Big goals ahead for Port St. Joe angler
Port St. Joe resident, and professional tournament B.A.S.S. fisherman, Randall Tharp, is one month from towing his new office – a Phoenix Boats 921 Pro XP – onto the strongest Bassmaster Elite tour of his 10-year career on the series.
His wife of 24 years, Sara, is making camping reservations, and will make more than a few pies, for marine mechanics. “Hauling different vehicles, together, all year long, we can’t talk about anything important, but I know he’s taken care of,” she said.
Even the couple’s 12-year-old beagle is getting a look that signals it’s time to live on the road for the next eight months.
Tharp started the first half of his 2017 season in the top 5, with “Angler of the Year” points and while he didn't have any total disaster tournaments, said, “Bad events snowball.”
The 2018 Elite squad is 111 anglers strong, and while Tharp said, “When I’m fishing well, things are clicking along,” he admits, “I’ve been streaky.”
Back in 2008, Tharp took three National Cups, and in 2016, won the Bull Shoals and Norfork Championships.
Since 2011, he also entered the qualifier, for the Bassmaster Classic four times.
When Tharp won the Forrest Wood Cup in 2013, he and Sara had been living in St. Joe nine days and before they moved, he told her that he was going to win it.
“I get a feeling before making a cast and I know what’s fixing to happen,” he said about his outcomes, but ultimately, “I never had a goal to fish for a living, just be a better angler.”
“I’ve won ‘Angler of the Year’ at every level except the Elite series, and that’s a goal,” Tharp said, adding, “Contention for wins are goals, too, but at this stage of my career, there’s one Bassmaster Classic.”
“We all have strengths and weaknesses, and schedule logistics don’t always align with mine, but getting to that event means a good year.”
This year, Tharp will be fishing to make the cut for the Classic in 2019, but he won’t be absent entirely from the event. Tharp’s tremendous value to the industry will be on the showroom floor at the Classic Expo for the companies that sponsor him and he hopes to sell a pile of signature rods he designed with ARK Fishing International, LLC.
ARK sent he, and Sara to China in November to be involved in the second year of production for the 14 models –12 of which are casting rods, and two, spinners.
About the process Tharp said, “The longer my career, the more rewarding it is to fish with products I have something to do with. We design all this crazy stuff and spend countless hours learning to use it. As a professional, I need to understand it, but I can only have so many tools or I’m not consistent.”
“A good fisherman can take a rusty, crank bait, with half the hooks off and beat you. We’re always pushing limits with tackle. I’m a way better angler for figuring it out on my own. Not many days bass fishing do I see anything I’ve never seen but it evolves, so I need to attack a lake five different ways.”
On the other side of the big pond, “I didn’t have a lot in common with China’s people,” he said, “but the fishermen are like me.” However, Tharp says there is a big difference in that they’re not interested in sponsors, even catching, and instead, ask strategy questions. “It enlightens me that the Chinese are so far behind. They watched me fish two days, and were only interested in why I chose certain bait, or why I left a spot,” Tharp said. “Those are the real questions.”
On future trips, Tharp is looking forward to personally being involved in how the sport is shaped and how fishermen approach it. “I don’t want it to be commercialized,” he said, “and more, about the art of angling.”
“I showed them some things. They probably all have flipping sticks now” (alluding to a technique Tharp is known for in South Florida).
Tharp, who was born in Miami and grew up in Atlanta says, “I’m lucky to fish all over the world, but excited coming home to see what’s going on offshore, too.”
For this season, Tharp said, “Lake Oahe in South Dakota (June 29-July 2) is interesting, as well as Kentucky Lake, which is a huge body of water early in the year (May 4-7).”
“Wild cards are Chesapeake Bay (July 26-29) and Sabine River (April 6-9), which are scary for all of us, because they’re long boat rides with limited times to fish with the tides.”
The Saint Lawrence River is the only waterway repeated on the 2018 schedule, and is where Tharp caught 22 pounds on day one and 16 the second, which, he says, “Is a decent stringer of fish anywhere, but Saint Lawrence,” in upstate New York, with a lot of current, he recalled, “plus, the competition, is so good, there is barely separation between first and sixtieth. It’s harder to succeed at a high level for extended periods.”
This year includes continuation of live on-the-water camera coverage and the expansion of the no-information rule, which Tharp fought for during two years on the B.A.S.S. advisory board, to lessen anglers’ soliciting local help.
“I’d be happy if we all had the same lures and identical boats and fished lakes with no outside influence, so, we constantly tweak rules,” said Tharp.
When it comes to the heart of the series, “It’s a close group,” he said.
“I know why they are good and they understand why I’ve been. The pressure to catch a bass to pay a bill changes, but people is what it’s about,” Tharp said.
As for 2018, Sara also has a feeling.
That it is, “time for an up year,” for Mr. Tharp.
Jennifer A. Sheffield is a freelance writer based in Apalachicola.