May 09, 2013
Permitted use provided by: MajorLeagueFishing.com
Bass pro Randy Howell of Alabama is one of the most likable angling pros out there each year on the sport's long and rugged tournament trails that wind from one end of the country to the other.
Along the way, he's developed a sterling reputation as one of sport's most dependable and honest pros too.
So when Howell indicates that the experience competing in the Jack Link's Major League Fishing 2013 GEICO Challenge Cup competition on Lake Istokpoga has left him a bit blown away. And yes, in light of departing Hurricane Sandy, the pun is intended, you can believe him.
While Howell has faced pressure at the sport's highest level - just last summer, he narrowly missed his second Elite Series win when MLF co-founder Boyd Duckett nipped him at the finish line - he discovered that there's little that compares to the pressure of competing under MLF rules.
As in fishing with no pre-tournament practice or research; competing against other pros in a small zone that isn't known until the evening before; weighing every single legal fish and getting instant leader board updates; and having to survive three tough rounds of fishing to win the Challenge Cup.
Add it all up and it's one of the sport's most unique competitive experiences.
"In Major League Fishing, you're not only seeing them (other pros competing in the small zones) but you're hearing on the board instantly what they're catching," said Howell, a one-time winner on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit.
That can mess with an angler's mind, says the Alabama pro.
"That's what sucked me in a little bit during the second round the other day and I didn't catch a fish during that period," said Howell.
"I started thinking about a couple of guys (the other day) that were catching them close to me and wondering why I hadn't gotten a bite on that stretch or wondering if I was using the right bait.
"I got off my game a little bit."
Howell can take respite in the knowledge that he isn't the first - and he will certainly not be the last - MLF pro to get addled and a bit off his game during the heat of competition.
He also can find comfort from recovering, getting his mind right between periods, making an important on-the-water adjustment, and getting through to the next round.
"In the third period, I got away from everybody and caught what I needed to make a comeback," said Howell.
Unfortunately, Howell was unable to make a similar comeback during Sudden Death in his attempt to overcome the field and Hurricane Sandy's tropical onslaught so that he could advance to the championship round on Istokpoga.
But while he watches from the windy sidelines in Florida, he does so with few regrets.
And with a competitive fire burning deep within him that is already looking forward to the next time that Howell competes on the Major League Fishing stage.
When he does so, look for Howell to do even better than he did on Istokpoga.
Because he's got a few hard-earned lessons already tucked away in his mental files, competitive lessons that should serve him well in the future.
Especially when it comes to the cerebral portion of competitive bass fishing.
"It's all a head game (out) here," laughed Howell. "Everybody wants to get in each other's head to try and intimidate (them) or to try and get the juices flowing and start making somebody else nervous and get (them) going too fast (down a stretch)."
But head game or not, that's part of what makes the MLF concept so compelling.
"That's the excitement of Major League Fishing," said Howell. "It's intense (and about all that we can handle out there)."
And when 'Bama bass pro Randy Howell says something like that, you can literally take it to the bank.
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