Lake Fork in Emory, Texas is known worldwide for its massive largemouth bass. The East Texas reservoir lived up to the hype during Stage Three of the 2020 Bass Pro Tour when Justin Atkins landed an MLF record 10-pound, 8-ounce behemoth during the second day of competition. While there are big prespawn bass to be caught on Lake Fork, it’s no easy task getting those extremely pressured fish to bite when you need them to.
That’s the issue that Randy Howell ran into during Day 4 of competition while trying to make it through to the Knockout Round.
“I was fishing a heavily pressured spawning area in a creek that had a lot of other guys in it,” Howell recalled. “The first day of competition, I caught all of the fish I could sight fishing so there weren’t many left for that method. I was also fishing in Group B, so I found out later that Greg Vinson in Group A was fishing the same stuff before I did and crushing them. That’s not something you necessarily game plan for.”
Howell entered his second Qualifying Round in 15th place with eight bass for 33-14. With only the Top 20 moving on, the Alabama pro needed to stay consistent if he wanted to qualify for the Knockout Round.
As his day went on, Howell found that sight fishing in his normal area of that busy creek was not going to be what got him through. Running short on time after falling out of the Top 20 at the beginning of Period 3, Howell shifted his focus to a new area that he found during practice. While he never put a line in, Howell remembered he marked the area on his Lowrance unit.
“You always have to have a spot or two in your mind where you can go if you only need a couple of bites,” Howell recommended. “I knew there was a spot I could go if I was only going to need one or two more bites to make the cut. I’m glad I had that spot mapped out or I would have been in big trouble.”
He was only a couple of pounds outside the Top 20, so one or two bites would easily be the difference. The North Carolina native pulled up to the isolated patches of reeds, flipped his Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog, and hooked into a 4-pounder and a couple of 2-pounders.
Those three Texas largemouth moved him back into the Top 20 with only an hour left to go in his day. He ended the round in 20th place with a two-day total of 14 bass for 50-10, just 2 pounds above 21st-place Dave Lefebre.
In his second year on the Bass Pro Tour and prior years of experience fishing MLF Cups, Howell admits he is no stranger to the stress of the Elimination Line. After a 40th-place finish in Stage Three, the Daiwa pro says that there’s a good and a bad side to making the cut.
“I’ve been on the Elimination Line so many times in my career,” Howell said with a chuckle. “It’s a very scary place to be. You can’t even breathe even when the clock runs out because you’re worried about someone else who may have caught one as time was running out. There’s two things you feel. You feel relieved you made it while also feeling disgusted with yourself that you allowed yourself to get in a position to get eliminated. I’m just glad I was able to make it through.”