Randy Howell was all smiles Saturday afternoon. He took the lead in the Ramada Championship for the second day in a row. Minutes later, his close friend and angling cohort Brent Chapman won the 2012 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
But as far as Howell’s day on the water went, he was shaking his head.
“It was a crazy day, I’ll tell you,” said Howell. “It was 11:30, and I didn’t have but one fish. I actually caught that one at 11. By 11:30, I knew my fish just weren’t going to bite there today.”
But the Springfield, Ala., pro adjusted. He brought 15 pounds, 10 ounces to the scales to stay in command in the 2012 season finale of the Bassmaster Elite Series. Howell’s three-day total of 47-12 kept him in front of Boyd Duckett of Demopolis, Ala., whose 14-0 of Saturday landed him in second place — again — with 45-6.
Scott Rook of Little Rock, Ark., had 45-3, 2-9 behind the leader, to stay in third place. But that was the end of the replay of the Top 3 from Friday. Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., moved into fourth, up from eighth, with 44-8. Jason Quinn of Lake Wylie, S.C., popped up from 10th into fifth place with 44-4.
They lead the Top 12 who will compete Sunday for the Ramada Championship trophy, $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
Howell said he had to move from the part of Oneida Lake he had been camped on all week, targeting schooling smallmouth bass, because the wind kicked up.
“The wind was blowing pretty big waves right down the middle of the lake where I’ve been catching them. I don’t know what it did to them, if the wind pushed them down or what. They just quit feeding,” Howell said.
But he had a Plan B. He actually had a long list of alternate spots and tactics, a strategy he learned after he had several Oneida victories slip through his fingers over the past few years.
“That was in my mind when I practiced, so I found fish in different areas in different parts of the lake, so no matter what happened or where the wind blew, I have somewhere to scratch together a limit,” Howell said.
The spot he moved to produced four smallmouth in an hour and a half on a topwater pattern, he said.
“That saved me, got me my limit at about 1:15,” he said.
Toward the tail end of his day, he decided to cash in on a largemouth spot he’d been saving.
“I pulled up to the waypoint — a mile offshore, in one clump of grass — and made one flip and caught about a 4-pound largemouth,” he said. (It turned out to weigh 3-11.) He culled his smallest smallmouth, gaining more than 2 pounds in weight, he said.
Duckett, whose concentration at Oneida has been on qualifying for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, said he returned Saturday to an area that’s perfect for largemouth and is adjacent to a productive smallmouth bite.
“I’m catching schoolers along a grassline in the back of a bay,” he said. “Then I’m flipping for largemouth 50 to 75 yards in.”
The smallmouth he’s on aren’t big enough to carry him to a win, he contended. He must rely on a kicker largemouth or two.
“I need that largemouth bite to win,” he said. “I’m in second place because of the smallmouth. But if I get one, maybe two, largemouths — and they take hours of flipping to get — maybe that will win this for me.”
Like Duckett, Rook is going for a Classic qualification. He figures that a Top 10 finish would get him there via the points system. At 2-9 behind Howell, he’s not sure he can catch up.
“Making up 3 pounds on Oneida is really hard,” he said. “All I can do tomorrow is catch as many as I can.”
He’s also targeting schooling smallmouth, a bite that got him an early limit Saturday in about 25 minutes. He said he hooked into seven smallies, but three came unbuttoned before he could get them into the boat.
“Then — boom — they just quit about 10:30,” he said, but he was able to complete his limit by working hard the rest of the day.
The largest bass brought in Saturday was by Takahiro Omori. A 5-6, it beat Michael Iaconelli’s 5-5 of Day 1, and Omori took the lead for the Carhartt Big Bass of Tournament award of up to $1,500.
Late Friday evening, Zell Rowland of Austin, Texas, had his Day 2 weight disqualified for violation of Elite rule No. C13, “permitted fishing locations.” The part of the rule that applied was: “Only that water open to ALL public fishing will be considered tournament waters.” Rowland fished a man-made boat basin considered under New York law as “private property.” After his weight disqualification, Rowland did not make the cut for Day 3, thus Matt Reed moved from 50th to 49th place to compete on Day 3.
The Ramada Championship will conclude Sunday. Fans are invited to watch the pros take off at 6:30 a.m. from Oneida Shores Park in Brewerton, N.Y. Afternoon activities will be on the infield at The Great New York State Fair in Syracuse, near the go-cart track. The family-friendly Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will open at noon. The weigh-ins are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.