On Friday, Dec. 2, at 10 a.m., Randy Howell watched his 3,500-pound bass boat and trailer leave the ground. Suspended from the boom of a crane, the rig inched upward. Then it stopped, men stepped underneath, reached up, and attached a blue and white sign.
“This boat could be yours,” the top of the sign read.
The lift continued. About 20 feet up, it stopped again, swaying slightly above the wide, grassy shoulder along busy Highway 280 in Birmingham, Ala. The sign flapped and cracked in the breeze.
The stunt was performed to entice people to stop and buy a $100 chance on the Triton-Mercury rig Howell used in the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series. All raffle proceeds benefitted King’s Home, an Alabama charity that was also Howell’s boat wrap sponsor for the 2011 season.
American Drilling and Crane Service of Birmingham, a King’s Home supporter, suggested the stunt to boost raffle ticket sales. Howell said when he was approached with the idea to suspend the rig; his first question was about insurance. Reassured, he agreed to it. When the day came to see his boat swing, Howell said, he wasn’t overly anxious.
“It was pretty cool. They strapped it up with spacer bars underneath the bunks of the trailer. Nice and easy, they picked it up into the air,” Howell said. “It was a little scary, but I knew this was way more simple than what those guys do every day.”
The airborne boat and the guy wearing a professional angler’s jersey on the side of the road drew the expected attention. Howell said some people stopped and bought tickets, some asked for autographs, some just gawked.
About 5 p.m., the boat was safely lowered without a scratch, thankfully. Howell also was thankful to the 906 people who bought a raffle ticket. Although the boat-on-a-crane promotion was a good final push, it didn’t sell all those tickets. The majority were bought over the course of several months by people all over. Many are from Alabama, others from other parts of the United States. But tickets were also purchased by anglers in Puerto Rico, Canada, Italy and Spain, Howell said.
Online marketing efforts worked, but word of mouth within the vast fishing community over the last four to five days made the raffle an unqualified success.
“It just goes to show that it’s hard to find an angler who doesn’t have a big heart. They’re good family people, and they heard that this was for kids and moms who are hurtin’ and need help, especially now at Christmastime,” Howell said.
The winner of the fully-loaded rig was Steve Griffin of Sipsey, Ala., a pharmacist Howell happens to know.
“I talked to him a couple of months ago about a ticket,” Howell said. “He bought one, and then he got a lot of other people to buy tickets, too. He became a big supporter in his area.”
The winning ticket was pulled from a certified drum on Dec. 4 in conjunction with a King’s Home fundraiser event, Kampfire for the King. Part of the event was a fishing rodeo for kids and adults. Howell said he and his wife, Robin, helped bait hooks, make casts and unhook the panfish. Kids received awards on the event’s stage.
“Having their name called out and going up on stage was as big to them as the Bassmaster Classic is to us,” Howell said.
Other volunteers included the fishing teams of Hayden High School, Thompson High School of Alabaster, and the University of Alabama. Mark’s Outdoors, a big retailer in Birmingham, and manufacturer Daiwa donated tackle for the derby participants to use.