I am excited to be writing this column from a wife’s perspective traveling on the Bassmaster Elite Series tour. This is my and Randy’s 21st year on tour, and I think that people will enjoy reading about life behind the scenes in the professional sport of bass fishing. I hope I can offer an insight into the life you don’t see on ESPN2, but that we all share as families of Elite anglers.
Randy and I met at a private Christian school in North Carolina. I began going to the school he attended in the 9th grade. I was a shy, athletic girl; and he was a very talkative, athletic outdoorsman. I know you can’t believe he was talkative! We were in the same class. Our school was small with an average class size of 20+/-. However, our class had 11 students in it. We became close like a family since it was such a small class.
Randy and I started dating in the 10th grade and have been inseparable ever since. There were so many things that stood out to me about him, but one thing was the fact that in the 10th grade, he gave up baseball in the spring so that he could fish more on his home lake, Lake Gaston. He often came to school straight from the river down the road from an early morning fishing trip before school. I thought this was so great and different since I also shared his passion for fishing. I grew up fishing in our family’s farm ponds with my dad. I really enjoyed catching bass on the weekends from our pond boat. I think that secretly Randy wanted to fish my ponds and learn my techniques, so he asked me out! Ha!
We were engaged soon after we graduated high school. I began attending college, and he began pursuing his dream of being a professional angler. We were married in 1992 after I had completed one year of college. He was also working as a fishing guide on Lake Gaston, Kerr Lake and the Roanoke River. At that time, we fished team tournaments together so that if we won money, we could keep all of it instead of him having to split it with a partner. This worked out pretty well on more than one occasion.
One in particular that stands out is a Tarheel Team Championship that we qualified to fish on Kerr Lake. At this time, I had just graduated college with a teaching degree and was being offered several teaching jobs. We both really wanted me to travel but did not see that happening due to finances. Well, we ended up winning that two day championship and the prize was a Ranger boat, which we sold for the amount that a teaching job would have paid me. This is where our traveling as Team Howell began.
During my years in college, Randy fished the BASS Invitationals the first year we were married, and he qualified to fish the BASS Top 100s. I would travel when I was able and when the professors allowed me to be gone. In 1996, when I began traveling full time, I can definitely say it was not easy. We slept in our truck or stayed at very cheap hotels if we did not have a free place to stay at a friend’s house. I can truly say it was character building and helped us to understand the idea that paying your dues is part of the program.
From the very beginning, we worked together as a team and knew that it was the perfect career choice for Randy. One of the most common questions he used to get in those early years was: Do you have a back up plan and what is it? Each and every time, his answer was that he did not have a back up plan and that he was sure it was going to work out. At that time, he had good industry partners, but we were definitely making it by using MasterCard and Visa. However, we knew the whole time that a break could and would come soon. We did get that break in 1998 when he won a major tournament that enabled us to move to Alabama in order to make our traveling miles shorter. This win also brought with it a few new partners that made our journey on the fishing tour a lot more stable.