BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — No one had ever come from as far back as 11th place to win the Bassmaster Classic on the final day before Randy Howell did it Sunday. Like everything that occurred over the three days of competition, Howell seemed to have a feeling it was going to happen.
The final day was no different, when he caught 29 pounds, 2 ounces to win the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro. He had told his wife, Robin, that he would start fishing at Mill Creek. But shortly after he took off Sunday morning, Howell heard a voice, and he listened.
"A voice in my head said, 'Do you want to be good, or do you want to be great?'" Howell said. "I know it sounds weird."
Howell chose greatness and did a direction change to Spring Creek, where he put a quick 22-pound limit in the boat with a Rapala DT-6 crankbait. Then, when the fish moved deeper on the riprap bank, Howell dug out a prototype Livingston lure – a medium-diving crankbait – that helped him cull up a few more pounds.
"That wasn't in my plans," Howell said. "But I had an overwhelming urge to go to Spring Creek. I pulled up there and it was every cast."
Later in the afternoon, his instincts guided him to another spot, where he caught a 6-pounder that allowed him to cull a 4 ½-pounder. He needed every bit of that cull to win the Classic by exactly one pound over Paul Mueller. Howell's three-day total was 67-8.
"I've had this dream so many times," said the 40-year-old Springville, Ala., resident. "I just can't believe I won the Bassmaster Classic. I don't believe it."
The dream started forming with an unlikely scenario on Day One, when all Howell's spots were washed out by the muddy slug of water that rolled through Lake Guntersville from a Thursday night storm.
"I was a little nervous when I saw all the mud," he said Friday evening, after a six-pounder caught late allowed him to salvage a 20-pound, 3-ounce day. "That big bite saved me. If I'm going to stay in contention, this is going to have to be my worst day.
"I just went junk fishing. I caught fish in places I've never caught fish before. A couple of the banks I fished, I'd never even noticed before."
Howell didn't so much hear a voice as he much as he understood the potential of Lake Guntersville, when he said Saturday that someone could come from well back in the standings to win on Sunday.
"This is probably one of the few places we could have a Classic where you could see a big-time spoiler win this thing," he said.
For the people who know Randy Howell, he looked like anything but a spoiler with the Classic trophy held over his head and the confetti raining down upon him on stage at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex.
It seemed more like everything was right in the world.