Affable Alabama pro Randall Tharp is headed for his first Bassmaster Classic after claiming the Southern Opens points championship. He's only fishing competitively for five years, but he was ready for our 20 Questions.
1. Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Miami, Fla., but grew up in Atlanta. I live in Alabama now and have been here since I got married in 1993.
2. How did you get started in bass fishing?
My dad carried me fishing when I was little. Some of my earliest memories are of fishing on Lake Okeechobee. I didn't start tournament fishing until much later — after I got to Alabama, in fact. I started fishing competitively in 2005, and I'm proud of the fact that I've won some sort of angler of the year title every year since.
3. Who were some of your earliest fishing heroes?
Hank Parker was definitely one of my first fishing heroes. I remember when he won his second Classic in 1989. I started following professional fishing after that and have been following it ever since. Kevin VanDam, Clark Wendlandt and Andy Morgan have all had a huge influence on my career.
4. What's the biggest bass you've ever caught?
I caught a largemouth that weighed 9-11 in a tournament on Lake Guntersville. That's the biggest bass I've ever caught in competition. I've also caught four bass that weighed over 10 pounds from Guntersville, but my biggest came from Okeechobee and weighed better than 11 pounds.
5. What do you love most about bass fishing?
I really love being outdoors, but the competition is what I love most about tournament fishing. I'm competitive in everything I do.
6. Where is your favorite place to fish for bass and why?
It's definitely Lake Okeechobee. I've always loved fishing there. I know it's not the best lake in the world, but for some reason it suits my style.
7. What has been your greatest accomplishment in the fishing industry?
It would probably be winning back-to-back Opens in 2008 on Santee Cooper and Guntersville. I'm also proud of my angler of the year titles in the various tournament trails. Anyone can get lucky and win an event, but an AOY title says something about your ability.
8. What goals have you yet to accomplish in your bass fishing career?
I want to win big tournaments and win a Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
9. What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
Trying to make everything work financially so that I can have a career in this sport. It takes a real commitment to fish professionally, and in these economic times, things are very challenging for us all.
10. If you could do one thing over in your career, what would it be?
I wish I had discovered competitive bass fishing sooner and gotten started earlier. I think I would be further along in my career now.
11. What is the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?
You never can work hard enough. You've got to give 100 percent all the time — on and off the water. If you don't have total commitment, you're just not going to succeed.
12. What is your greatest strength as a professional angler?
Now I think it's my versatility, but I would have had a different answer a few years ago. I try to keep an open mind and fish every day for what it is.
13. What is your greatest weakness as a professional angler?
I tend to struggle on those lakes and at those times when it's good to catch 2-pounders. If there's one 5-pounder out there, I'm going to go after him and spend all day trying to catch him. I'm definitely more of a slugfest kind of guy.
14. What question do you get asked most by fans, and how do you answer it?
I probably get more questions about hollow-bodied frog fishing on Lake Guntersville than anything else. I love catching them in the mats and have probably won more money doing that than anything else. I usually tell anyone who asks that they've got to have confidence in the technique or they'll never fish slow enough to be successful with it. Actually, I think you have to have confidence in your technique to be successful with any kind of fishing.
15. What is the biggest mistake you see from casual or weekend anglers?
They get caught up in how other people are catching them. I call them "telephone fishermen" because they spend all day on their cell phones talking to their buddies about how everyone is catching them, but they don't figure it out for themselves. You have to find a way to catch fish that matches your style and confidence area. If you don't, you're really going to struggle.
16. Do you have any fishing superstitions?
I don't like bananas or anything yellow in or on my boat. A buddy of mine recently got a yellow and black boat. He's a really good fisherman but he hasn't been doing very well since he got the boat, and I told him that it's because it's yellow. I think he might be worried about that now (laughs).
17. How big a part does luck play in tournament bass fishing?
None. You can get lucky in a one-day tournament, but over a four-day professional tournament, all that evens out so there is no luck.
18. When you're not bass fishing, how do you like to spend your time?
My whole life is bass fishing. I used to play golf, but not anymore. I'm always thinking about bass fishing or getting ready to go bass fishing or talking about bass fishing.
19. If you could only fish one lure for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I'd have to pick a jig. It's my No. 1 confidence bait. I know I can go to any lake in the country and catch fish on a jig. I really only carry two colors — brown and black, though I sometimes swim a white jig. My jig fishing is not very complicated.
20. When it's all over, how do you want the bass fishing world to remember you?
I'd like to have the respect of the guys I compete against. We know who the real threats are out there and who really has a chance to win. I want to be known as one of those guys.