Randy Howell cringed when he saw boats at a spot he hoped to fish Saturday at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Wheeler Lake.
The angler was Takahiro Omori, and he was catching them, hence the armada. Seeing Howell arrive, Omori went into protection mode. He was heard on Bassmaster LIVE saying that he needed to keep fishing so Howell wouldn’t move in.
Howell did no such thing. Omori surprised him by saying he had caught 20-plus pounds there, and Howell packed up, saying leaving was a definite reap-what-you-sow deal.
This was the same spot Omori and Howell shared in the 2011 Elite event before Howell left because he had his Classic berth assured and Omori needed the points to qualify. Omori finished 11th and Howell missed the Day 4 cut at 14th. Howell went on to explain there is a couple small sweet spots of shell bed, the juice, that Omori was on, and that he’s been watching it.
“I checked it every day. They just started moving onto these places,” Howell said. “I go today and he’s sitting there with an armada of boats and he’s already got 20 pounds.
“It’s an ethical thing (leaving). I'm old school. That’s the game and that’s how we play it. You got to do people right or it will all come back to you.”
That’s a theme that LIVE has exposed. Longtime Bassmaster TV host Tommy Sanders said LIVE is bringing these micro-aggressions (there’s a trendy word) into view, where in the past they weren’t always captured on camera.
“We never saw this stuff -- who’s going to fish which waters,” Sanders said.
Mark Zona jumped in to dispel an implication that LIVE is purposefully creating conflict to enhance the show.
“There’s nobody manufacturing drama,” he said. “We are simply airing it so you can see it. We should have aired this stuff for 30 years because it is part of the game.”
Case in point was Dave Lefebre, who left the spot he was fishing Friday when he saw Casey Scanlon. Lefebre rode over to Scanlon and they discussed the dynamics a bit before Lefebre offered this line. “I’m not asking you to leave, but you should.”
Lefebre, who entered Day 3 with a 4-7 lead, was overheard on LIVE saying that he wasn’t totally comfortable having to run another angler off.
“I don’t like to have enemies out here,” he said. “That just bothers me. I still I don’t think he should be here, but I feel really, really bad.”
Tournament emcee Dave Mercer interviewed Randall Tharp on LIVE, asking him about his dustup last week with Matt Herren when he won in Arkansas. Tharp said he and Herren were friends before it, talked about their Day 4 misunderstanding after and are past it. Tharp said their entire hopscotch episode could have been avoided if they had seen each other in the area on Day 1.
All the anglers realize they’re playing high-stakes poker, and most of the pros won’t think of folding. There’s a code of unwritten rules most adhere to.
“Out there on the water, there are 110 guys on the Elite Series who are the fiercest of competitors,” Tharp said. “I will tell you it happens to some extent every single day we compete. It starts on the first day and progresses.
“I can tell you we can all look at the leaderboard. I make a point to know who is fishing around me every day. It’s unfortunate some guys have different codes of ethics than others.”