Howell defeated Hackney by posting a 15-pound limit on the last day, giving him a 3-pound lead. Kelley Jordan wound up in third place with Brent Chapman, Kenyon Hill and Zell Rowland rounding out the final six.
Randy Howell has never won a BASS tournament. He has qualified for the Classic five times; in the last 11 years he has competed in 108 BASS events and averaged 34th place. Even though he hasn't enjoyed a good season this year - he placed 60th on this year's Pro Tour -- he still had enough points accumulated to qualify for the Elite 50. Then he made the most of it by winning the inaugural event.
"My season has been slow and disturbing," said Howell. "But then we went to Dardanelle and that lake fit my style. It made a world of difference." Howell says he prefers shallow water fishing, which was exactly what was the key to success at Dardanelle.
"I'm 30 years old now and I have learned from my bad tournaments," he said. "I've learned to focus on what I'm good at instead of changing everything around. I have learned to stick to my patterns."
The Elite 50 doesn't hit the water when the rooster crows, they start later in the day and fish until evening. When asked how the late start affected him Howell said, "At first I didn't like it. I thought we would be hitting the water at a slow time of the day but I was wrong. The fish started biting right off and then slowed down a little around 2:30. The last hour was great because we caught the evening bite.
Another factor is spectator participation. "Because of the late start we had many more spectator boats than usual," said Howell. "But they were really courteous and didn't get in the way. Actually, it was kind of nice because they would talk to me and they kept me motivated during the slow times."
Slow times is something Randy is familiar with, for 11 years Howell's sponsors have stuck with him even though he wasn't winning tournaments, of which he is very thankful. "This has really helped my sponsors," he pointed out. "I have been the Phil Mickelson of the BASS trail. This year I rallied to 60th on the Pro Tour. Luckily, BASS and ESPN came up with the Elite 50 idea, which has given me a second bite at the apple. Through these events I can still qualify for the Classic."
So what is Randy Howell doing to get ready for the next event? He knows that the next two venues -- the Tennesse-Tombigbee Waterway in Columbus, Mississippi, May 16 - 22, and the Alabama River in Prattville, Alabama, May 30 - June 5 -- fishing in waters that are hard to get to in a big fiberglass boat may come into play. He has contacted his sponsor, Triton Boats, and they are putting together an aluminum boat with a jet drive outboard. "I am so happy with the support that Triton Boats is giving me," said Howell. "I'm going to pull my fiberglass boat to the events and my wife is driving a second truck down and towing the aluminum boat, just in case I need it."
By winning the first Elite 50 Randy Howell has entered the history books. With that he is receiving a lot more attention from the media, in fact, there was an article about bass fishing and the event in the New York Times. "When I qualified for the Classic the first couple of times I received a lot of press then it sort of died down," Howell said. "I was having to really push to keep name out there. Winning this event has re-energized me and I'm getting more press than ever. That's great for me and for my sponsors."
I'm an emotional kind of guy," He laughed. "Not like Iaconelli, I'm more of the 'get tears in eyes' kind of emotional. It was great to have my family there with me for this win. Winning would have been great even if I had been alone, but having my family with me made it so much more special. They make my career and my life. Without them winning this tournament would have been lessened. I'm just proud to be out there and making living bass fishing."
So how does Randy Howell feel about fishing the West? "I went to California for the BASS Pro Tour events on the Delta and Clear Lake," he said. "The lakes and rivers are some of the best in the country. The fishing was great and the people were great too. BASS needs to continue to have events in the West. Maybe they could place the events towards the end of the season so that guys who have to drive across country to get there could leave early and not be rushed to get back, so we could spend a few weeks there."
While this is the first BASS event that Randy Howell has ever won it's not the first time he has won a major tournament. In 1998, Randy won an FLW tournament on Wheeler Lake, "Winning an FLW tournament was great because of the money, but BASS builds careers," Randy stated flatly.
This event has Randy Howell the confidence he needs to continue winning. He has learned to focus and now the competitive juices are running at full steam. Don't be surprised to see him getting another trophy again soon.