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.
Another interesting note about our early years that many people do not know is that I also fished professionally on the women’s circuit known as the Bass’N’Gals. I fished in 1996 and 1997. At that time, Randy’s schedule was not as busy as it has been the last decade. Therefore, we thought it would be good extra practice for him to prefish with me on the lakes I had tournaments on. I won Rookie of the Year in 1996 and I qualified to fish both of the Classics those two years. We both look back on those years with many fond memories. I think as far as our working relationship goes, it was good for both of us to be in the other’s position to experience the feelings each of us go through today. What I mean by that is that I know how a tournament day can feel as an angler and as a wife waiting back on shore. He also experienced the anxiety of waiting on shore and wondering how I was doing in the tournament. The old saying that you can’t understand unless you have walked in my shoes is very fitting for this situation. I think it made both of us have more of an idea about what the other one is feeling in this life we call tournament fishing.
And then came children. We had our first child, Laker, in 2001 and had our second child Oakley in 2005. I have homeschooled both of our boys since kindergarten, and have been very thankful that I persevered in college to get my teaching degree. It has definitely worked out beautifully for us. We both believe that as far as we are able, we will try to stay together as a family on the road. The boys are seeing and experiencing life that is much different from others their age. We are so thankful that this lifestyle has worked out for us and can’t see us doing it any differently.
Since Laker was 2 years old, we have traveled in either a motorhome or a fifth wheel. After 11 years of hotels and cabins, we chose the camping life so that they would have a familiar place to stay on the road when we were traveling. It has been the best choice we ever could have made for us. There are a few downsides to camping, like the double driving. I pull the boat and Randy pulls the fifth wheel, so we aren’t together when driving to each location. However, it is well worth it to have our own bed and our own “dirt” when we are at a tournament. Life is as close to normal as we can make it once we are in the campgrounds.
Hopefully this introduction has been thorough enough to give you a background on how we got to 2014 as a traveling Elite angler’s family. I am looking forward to telling you stories from the past as well as stories from the Elite tournaments from a wife’s perspective. I think you will really enjoy the story of how I became a “female boat backing pro”! There is a lesson in everything and in this story, you will learn that failure always leads to success. ‘Til next time, take care and SMILE, it can change the world around you!