Fitness is Part of Fishing for Birge, Howell, Elam - Major League Fishing

Fitness is Part of Fishing for Birge, Howell, Elam

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MLF pros Zack Birge, James Elam and Randy Howell know the value of staying fit for fishing. Photos courtesy Birge, Elam & Howell
May 2, 2020 • Aly Akers-Atkins • Bass Pro Tour

Let’s be honest, fishing at a professional level is a lot more physical than people realize. MLF’s 80 pros have to not only stay sharp mentally but also take good care of their bodies physically. From long, jarring boat rides to balancing all day on the trolling motor to making thousands upon thousands of casts, anglers are constantly moving from the time their alarms go off at 4 a.m.

Here’s how MLF pros Zack Birge, Randy Howell and James Elam stay fit, and the reasoning behind their workouts.

Birge’s CrossFit

Even though he’s still one year shy of 30, Zack Birge quickly admits that tournament fishing can put a lot of wear and tear on the body.

“Fishing is tough on your body, from your shoulders all the way down to your feet,” Birge said. “Every part of your body is moving all day.”

Birge says that the most abused part of his body is his lower back. Severe back pain has sent him to the ER and chiropractor on days off during competitions, and doctors have given him shots to help relieve some of the agony.

“I’ve a bad lower back and a nerve that flares up, but nobody can tell me why,” Birge says. “I believe it’s from rough boat rides since I was 15 years old. There’s been times it’s flared up and I can barely bend over to release the fish below the gunwale. I almost have to take a knee to be able to bend down.”

Despite flare-ups with his back, Birge works hard to stay fit, to offset fatigue and strengthen critical muscles. Being in a position where he doesn’t feel up to speed is essentially putting him behind.

“Major League Fishing is so fast paced, if you’re able to move around quickly, you’re going to be able to get so many more casts in during the day,” Birge says.

To stay fit, Birge enjoys CrossFit, which he’s been doing since 2015. Birge eventually decided to try out a gym called CrossFit 134 in Oklahoma City.

“I was hooked after day one,” he laughs.

Like fishing, he enjoys the competitive side of CrossFit, competing with times or weights. A personal best bass relates to a personal best CrossFit time for Birge.

“We have this thing called a ‘WOD’ [workout of the day] and we keep track of our times so we can get better and faster at it,” Birge says. “That’s how I base my improvements.”

Even during a hectic MLF travel schedule, Birge tries to make time to go to other CrossFit gyms across the country.

“We’ve been to several, but the one we go to a lot is the one in Alabama where my cousin goes,” Birge said. “So, every time we go to Florida or somewhere down South, we always try to stop in for a few days.”

Howell Hoops It Up

Tournament fishing is a sport of long-term repetitive motion, a fact that’s not lost on 28-year tournament veteran Randy Howell.

“You put a lot of wear and tear doing the same motion on the same muscles and joints than you do anything else,” Howell says. “That’s 8 to 10 hours of the casting motion on your shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands.”

Howell estimates that he makes up to 1,500 to 2,000 casts a day, and after repeating that casting motion for almost 28 years, Howell has found that stretching is one of the best things he can do.

“It’s the hardest thing for me to take enough time to stretch and it’s hard to discipline yourself to stretch like you need to,” Howell admitted, “But, I’ve seen it makes a huge difference for me.”

The Daiwa pro follows a competition-day routine that starts with a hot shower to get his muscles loose, and then 10 to 15 minutes of stertching before he leaves the house.

“That’s why I’m always one of the last guys to the ramp in the mornings. I don’t like to get there and sit around and get all stiff and tense,” Howell says. “I like to be loose and ready to go when the competition starts.”

Howell plays pick-up basketball as frequently as possible when he’s at home in Guntersville, Alabama, which keeps him in shape and helps him with his cardio.

“When you run full court for two hours, especially with young guys in their 20’s and 30’s, you try to keep up with them and it definitely keeps you in shape,” Howell jokes.

Howell also plays frequently with his two sons, Laker and Oakley.

Run, Run Elam

Tournament fishing takes stamina. According to James Elam, nothing can get you 100 percent ready for the rigors of professional competition, but there are a few rules he follows to help him stay in shape for long, hard days on the water.

“From the way you eat to the way you workout, you can build that stamina,” Elam explains. “I do this with weight lifting and running.”

Elam runs some in the off-season, but focuses more on weight training, targeting his back, core, and leg muscles: areas he says will help him on the water and help him fish for a long time.

When the fishing season picks back up, Elam begins running a lot more.

“It seems like the stamina you gain by running all the time really seems to help me to fish hard all day long,” Elam says.

The Oklahoma pro stretches thoroughly the day before practice at each event: “It’s almost yoga-like,” he says. “It’s preventative maintenance to keep me from throwing out my back muscles or something. I do this on my off days and I do it when I’m home as well.”

On his off days, Elam will always go for a run. He doesn’t want to overdo it, so he will only run anywhere from a mile to 20 minutes.

“It kind of helps me get mentally right. Just enough to get a good sweat but not enough where I wear myself out,” he says.

When Elam isn’t on the road traveling for the Bass Pro Tour, he enjoys running with his girlfriend, Sam.

“We’ve ran about three or four 5ks,” he says “I don’t want to do any more than that but Sam has done a marathon and she’s been trying to get me to do one.”