By BassFan Staff
Randy Howell has long been an angler who fishes under the influence of momentum. His 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series season is a prime example: an average finish of 62nd place over the first four events, followed by an 18th-place average during the last four. He also won the James River Southern Open during that latter period, which encompassed the late spring and summer, to punch his ticket for this year's Bassmaster Classic.
He's carried that second-half mojo into the new year, and today he took his career to a level he'd never before approached during his 20-plus years of fishing for a living. He caught a 29-02 sack at Lake Guntersville in his adopted home state of Alabama to win the 44th edition of the Classic with a 3-day total of 67-08.
"It was my best day of fishing ever," said Howell, who'd never fared better than 10th in 11 previous Classic appearances. "That's the largest bag of my professional career and to have it happen in the Bassmaster Classic is just phenomenal."
His primary challenger for the crown was Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation representative Paul Mueller, a full-time guide who lit up the lake over the final 2 days after a lackluster opening round. He sacked 24-11 to finish just a pound out of the top slot, becoming the highest finisher from the grassroots contingent since the late Bryan Kerchal, also from Connecticut, copped the trophy in 1994.
Edwin Evers, who started the final day with a 1-ounce lead, weighed 18-05 to end up 3rd with 65-11. He'll remain at the top of many observers' lists of the best anglers in the game to have never won a championship event or an Angler of the Year title.
Ott DeFoe, the only competitor to exceed the 20-pound mark on each day, finished 3rd with a 63-06 total. Randall Tharp, the day-1 leader who was bidding to hold both the Forrest Wood Cup and Classic trophies at the same time, completed the Top 5 with 62-12 after boxing 15 1/2 pounds on day 3.
Here's how the final Top 12 stacked up:
1. Randy Howell: 67-08
2. Paul Mueller: 66-08
3. Edwin Evers: 65-11
4. Ott DeFoe: 63-06
5. Randall Tharp: 62-12
6. Jordan Lee: 62-01
7. Todd Faircloth: 61-01
8. David Kilgore: 60-07
9. Doug Thompson: 60-03
10. Adam Wagner: 59-03
11. Casey Ashley: 57-09
12. Bobby Lane: 56-07
Howell's jump to the top after starting the final day in 11th place represents the largest such ascension in Classic history. That mark had previously been shared by Don Butler (1972) and Rick Clunn (1990), who both prevailed after beginning day 3 in 10th.
B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier Paul Mueller had another stellar day en route to his runner-up finish.
To the surprise of some, the winning weight record for the five-fish era (69-11), set by Kevin VanDam at the Louisiana Delta in 2011, still stands. Many competitors and pundits had predicted that it would fall this week, but the strong storm that rolled through the area the night prior to day 1 hurt the chances of that occurrence as it muddied and cooled a lot of previously productive water.
Howell became the second Alabamian to win a Classic in the state in which he resides, following fellow Alabamian Boyd Duckett, who triumphed at Lay Lake in 2007.
Howell Went with Gut Feelings
> Day 3: 5, 29-02 (15, 67-08)
Despite having 10 competitors in front of him on the leaderboard, Howell said he had an "overwhelming feeling" on the morning of day 3 that he was about to win the Classic. He then made an instinctive decision to abandon his plan of starting in Mill Creek, opting instead to fish the riprap in Spring Creek along Highway 79.
"It's a place that all the locals fish and there's usually people fishing from the bank – sometimes you can't even cast across the corners (of the cut leading into the creek) because of all the people," he said.
"I'd caught all 18 pounds in Mill Creek (on day 2). It was the exact same setup with the riprap corners. The fish were stacked up there just like at Spring Creek, and I told a bunch of people that's where I was going. I know I would've caught them good there, but I probably wouldn't have caught 29 pounds. It all worked out."
He said he boated more than 40 fish on the day. The first 20 pounds worth or so swallowed a Rapala DT6, and then he made several culls with a medium-diving prototype Livingston Lures bait that he'd had only since Thursday and had never tied on. He used a bladed jig to make one final upgrade at the end of the day from the back of the creek.
Then he had to sweat out the protracted final-day weigh-in. He was initially concerned that he'd be overtaken by Tharp, but then learned privately from B.A.S.S. TV personality Mark Zona that Mueller would be his biggest threat.
"Sitting in that seat, I had the feeling I was going to throw up," he said. "When (Mueller) pulled that bag out, it looked huge. Robin (his wife) was prepared for me not to win because somebody had told her they thought he had about 27 pounds.
"I'm not a guy who wins a lot – I've been doing this for 21 years and I've won three major tournaments (last year's Open, the 2004 Lake Dardanelle Elite 50 and the 1998 Wheeler Lake FLW Tour). When I can go out and fish in a simple, nuts-and-bolts way like any Joe Blow who comes to Guntersville would, and win the Bassmaster Classic, it shows that anything can happen."
Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be posted soon.
2nd: Mueller Thrilled
> Day 3: 5, 24-11 (13, 66-08)
Despite knowing that even one more 15-inch keeper on day 1 would've likely given him the title, Mueller was ecstatic about nearly becoming the second B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier to win the Classic.
"People were asking me if I was disappointed that I didn't win," he said. "No, I'm not disappointed. I was in 47th place after day 1. I climbed each day. What else could I want? Randy Howell deserves this more than I do because he's been in this game forever."
The 29-year-old fishing guide from Connecticut said a decision to change to a ChatterBait on day 2 was ultimately what led to his rapid rise up the standings.
"I really didn't know how to fish this place so it was a blessing just to figure it out as the tournament went on because I didn't throw a ChatterBait at all in practice."
He said he had to be persistent today in order to trigger bites in the areas he was fishing for the third straight day.
"It would take me 40 casts today to get one to bite," he said. "I had to make the same cast over and over again. I was very fortunate to get what I got.
"I wasn't intimidated because you have to just go out and catch fish, but these guys are the best in the world. I just feel really blessed to do what I did. It's awesome. I want to do it again. I wish there was one more day."
Three lost fish on the final day doomed Edwin Evers' chances at victory.
3rd: Evers Stymied Again
> Day 3: 5, 18-05 (15, 65-11)
Evers felt like he fished a solid tournament, but a trio of lost fish today led to his demise.
"It wasn't meant to be," he said. "I thought I fished fairly good. Randy beat me today. I thought I needed to have a 29-pound bag. It turned out I didn't need that much. I'm just disappointed. I didn't get it done. Hats off to Randy and congratulations to him."
He returned to the areas of Goose Pond that produced so well on day 2.
"I caught of a bunch of them today," he said. "They went a little shallower. I had one 15-minute stretch where I lost a 6- and two 5-pounders. I'm going to remember that stretch for a long time."
4th: Another Giant for DeFoe
> Day 3: 5, 20-01 (15, 63-06)
DeFoe was the only angler in the field to weigh 20-plus pounds each day. Catching fish in the 6- to 8-pound range certainly helps in that regard. While others lamented not being able to get similar specimens in the boat, DeFoe's execution led to the best finish in his three Classic appearances.
Defoe's kicker today was an 8-04 brute that he caught on the main lake after abandoning a riprap and bridge pattern. After fishing his two best riprap spots today, he had one squeaker before he moved out on the main lake and started fishing some river bars and, "places I've fished in the past. Some of them I've never fished before in my life."
Four of his keepers came off one place, while the 8-pounder was a lone wolf as he collected his third Top-11 finish in the Classic.
"I wish I would've run more bridges quicker on day 1," he said. "The wind, plus the current on day 1 was really good. I caught a lot of fish that way once I got on it. It was 11 o'clock before I got on that deal and a couple or three more hours in the morning would've been pretty good."
5th: Tharp's Spots Dried Up
> Day 3: 5, 15-07 (15, 62-12)
Tharp didn't catch near the quantity or quality he caught over the first 2 days and it led to his lowest weight of the event.
"From day 1, it was just going away," he said of his offshore grass fish. "Those fish were just leaving out there. I tried to adjust today. I made a good adjustment. I just didn't capitalize on the bites I had. I went to flipping docks and fishing the bank and had three bites. One was a real big fish and I lost all three of them.
"I still probably wouldn't have won even if I'd have caught her, but she looked to be an 8. She was pinned in a tree."
After morning flurries the first 2 days allowed him to settle into a groove, he was one fish short of a limit for a good portion of the afternoon today.
"I was lucky to even have five," he said. "I caught two keepers and my best fish with like 3 minutes before I was supposed to be at check-in. It was a struggle all day."
6th: Another 24 From Lee
> Day 3: 5, 24-10 (14, 62-01)
The Classic didn't start off how Jordan Lee had hoped it would, but he certainly ended it on his terms.
After a dismal day 1, he rebounded with 24-00 on day 2 before closing out his first Classic with 24-11.
"I stuck with my game plan," he said. "I figured it out on day 2. I just flipped shallow gator grass in zero to 3 feet. I did it all day and stuck with it and it worked out. I wish I could have figured it out the first day. I could've won this tournament.
"It seems like when the water warms up quick like this those big ones go to the bank and get in that grass because it holds the most heat. A lot of guys might flip a weight in there. It doesn't fall far. It's less than 2 feet mostly. I just had the confidence when I got those bites to go do it and I only had 3 hours to do and I caught 24 pounds. I knew that was the deal."
7th: Another Top-10 For Faircloth
> Day 3: 5, 23-08 (15, 61-01)
Despite seeing his weight come up significantly throughout the event, Todd Faircloth was left wondering when it'll be his turn to win the Classic. This marks his fifth straight Top-10 finish in the event.
"The last 2 days, I fished good and made good decisions," he said. "The first day, I made one that probably wasn't a real good decision. I went to a creek where I'd caught a couple of good fish out of. I caught fish in there, but I never caught any good ones.
"Yesterday, instead of going back to that creek, I went to another one where I'd had some bites and there was a bunch of fish there. Anyway, the guy who wins this thing is going to make all the right decision for 3 days in a row and that wasn't me."
Ott DeFoe's 8-04 giant helped him achieve a 4th-place finish.
While he knows his Top-10 streak is something to be proud of it, he's growing weary of the close-but-no-cigar routine.
"It does bother me, but on the other hand it's a positive, too, because if I keep putting myself here, hopefully one year I'll put 3 strong days together and get it done," he said. "It definitely wears on you a bit."
8th: What-Ifs For Kilgore
> Day 3: 5, 24-13 (15, 60-07)
David Kilgore lost some giant fish this week – enough that he believes he would've challenged Howell for the win had he put them all in the boat.
"I had an 8-pounder on day 1 and lost one bigger than that," he said. "Today I had a 9-pounder (about 5 feet) from my hand and it just came off. I had another one about 7 come off. It wasn't anything I did. They didn't have it good, but you flirt with that with little hooks.
"That end of it frustrates me because I could've blown this thing out of the water. It wouldn't even have been close. Was I doing the right thing to win? Absolutely. Was it high risk, high reward? Yes, it was. I knew I caught them good, but what would I have had? I could've had 32 or 33 today."
He fished a Strike King Red Eye Shad (sexy shad) around shallow grass all week.
"If my front graph didn't say 1.5 (feet), I wasn't fishing it. If it got to 2, it was too deep," he said.
Kilgore, who's declined an invitation to fish the Elite Series three different times, said he was satisfied with how he held up against some stiff competition.
"It was nice to go fishing against these guys and sort of prove my worth in terms of, 'If this guy does go fishing against us, he'd do okay,'" he said. "Everybody always wonders and I guess I put that to bed. The whole Classic experience has just been awesome."
9th: Thompson Closed Well
> Day 3: 5, 25-05 (14, 60-03)
Doug Thompson, a B.A.S.S. Nation qualifier from Arkansas, averaged nearly 24 pounds on the last 2 days. His final-day bag was topped only by Howell's.
He only wishes he'd have done better than 12 1/2 pounds on day 1.
"I had a place that I thought would be good, but I didn't get any bites there in practice," he said. "By yesterday, the water had cleared up.
"It's amazing how tournament fishing goes – sometimes when you don't do well, that can lead you to places where you can do well. It teaches me not to give up on a game plan too easily."
He worked the 4- to 5-foot depth range along the edges of breaks with an XCalibur Xr50 rattlebait.
10th: Wagner Mixed it Up
> Day 3: 5, 20-02 (15, 59-03)
Bassmaster Weekend Series champion Adam Wagner caught his second straight 20-pound stringer to continue his climb up the leaderboard. He caught eight keepers on the day, including a 6-pounder.
"Today I scrapped what I had and went junk-fishing," he said. "I got two on a jerkbait, two flipping a jig and one on a (rattlebait)."
The Tennesseean said he might fish the Bassmaster Southern Opens next year in an effort to qualify for the Elite Series.
11th: Ashley's Fish Shut Down
> Day 3: 5, 15-13 (15, 57-09)
Ashley surrendered five places in the standings on the final day as his fish just didn’t cooperate.
“I didn’t do anything different today, but they weren’t biting,” he said. “It took me until 2:15 to catch my fifth fish. I was throwing a Lucky Craft LV RTO 150 rattlebait in the TO craw color and they ate it good the first 2 days.
“Today my water cleared up big-time and there was no wind, and you know how tough that can make it. I tried a jig, a Carolina rig and a swimbait, but they wouldn’t hit anything but that (rattlebait).
“I had found a place way up in Brown’s Creek during practice, out in the middle of the bay. I realized today it was a roadbed, but there must have been a place where it collapsed or something and formed kind of a point. That’s the only place they would bite."
12th: Nice Finish for Lane
> Day 3: 5, 21-00 (15, 56-07)
Bobby Lane had a slow start to his seventh Classic, but rebounded with over 20 pounds on each of the following 2 days.
“I was really disappointed the first day, but I just didn’t have a great pattern coming in,” he said. “It was nice to have the comeback I did. That feels pretty good.
"Today I ended up going back in South Sauty Creek and throwing a Sebile Action First Lipless Seeker (rattlebait) around shallow docks. I made three or four casts to each dock and there were a few good ones back there.”
13th: Martens Zipped Past Howell
> Day 3: 5, 18-05 (15, 55-10)
Aaron Martens fished beyond the Highway 79 bridge in Spring Creek on the final day.
“I went right past all those fish that Randy (Howell) caught today,” he said. “I just didn’t feel it as I went through. I could have stopped there, but I didn’t. They weren’t there in practice, I checked. And I’d caught so many farther back yesterday, so I went back to them.
“The thing that hurt me was losing big fish. I’ve never had a tournament where I lost so many good ones. I lost seven fish over 6 pounds each. I could have improved my weight 15 to 18 pounds over the tournament if I’d caught those. I have a headache from trying to figure out why they kept coming off.”
He threw 1/2- and 3/4-ounce rattlebaits, a Megabass Flap Slap crankbait and a ChatterBait bladed jig over grass in 2 to 5 feet of water.
14th: Tornado Paved Palaniuk's Way
> Day 3: 5, 16-13 (15, 54-06)
Brandon Palaniuk ran a unique pattern – he fished submerged trees felled by a tornado that rolled through the area a couple of years ago.
"You could see where it took them all out," he said. "I had a decent practice (doing other things), but the storm changed everything and I ended up scrapping it all. I'd never been here before and I would've ended up just running around blind."
His fish came from 1 to 3 feet of water and were enticed by a Storm Rattling Arashi Square 3 and a 3/8-ounce Terminator flipping jig.
16th: JVD Upbeat
> Day 3: 5, 14-00 (15, 53-05)
Jonathon VanDam weighed consistent bags all 3 days.
“I’m pretty happy with how it went for me,” he said. “I had a good second day and put myself in contention. I just wish I had found more areas. This lake is so spread out and I didn’t feel like I could spend time running to places too far apart.”
He fished 1 to 5 feet of water with a 1/2-ounce unce Strike King Redeye Shad in gold sexy shad color.
“Sometimes I would burn it, sometimes kind of slow-roll it. I would lift it sometimes and let it flutter down.”
19th: Walker was Up and Down
> Day 3: 5, 16-15 (14, 51-02)
David Walker rebounded from a 9 1/2-pound day 2 with a better stringer to conclude the event.
"Today I just went out like it was a practice day and drove as far back in a pocket as I could go," he said. "That water didn’t exist on the first day. The lake came up 1 to 1 1/2 feet and the fish moved right up with it. I caught them in less than 3 feet of water today. I was stirring up mud with the trolling motor.”
He lost a fish that he estimated at over 6 pounds, which cost him a few places in the standings.
20th: Monroe's Downfall Was Day 1
> Day 3: 5, 16-04 (14, 50-09)
Ish Monroe weighed his largest bag of the event (18-08) on day 1, but that was also the day that multiple lost fish cost him several pounds and set a negative tone for the event.
"I had the bites, but I just didn't boat them," he said. "I had the mother lode that day and my game plan was to run around and get a bite here and a bite there, thinking that the next day those places would still have some fish. Day 2 was just a scramble, though – I got six bites and landed four fish."
He went extremely shallow on the final day, fishing the back side of laydowns with a River2Sea Biggie crankbait.
21st: Roumbanis Fooled by Depth
> Day 3: 5, 14-04 (13, 49-00)
Fred Roumbanis was an early contender after catching a 9-03 giant that held up as big bass of the event, but the going was much tougher from then on.
“I had no idea these fish would move so shallow in such cold water,” he said. “I’m used to waiting until the water temperature gets up to 55 degrees or more to go so shallow, but these fish went up in 51-52 degrees. I was out there trying to intercept them and they’d already gone past where I was.”
He fished a Pepper Custom Baits Commando bladed jig to catch most of his fish, slow-rolling it through the bottom of ditches and drains. He also mixed in a swimjig.
22nd: Combs' Action Curtailed
> Day 3: 5, 14-14 (15, 49-00)
After a strong start, Keith Combs’ weight fell off significantly the next 2 days.
“I did the same thing every day, but it just didn’t produce as well after the first day,” he said. “I was throwing a Strike King 5XD crankbait on riprap banks, but today it wasn’t as good. I changed up to a 1/2-ounce Redeye Shad in albino craw color and went to fishing points.
"The fish weren’t on straight banks. I was bumping stumps in 2 feet of water on those points. I think they spawn against the stumps and were moving up for that.
“Looking back, I wish I wouldn’t have kept going back to the same spots," he continued. "The fish just didn’t replenish like I thought they would on this lake. When you go back through an area you’ve caught fish in, you have enough confidence that it misleads you and you spend too much time trying to make it work when really you should move. I should have fished new water every day.”
23rd: Morgenthaler's Grass Petered Out
> Day 3: 3, 6-09 (13, 47-12)
Chad Morgenthaler stayed with the shallow grass pattern that got him to the final day, but it eventually let him down.
“I fished lipless rattlebaits and (vibrating jig) baits over shallow grass pretty much the whole time,” he said. “The wheels came off today, though. The current shut off and my area got too muddy.”
When asked what he might do differently if he had it to do over, he said he wished he’d been able to develop more in practice.
“I know some guys were catching good ones deep, but I couldn’t get that going. I just didn’t have the confidence to do that in the tournament. We have only 7 1/2 hours to fish and you need to fish slow, and you know fishing deep you won’t get as many bites. I just had to go shallow where I’d had more bites.”
> Day 3 stats – 25 anglers, 21 limits, 1 four, 2 threes, 1 one.
1. Randy Howell -- Springville, AL -- 15, 67-08 -- 0 -- $300,000
Day 1: 5, 20-03 -- Day 2: 5, 18-03 -- Day 3: 5, 29-02
2. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 13, 66-08 -- 0 -- $45,000
Day 1: 3, 09-10 -- Day 2: 5, 32-03 -- Day 3: 5, 24-11
3. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 15, 65-11 -- 0 -- $42,500
Day 1: 5, 26-13 -- Day 2: 5, 20-09 -- Day 3: 5, 18-05
4. Ott DeFoe -- Knoxville, TN -- 15, 63-06 -- 0 -- $30,000
Day 1: 5, 20-10 -- Day 2: 5, 22-11 -- Day 3: 5, 20-01
5. Randall Tharp -- Port Saint Joe, FL -- 15, 62-12 -- 0 -- $27,500
Day 1: 5, 27-08 -- Day 2: 5, 19-13 -- Day 3: 5, 15-07
6. Jordan Lee -- Vinemont, AL -- 14, 62-01 -- 0 -- $22,000
Day 1: 4, 13-07 -- Day 2: 5, 24-00 -- Day 3: 5, 24-10
7. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 15, 61-01 -- 0 -- $21,500
Day 1: 5, 16-06 -- Day 2: 5, 21-03 -- Day 3: 5, 23-08
8. David Kilgore -- Jasper, AL -- 15, 60-07 -- 0 -- $21,000
Day 1: 5, 18-15 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11 -- Day 3: 5, 24-13
9. Doug Thompson -- Mabelvale, AR -- 14, 60-03 -- 0 -- $20,500
Day 1: 4, 12-07 -- Day 2: 5, 22-07 -- Day 3: 5, 25-05
10. Adam Wagner -- Cookeville, TN -- 15, 59-03 -- 0 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 14-14 -- Day 2: 5, 24-03 -- Day 3: 5, 20-02
11. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 15, 57-09 -- 0 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 23-02 -- Day 2: 5, 18-10 -- Day 3: 5, 15-13
12. Bobby Lane -- Lakeland, FL -- 15, 56-07 -- 0 -- $14,500
Day 1: 5, 12-15 -- Day 2: 5, 22-08 -- Day 3: 5, 21-00
13. Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 15, 55-10 -- 0 -- $14,250
Day 1: 5, 15-10 -- Day 2: 5, 21-11 -- Day 3: 5, 18-05
14. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 15, 54-06 -- 0 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 5, 20-14 -- Day 3: 5, 16-13
15. Morizo Shimizu -- Osaka, Japan -- 15, 53-10 -- 0 -- $13,750
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 5, 19-07 -- Day 3: 5, 17-08
16. Jonathon VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 15, 53-05 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 20-11 -- Day 2: 5, 18-10 -- Day 3: 5, 14-00
17. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 15, 52-13 -- 0 -- $12,900
Day 1: 5, 20-14 -- Day 2: 5, 15-07 -- Day 3: 5, 16-08
18. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 13, 51-09 -- 0 -- $12,800
Day 1: 5, 22-03 -- Day 2: 5, 20-11 -- Day 3: 3, 08-11
19. David Walker -- Sevierville, TN -- 14, 51-02 -- 0 -- $12,700
Day 1: 5, 24-13 -- Day 2: 4, 09-06 -- Day 3: 5, 16-15
20. Ish Monroe -- Hughson, CA -- 14, 50-09 -- 0 -- $12,600
Day 1: 5, 18-08 -- Day 2: 4, 15-13 -- Day 3: 5, 16-04
21. Fred Roumbanis -- Bixby, OK -- 13, 49-00 -- 0 -- $14,900
Day 1: 5, 23-02 -- Day 2: 3, 11-10 -- Day 3: 5, 14-04
22. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 15, 49-00 -- 0 -- $12,300
Day 1: 5, 20-03 -- Day 2: 5, 13-15 -- Day 3: 5, 14-14
23. Chad Morgenthaler -- Coulterville, IL -- 13, 47-12 -- 0 -- $12,200
Day 1: 5, 19-05 -- Day 2: 5, 21-14 -- Day 3: 3, 06-09
24. Coby Carden -- Shelby, AL -- 13, 46-09 -- 0 -- $12,100
Day 1: 5, 22-04 -- Day 2: 4, 12-03 -- Day 3: 4, 12-02
25. Terry Scroggins -- San Mateo, FL -- 11, 43-06 -- 0 -- $12,000
Day 1: 5, 16-15 -- Day 2: 5, 21-13 -- Day 3: 1, 04-10
Fred Roumbanis -- 9-03 (Day 1) -- $1,000