SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Ten minutes. That’s how long it took Randy Howell to win the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open #2 presented by Allstate.
Howell, of Springville, Ala., desperately wanted to win at Oneida Lake after losing a 2012 Bassmaster Elite Series tournament here by 6 ounces to Boyd Duckett. Settling the score seemed impossible.
Howell had four small bass in the livewell just minutes before his official check-in time of 2 p.m. Coming in late meant a costly weight penalty, plus he was 2 pounds from the lead.
With the check-in station in view, a school of bass erupted in a feeding frenzy over a rocky shoal. Howell hooked a 4-pound largemouth on the first cast and proceeded to upgrade his catch.
He arrived with only 45 seconds remaining on the clock. The last-minute heroics paid off with a winning weight of 49 pounds, 2 ounces. Michael Gagliardi finished second with 48-10. Kraig Kettelkamp, who led the first two days of the event, dropped to third place with 48-0.
“Being strong willed and wanting to win this tournament, erasing that loss was my greatest motivation,” said Howell, the 2014 Bassmaster Classic champion. “The biggest key for my win was attitude.”
Credit the birds, too. Howell kept a lookout for diving seagulls that signaled other surface feeding action like he found in the final minutes.
“A lot of anglers, surprisingly, don’t look out for the birds,” he added. “The birds are an easy giveaway to the presence of the bait.”
Food was available to the bass in abundance throughout the tournament. Adding to the already rich population was a new hatch of perch. Schools of those drifted through underwater vegetation. Swimming into open water triggered the feeding frenzies of smallmouth.
That activity accounted for Howell’s catch early in the week, when a deepwater bite was successful. Plenty of perch roamed shallow water, too, where he caught largemouth on the final day.
Howell’s hero bait in the final minutes was a 3-inch Bass Pro Shops Speed Shad in a hologram shad color. He rigged the soft plastic bait to a 1/4-ounce jighead tied to 12-pound Gamma Edge Fluorocarbon. A Daiwa Tatula reel and 7-foot, medium/light action rod from the brand completed the package.
“Long casts were key because of the water clarity,” he added. “When I could see the bass, that meant they could see me.”
Spooking the bass and shorter casts were only preventable during windy conditions. Calm conditions early on the final day hampered Howell’s success.
“The wind helped move the bait and that made the bass more active,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Howell used a Livingston Lures Walking Boss, casting the topwater lure into the feeding schools of bass. When the feeding ceased, he switched to slower tactics and lures.
Those included a weightless, wacky rigged, 5-inch Gary Yamamoto Senko and the brand’s 4-inch Shad Shaped Worm. He rigged that bait on a 3/8-ounce drop shot rig.
Gagliardi focused on roaming schools of smallmouth following the perch hatch. Active fish were caught on a Zoom Super Fluke. He switched to a drop shot rig to coax slow biters.
Kettelkamp led the tournament on the first two days, only to suffer a setback on the final round. A largemouth he guessed weighing 4 pounds broke off at the boat.
“Losing that fish haunted me for the remainder of the day,” he said.
Howell’s prize included a Skeeter/Yamaha boat with accessories and trailer valued at $45,000.
Scott Shafer and James Schneider tied for first place in the co-angler division after both anglers caught 27-15. Shafer, of Glenville, N.Y., won in a tiebreaker for catching the single heaviest day catch between the two anglers. Shafer’s prize was a Triton/Mercury package valued at $30,000.
Bass Pro Shops Big Bass honors and $750 goes to pro Stanley Sypeck for the 4-12 he caught. On the co-angler side, $250 goes to Tom Tennity for the 5-12 he caught.
The Allstate Good Hands, Great Day award of $250 will go to Mike Morrin on the pro side, and co-angler Tennity wins $150.
The Livingston Lures Leader award of $250 goes to Kettelkamp for leading on Day 2. Schneider takes home a $250 Livingston Lures prize pack for leading on Day 2.
To view Day 3 standings, click here.