Howell hops into lead

RICHMOND, Va. – Randy Howell had every opportunity to spin out on the second day of the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Virginia’s James River, but he maintained his composure and weighed in a 16 pound 12 ounce bag of largemouths to vault from second place into first with a total of 32-07.

Howell, who is sponsored by Livingston Lures, earned more from the company today. Because he sits atop the standings at the end of Day Two, he received the $250 Livingston Lures Leader Award.

A mental error cost the veteran Alabama pro two valuable pounds on Day One, reducing his 17-11 limit to 15-11, and dropping him from first to second place. Day Two didn’t start off much better.

“I didn’t catch a fish until 10 o’clock,” he said. “That’s when the wheels started coming off.”Actually, his issues could have started earlier. Upon arriving at his first key area this morning Texas pro Trait Crist was sitting right where he wanted to be. After Howell explained that he was in contention to win, Crist graciously moved on. Howell thanked her on stage. Tomorrow the field will consist of only 12 boats, so unless a local is there Howell should have it all to himself.

“It’s a spot,” he explained. “Yesterday, there was only one little small cast you could make to catch them. Today I had to relocate them. They hadn’t moved much. They were all within 50 feet of where they were yesterday.

“I almost left,” he continued. “Right before 10 I said I’d move in a few minutes. Then I caught one, then another one. I caught 13 pounds within an hour and then I culled up to 16-12 in an hour and a half.”

His only mistake is that he came back to the launch site too early, leaving valuable fishing time on the table. He thought that the heavy winds might make the long run rougher and more time-consuming, but it did not. Tomorrow he may once again have to battle mental demons, as the tide will shift an hour later, possibly moving the bite back even further.

“I wish I could catch some early,” he said. “I thought it would be good early today.”

Howell currently sits in 60th place in the Toyota Angler of the Year Standings for the Elite Series, well outside the Bassmaster Classic cut. He estimated that it would take back-to-back-to-back top 25 finishes in the remaining three tournaments on that trail to qualify for next February’s world championship in his adopted home state of Alabama.

“That’s why I came this far,” he said of the drive from Alabama to Virginia, which will be immediately followed by another long jaunt to Wisconsin. “Just to have a chance.”

Howell is trailed closely by four noted tidal water technicians, three from Virginia, as well as New Jersey’s Mike Iaconelli. Yesterday’s leader, Wayne Vaughan, stumbled a little today with 13-11, for a total of 29-12, and dropped to third place.

“There was a fair amount of boat pressure and that hurt me bad,” Vaughan said. “But the wind was the biggest factor. It muddied it up. One of my areas was crowded, one of them was muddied, and I had to go to the third one to catch them.”

Moving into second was fellow Virginian and former tour pro Mike Hicks. His 16-12 limit tied Howell’s bag for the biggest one-day catch of the tournament so far. His 31-03 total has him just a little over a pound out of the lead. He said he’s been running around quite a bit, and hopes to expand his fishable water tomorrow, but the key to his catch has been one particular bait which he declined to name.

“It’s a very popular bait on this river,” he said. “And all I can say is that color means a lot.”

Hicks became emotional when asked what it would mean to qualify for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. “It’s too much to think about,” he said through tears. “The Classic is the pinnacle. My dad made it two times, and to think about being there in 1986 as a 10 year old kid….The money means nothing. It’s all about making the Classic.”

Mike Iaconelli, who honed many of his tournament skills on the wildly fluctuating tidal portion of the Delaware River, moved from a tie for 6th into 4th place. He’s been remarkably consistent, posting consecutive limits within 3 ounces of each other. He said that while it might’ve looked easy from the bleachers, today was an exercise in adjustments. In other words, to use his own trademark phrase, he “fished the moment.”

“The tide played games with my mind today because of the wind,” he said. “It went out quicker and in a couple of places I had to adjust both my location and my timing. It was swifter in certain areas. I’m doing three different things. I’m sure they’re the same exact things many of the other guys are doing and I intend to do the same things tomorrow.”

Kelly Pratt, who won the 2011 Northern Open on the James, lurks in 5th place, just under 4 pounds behind Howell.

“I lost a 5-pounder, that hurt me,” Pratt said. “But if the sun shines tomorrow I’ll have a good day. I need that sun for them to lock down on something.”

North Carolina pro Tracy Adams, currently in 7th with 28-01, caught the big bass of the day, a 6-13 largemouth that he thought was something else. “I saw him coming to get it and thought there was no way it’s a bass. I thought it was a big mudfish.” Another angler named Adams – Phillip Adams of nearby Chesterfield, Va. – caught a 6-01 bass that was the largest for the co-angler division. If those fish hold up as the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, each Adams will receive an additional $500.

Cody Andrews of Elkin, N.C., leads the co-angler side of the tournament with two three-bass limits that totaled18-03 and received a Livingston Lures gift pack valued at $250 for being in 1st place after Day Two. His two limits have been within one ounce of each other and he credited that consistency to his decision to flip with a heavier weight than that used by his pro partners.

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