The tournament hype before the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic predicted loads of big bass and plenty of heavy limits. It was a lot to live up to.
Despite the coldest winter in decades and frigid water temperatures, Guntersville put on a show.
When the battle for Classic glory was over, the top nine finishers averaged over 20 pounds a day. Adam Wagner in 10th place missed that mark by less than a pound.
Atop the heap was Alabamian Randy Howell who sacked the heaviest limit of his 21-year professional career on the final day of the Guntersville Classic, 29 pounds, 2 ounces. Howell was fortunate to have his biggest catch on bass fishing’s grandest stage, but it was hardly luck.
Howell’s experience was the reason he made the right adjustments at the right time. After the practice days preceding the Classic, Howell’s best spot was a submerged milfoil patch in 3 to 4 feet of water on a flat in a creek.
The grass only covered a 50-yard square of the bottom, but it held some heavyweights. Howell started there on the first morning of the tournament. He caught a 6-pounder and another that went 4 pounds on a bladed jig.
Then the bite died. Rainfall the night before had pushed muddy water over the grassbed. Howell changed gears and began cranking a Rapala DT-6 in the bright red Demon color tight to riprap banks. A slow retrieve enticed the bites he needed from the sluggish, cold-water bass.
“I could see all kinds of shad and bass hanging 8 to 12 feet deep along the riprap with my Lowrance SideScan,” Howell said.
He tried to catch them with crankbaits and other lures in that depth range, but the bass refused his offerings. Thankfully for Howell, the warming water pulled the bass up in Mill Creek the first day where he picked them off with the DT-6.
Late the second day, Howell snatched a 5-pound bass from the riprap in Spring Creek. That bass prompted Howell to start in Spring Creek the next day, which resulted in his amazing finish.
After catching a good limit on the DT-6, Howell noticed bass on his graph that were hanging just off the rocks 8 feet deep. That’s when he did the unthinkable, which was switching to a prototype Livingston crankbait that he had never fished before. The lure’s running depth, hard wobble and electronic shad sound proved to be just what the bass wanted.
“I was paralleling the riprap and hitting rocks 7 to 10 feet deep,” Howell said.
Howell believes that the lure’s wide, hard wobbling action coupled with the electronic baitfish sound it emits played into his success. By the end of the day he was throwing back 4-pound bass without giving them a second thought.
“It was one of the best days of my life,” Howell said.