Months prior to winning the Bassmaster Classic, Randy Howell had booked an appearance at a popular spring sales event at Bass Pro Shops. There, he assumed he would sign a few autographs and take photos with fans, just as he had done in the past. It was fun to interact with the fishing public.
Howell could never comprehend what a drastic change would occur prior to his appearance.
Shortly after his Classic victory, Howell followed through with his commitment and appeared at the mega-store, where he signed autographs and posed for pictures continuously for 2 straight days. The line of fans waiting to pose with the newly crowned Classic king was unlike any he had seen for a tournament pro before. He admits he’d signed healthy numbers of autographs at such events in the past, but for the first time, he “had a line, like Bill Dance or Roland.”
Following the event that weekend, he was informed that Bass Pro Shops set a single-day record for gross sales at a retail location.
During his champion’s press conference a few weeks prior, Howell had immediately fessed up that multiple baits were responsible for his win. Rather than giving the customary “unnamed lure” answer, Howell readily admitted that, although his now famous Livingston crank was an integral player, he also caught several fish on a Rapala DT-6. As he put it, “I wanted to appear transparent to the media." What a unique, refreshing thought.
In today’s world of pro bass marketing, every dollar is scrutinized to the highest degree. For the most part, bass pros don’t dare make the mistake of gaining exposure for competing brands. But Randy, being Randy, took the high road, knowing that he couldn’t hide anything from the TV cameras anyway.
What a drastic contrast this is to the general trend of bass pros concealing the truth. The winner of a major event told us all exactly what he used to catch the winning string. It’s just what we, as fans, need.
I don’t know about you, but the primary reason I try to digest everything I can about the pros is to enable me to become a better fisherman. I want to know what they, with thousands of hours of intricate testing, rely on to beat the competition. And I want specifics.
As we all know by now, the vital link in Howell's heroic final day was a prototype crankbait made by Livingston Lures, coming to the market any day now and known as the Howeller Dream Master Classic Crank. Without question, had the lure been on the market prior to the Classic, sales of thousands of other baits likely would have been shifted to Livingston. But that hasn’t swayed Randy’s honesty, and he claims Livingston commends him for it, already presenting him with a sizable bonus above what was required in his contract for bringing the company so much attention.
In a recent interview, I plied Howell more with questions on Classic riches and big, fat bonus checks. By now, he had surely been contacted by the Under Armours and Go Pros of the world, begging him to support their brands, right? Supposedly, the Classic is worth millions.
I was surprised to learn that, at this time, Howell had no interaction or interest from any company that was not already one of his supporting sponsors. He did, however, have several bonus clauses in place in those existing contracts that will make for a healthy payday. This is something we see in nearly every full-time touring pro’s agreements, and that ensures they will receive at least a small portion of their sponsor’s new-found profitability.
Howell did see, however, a huge increase in his popularity as a speaker to accompany his Classic fame. I got a glimpse of his inbox and witnessed over 4,000 emails immediately following his win. Many of those were likely requests for his time.
As a speaker, Howell may make several thousand dollars for an appearance. And as the type of person who really enjoys “giving back," he would likely be willing to perform seminars for quite a bit less. He’s careful, though, not to sell out the crown, as cautioned by former champs Lane and VanDam.
While it’s hard to say no, it’s important to do so, say his peers, in order to keep the bill high for a Classic champ. They’re exactly right in that thinking. Last time I checked, only about 35 guys have won the Classic, despite tens of thousands trying.
One of the unique aspects of Howell's win is the publicity derived for his title sponsor, King's Home. As we’ve reported here in the past, this unique relationship supports a “brand” that makes a real difference in the world. And, since Howell’s win, King's Home has seen a dramatic increase in interest of their business, as well as increased donations.
Howell is also seeing great interest from other faith-driven organizations, most notably churches, which would like to hire him as a speaker at upcoming events. Many are wild-game dinners or father-son functions where a keynote speaker like him can bring real awareness to the issues facing today’s youth, and give a first-hand example of how anyone can grow up to be anything in this great country with the right guidance and a lot of hard work.
Howell praised JM Associates, producers of the Bassmasters TV show, for their portrayal of his mission. As he said, they “really brought awareness to the need to help others” with their final-day documentary of his struggle and crowning achievement. “It was like the good ol’ days in bass fishing coming back” he said.
I think I know what Howell is hinting to with that last comment. It was the “A-team vs. B-Team” at the weigh in, Ray Scott nearly sending them all into delirium.
It was Clunn coming from nowhere, literally in a trance. It was Denny finally winning, Kerchal blowing his whistle, and the Woo Fans everywhere. It was Guido Bugs, Poe's 400s and Classic, gold-plated Indiana blades, selling out instantly.
Maybe somewhere a very dedicated fan, who also happened to be a TV exec, saw those heydays coming back with Randy and his Howeller. I, for one, sure hope so. It’s exactly what we need in today’s age of excess in everything, including bass fishing.
A man, a dream, and a crankbait. Funny how history seems to repeat itself.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)