Howell wins a small brawl

KNOXVILLE — The Alabama Crimson Tide is a 17-point favorite over Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference football game scheduled for Neyland Stadium here Saturday.

So you might say that Randy Howell, representing the Tide, covered the spread against David Walker, who represented the Vols, Thursday morning.

Howell's final margin was 23-0 in the first-ever, two-hour webcast B.A.S.S. Brawl, which took place in the shadow of Neyland Stadium on the Tennessee River.

But it was closer to a draw than the score would indicate. Under bluebird skies and high barometric pressure, Howell's victory came on three bass that totaled less than a pound. The "big bass" weighed exactly 0.39 pounds. It was a largemouth. Howell also caught two smallmouths in the final 30 minutes.

"The largemouth was the king of the big fish today," said Howell with a laugh. "I guarantee you those two smallmouth weighed more like .25."

Said Walker, "I knew it was going to be tough. I didn't know it was going to be this tough."

The two-hour format provided each angler one hour running the trolling motor at the front of his Bassmaster Elite Series tournament boat. Walker, who is from Sevierville, Tenn., had some previous experience on this stretch of the Tennessee River. Howell, who lives in Springville, Ala., won the coin flip to determine which angler would be fishing from the front of his boat for the first hour.

"Since I didn't know anything about this area, I wanted David to go first," Howell said. "It was scary. He had the first cast in those places where I was expecting him to get bit."

Walker decided to run upstream from downtown Knoxville to an area near the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers. This is considered the beginning of the Tennessee River. Both men threw big baits along bluff banks in stained water. But neither angler had a bite in the first hour.

When Howell had his chance at the front of his boat, he moved them to a riprap bank in the Holston River, where he caught the "monster" .39-pounder on a small square-billed crankbait.

In the final 20 minutes, Howell moved back down into the Tennessee River, where he caught his two small smallmouths on an even smaller square-bill than the one the largemouth bit.

The format, with both anglers fishing on the front deck of the boats, was something neither had experienced since the Bassmaster Invitationals, "and that was 14 or 15 years ago," Walker said.

"When you're fishing shallow like we were today, a lot of times it's the first cast, if there's going to be a fish there," said Howell, the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion. "Typically, the guy in the front of the boat is going to have a better chance to make that first cast."

Howell and Walker made the two-hour webcast entertaining by revealing fishing tactics and recalling tales from their pro fishing careers. The two hours went by quickly, even if they weren't catching much.

So how would the two pros make use of those two hours if they were fishing another six hours in a tournament?

"I'm glad we didn't have to," said Howell.

Walker agreed, saying, "I'd put the boat on the trailer."

Seriously, they did discover some clues on how to build on the 120-minute experience.

"We started fishing those steep bluffs with big baits, and we never had any bites doing that," Walker said. "The last little bit, we fished that riprap with small baits. Obviously, the fish were small too. But now we're starting to get a clue.

"It would provide an opportunity to go back and fish those (first) areas with some smaller baits, like a little shaky head.

"Just catching a couple of little fish, we make a joke about it, but it is starting to give you some direction."

Walker and Howell good-naturedly shared water, no matter who was in the front of the boat. But that wouldn't necessarily be the case, in further editions of this format.

"You've got to be a little cold-hearted," said Walker, with a smile. "Neither one of us is that cold-hearted. We both wanted to win, obviously. But you don't want to win because you stuck it to the other guy."

Randy Howell won Thursday by catching the most fish, no matter how small they were.
"This is a keychain-size bass," said Howell as he boated his third and final fish. "All I can say is, 'Roll Tide'."
 

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