends are down here. It's definitely nice to go home every now and then and get caught up there, but it all depends on my (tournament) schedule. If it's more cost-effective, we could be gone for 3 straight months."
Bomb Avoidance the Priority
The 43-year-old Tharp, who turned pro in 2009 following a lengthy stint as a building contractor, badly wants to win a tour-level Angler of the Year (AOY) award. He's copped that title at every lower level at which he's competed and has proven that he can log the requisite high finishes against top-caliber competition.
What he must do is avoid the occasional stinker that's plagued him the last 2 years en route to 17th- and 20th-place finishes on the points list. In the Tour Opens, which have been discontinued for 2013, he notched three Top-10s (including his Big O win), but a 128th at the Detroit River kept him out of the Top 5 in the points and thus denied him an early berth in next year's Forrest Wood Cup.
"I'm very obsessed (with the AOY)," he said. "Day in and day out, it's the hardest thing to accomplish in the sport. David (Dudley) winning it back-to-back the last 2 years is more impressive to me than the wins he's had. There's no doubt he's the best angler in the sport right now.
"Those bad finishes that've happened to me the last 2 years cannot happen. When Dudley has a bad one, he's finishing 30th – he makes the Top-20 cut almost every time. I feel like I'm really close, and I understand what it takes. I'm consistently getting a little closer, but I wasn't where I wanted to be this year."
From a prize-money perspective, his past 2 years were superb. However, he doesn't view commas and zeroes as the most relevant measurement of success.
Tharp will fish two Bassmaster Open divisions next year in a quest to qualify for the 2014 Classic at Lake Guntersville.
"I feel like I'm a better angler than where I've ended up, and right now that trophy is more important to me than a quarter-million dollars a year."
G'Ville Classic on His Mind
A year from now, Tharp would like to be in the same position that fellow FLW pro Jason Christie finds himself in currently: Preparing for a "local" Bassmaster Classic after winning a Bassmaster Open. Even though he's fished Okeechobee a lot more than Guntersville (site of the '14 Classic) over the past several years, he hasn't forgotten all of the days he spent on the famed Tennessee River impoundment in his native state.
His résumé there over the past decade includes an Open triumph, three BFL victories and numerous other wins. In a quest to be among the competitors there 15 months from now, he'll fish both the Central and Northern Opens next year.
"I think I'd have somewhat of an advantage if I made it," he said. "And with the win-and-you're-in (format) in the Opens, I think that's very possible for me."
What's also possible – more than likely, even – is another single-digit finish at next year's FLW Tour opener at the Big O.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well in that because it suits me so well. I have a really good record and I expect to have a chance to win on the final day.
"If I don't, I'm not going to be happy with it."
> McMillan will fish a full Tour schedule for the first time this year, and Tharp is looking forward to having him there at each stop. "He's a really close friend and someone I can talk to in practice and during the tournament," he said. "I'm not an 'info guy' and I've always prided myself on doing things my own way, but networking can definitely be an asset and I think it'll work well for us. The biggest thing is having somebody you can completely trust."