Toho defending champ's eventful year

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Rich Howes’ life since winning the 2013 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Lake Tohopekaliga can be summed up in three words.

Opportunity. Hope. Challenge.

Howes won the event in January after a sudden-death fish-off. By virtue of that he became the first qualifying angler for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.

Howes is in the insurance business. He’s also a successful bass angler with legitimate credentials. In recent years he’s assembled an impressive run of wins at the local and state level in his home state of Florida.

He’s also found a way to parlay career and fishing into a golden opportunity.

“I won so early in the year that it gave me a chance to work on the business side and sponsorships toward the Classic.”

Howes represents Allstate, now the presenting sponsor of the Opens. Allstate is now his key sponsor. His boat is wrapped in the brand’s distinctive blue-and-white logo.

“It’s a really exciting opportunity and one I wanted early on,” he said. “It is important for me, even before the Allstate relationship, to find a sponsor outside the fishing industry to package.”

Doing so, he believes, allows the fishing sponsors he aligns with to get even more widespread leverage from the broader relationship. He also recognizes the opportunity to broaden Allstate’s brand awareness to bass fishermen.

“The demographics all line up so it’s going to be a successful relationship all around.”

Opportunity is what led to hope.

Howes and wife Nikki decided to leverage his notoriety from the Open win to promote a worthy cause. It has a very personal connection.

“We are big believers in giving back when possible, so we decided to use my Classic berth as a platform to give back.”

Nora Shay Howes was born with congenital femoral deficiency and a mild case of fibular hemimelia.

“Her left leg is shorter than the right,” said Howes of their 18-month-old daughter. “We found a special doctor who performs procedures that are very successful in treating the deficiency.”

He is Dror Paley, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in limb lengthening procedures. The Paley Foundation supports development and teaching of new techniques to save and reconstruct the limbs of children and adults. A foundation aim is to eliminate the need for amputation.

“We have great hope that she will be able to some day walk with both feet on the ground,” said Howes.

Howes launched the Fishing for the Kids website as a means of promoting Paley Foundation fund-raising efforts, his own included.

Donors can make an online pledge for every fish that Howes catches at the Classic coming up in February on Lake Guntersville. The website address is Proceeds will benefit the foundation.

Howes now faces a challenge of his own. About a week prior to the Southern Open now underway on Lake Toho he was diagnosed with vertigo.

“It just hits me out of nowhere,” he said. “I get really dizzy. Nauseous. It’s like being car sick all of the time.”

Howes is undergoing phases of treatment options to determine which will work best to help manage the vertigo.

Just after winning the Open last year he made a scouting trip to Lake Guntersville during the same timeframe as next month’s Classic. He visited the fishery again last December for another round of sightseeing and to get more acclimated with the area.

“I feel good about it,” he said. “Everything will fall into place.”

That comes from a man who over the span of 12 months has experienced opportunity, hope and challenge on a magnitude that some don’t experience in their lifetime.

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