For the first time in 28 years, Randy Howell finds himself in a little hiatus during the middle of a fishing season. Granted, it’s not by his choice, but a little time away from the sport he loves allowed him to reflect on a career that has spanned nearly three decades.
Howell’s love for bass fishing first blossomed on the waters of Lake Gaston on the North Carolina-Virginia border. His parents bought a tackle store on the lake when he was a kid, and that’s when an 11-year-old Howell began running a guide service on the 20,000-acre reservoir.
“It was a childhood dream of mine to become a professional fisherman,” Howell recalled. “Guiding for all of those years on Lake Gaston really made me want it even more. I felt like that experience prepared me to become a professional at such a young age. I never had a Plan B, I knew this is what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
Howell started fishing events on the FLW Redman Tour in his early teenage years. That’s when fellow North Carolinian, MLF analyst Marty Stone, got his first looks at the aspiring pro.
“You could tell he had it figured out from a very young age,” Stone said of Howell. “A lot of people compared him to Kevin VanDam in the early 1990s because he was a young up-and-comer just like Kevin.”
Stone wasn’t the only one to make those comparisons back then. A young Howell heard it plenty of times while trying to cut his teeth in the professional bass fishing world.
“I used to hear those comparisons to Kevin a lot because he started fishing two years before I did,” Howell remembered. “He came out winning right away and people thought that’s how I was going to be. I wanted to be the next KVD, but he did it a whole lot faster and better than anyone ever has, so it was hard to live up to those expectations.”
At 18 years young, Howell decided to take the plunge to a full-time professional. The first four years were admittedly tough according to Howell. There were times when he worried if he was making enough money to pay the bills. However, everything changed in 1996.
Howell was 22 years old at the time and trying to qualify for his first-ever Bassmaster Classic. He had earned enough points throughout the 1996 season to finish in ninth place and was the youngest angler to qualify for the Classic that year. That season, and more importantly, that qualification is what Howell believes jump-started his career.
“I finally got the respect of my peers because they knew that I was here to stay,” Howell said. “I wasn’t going to fade away like so many people do in this sport because it’s such a struggle. I really feel like 1996 was my arrival into being a real professional angler.”
Howell qualified for the Classic 12 more times in 16 years before finally capturing his first championship on Lake Guntersville in 2014. Howell was 45 years old with seven major wins to his name and nearly $2 million in career earnings, but he began to feel like he needed a change. Enter the MLF Bass Pro Tour.
“I was getting burnt out with tournament fishing after 25 years,” Howell admitted. “When the Bass Pro Tour came along, I knew I needed to join to really re-energize me. I rediscovered my passion for competition and I was so excited to get to compete against the best there is. It really made me want to get back into the spotlight of winning instead of just being a consistent competitor.”
The man with the famous flat-top fade haircut made his first taste of the new league count, finishing in sixth place during Stage One of 2019 at Lake Toho in Kissimmee, Florida. The rest of the season would not be as kind to him, however, finishing in 31st in REDCREST point qualification, the first man outside of the Top 30.
This season, Howell ranks 62nd in points after three stages. With his eyes on the prize of his first MLF win that could be in the near future, he hopes that he doesn’t have to wait that much longer to get it.
“It’s been five years since my last major win and I’m itching to get another one,” Howell admitted. “I would love nothing more than to get back to fishing after this coronavirus shut down and win the first event back. A Bass Pro Tour win is something that I want more than anything right now. That’s my goal and I can’t wait to get started.”