As a young fisherman growing up in the suburbs of Kansas City, I read every Bassmaster Magazine from cover to cover. I watched the tournaments on television and couldn't wait to see who was going to win the Bassmaster Classic every year.
As I advanced through the ranks as a bass fisherman, I had the opportunity to meet Randy Blaukat, and he told me that if I wanted to fish in the Classic, I should go to one and experience it as a fan. He told me it would give me even more drive to get there one day, I never did have the chance to attend the Classic as a fan because I qualified for the next one, but I never forgot what he told me.
Every year my goal is to qualify and compete to win the Bassmaster Classic. All year long I work as hard as I possibly can to qualify, and I do everything I can to put myself in position to win. This year it didn't work out, and I missed the cut for the final day of the event. With that misfortune I was blessed with the opportunity to become a fan for the day. Twenty years after Randy Blaukat gave me those great words of advice, I finally understand what he meant.
It was a new point of view for me. Usually, during tournaments, I'm on the water or weighing in and dealing with the boat, fish and quite a few things other than watching the rest of the guys weigh in.
For the first time ever, I watched BASSTrakk all day on Sunday from the Bassmaster Classic Outdoors Expo and kept close tabs on what was happening on the water. I now I have a new appreciation of what our wives and family go through when following the competitions. I attended the weigh-in with my family and watched the event unfold like 20,000 other fans at the arena.
I was there cheering for my good friend Randy Howell and experiencing a wide range of emotions as he weighed in, waited out the other competitors and ultimately won. My emotions ran the gamut from nervousness to excitement, back to nervousness and eventually complete and utter joy for my good friend. I even shed a few tears for Randy as he hoisted that trophy over his head.
It was incredibly exciting to watch a good friend accomplish his lifelong dream.
Let me flash back to the practice sessions for a few minutes. It may sound like hindsight now, but I definitely noticed a calm that I had never seen in Randy before. He was ill for most of the practice, and he wasn't getting many bites. I don't remember exactly, but I think he had five to seven total bites during the practice days. Normally, this would have Randy a bit anxious and scrambling to figure something out. Not this time, though. It goes to show you that faith, hard work and keeping your cool when things are tough can and will pay off.
Speaking of faith and hard work, I have to say Randy is one of the hardest workers I know. Paul "Bear" Bryant once said, "It's not the will to win that matters — everyone has that. It's the will to prepare to win that matters."
Randy has the will to work hard all year and prepare himself to be the best. He works on his fishing career 12 months a year, and he continually puts in the time and effort to be one of the best anglers in the world.
I had no doubt Randy would win an AOY or a Bassmaster Classic at some point, but I am especially happy he was able to do it in his home state and so near to his hometown. He deserves all the press and attention he has gotten and will receive.
Randy's strong faith, family support, work ethic, and business alliances were a huge part of his success at the Classic. Everything from putting his faith in the hands of God to trusting a prototype Livingston Lures bait that he had never used before came together perfectly for him.
Randy's a class act, and I'm thankful I got the chance to enjoy his victory with him, as he shared in the celebration of my Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title in 2012. While I know Randy will make a great ambassador for our sport, I also know wearing the crown of the Bassmaster Classic won't change him as a person one bit.
That's a good thing because Randy has and will always be a first class person and a world class bass angler. Look out, though, because I do think it will effect Randy's fishing ... in a good way. I think with this win under his belt he could be in for an incredible season. It wouldn't shock me to see him have the best season of his career.
Watch out for me, too. The experience of watching the Classic like a fan and seeing my good friend win it has provided me with even more drive to get back to the championship and find a way to win it.