Six years ago Randall Tharp took the bait.
An accomplished angler in local tournaments in Alabama, Tharp decided to divest himself of a successful construction business to follow the siren’s song of the professional fishing circuit.
He was, pardon the pun, hooked. Line. And. Sinker.
And today Tharp is reveling in the glow of a “major” championship, the winner two weeks ago over 150 other pros of the Forrest Wood Cup at the Red River (LA) presented by WalMart, the World Championship of the FLW Series.
In winning a title that escaped him in 2012, Tharp cashed a winner’s check of $500,000, boosting his career winnings over $1.4 million.
Tharp is 12th in points among 172 FLW competitors for “Angler of the Year” and a year-end financial bonus.
Also sponsored by a heavyweight array – EverStart Batteries, Ranger Boats, Chevy Trucks, Evinrude, Power-Pole, Lowrance, GAMMA, Halo Fishing, 4X4 Jigs and Bass Boat Technologies among others – the St. Joe Beach resident also demonstrates that his plunge paid off.
He has done so on his own, fashioning his career a step at a time without the backing of a huge corporate sponsor.
“It certainly validates your career,” Tharp said of the Forrest Wood Cup title. “I would compare it to golf. A lot of professional golfers don’t win a major. I won a major in our sport and I don’t think it will be my last.
“I had finished well last year and had fished Red River in the spring and finished fourth. I feel like in the big tournaments like that I rise to the occasion. I had a feeling when I left here for the tournament that I was going to have an opportunity.”
Tharp, known for his acumen in shallow-water fishing, started strong with a stout bounty of over 12 pounds on first day of the four-day tournament.
He maintained his position near the top of the leaderboard over the next two days, snagging roughly 10 pounds per day, and then clinched the tournament with his heaviest catch of bass on the final day, over 14 pounds.
“After three days this calm came over me,” Tharp said. “There were all the boats around, the cameras and people, and I was just 100 percent focused on what I was doing.
“The other competitors and what they are doing can influence what you do dramatically. That’s when strategy comes in and you have to make decisions. You win tournaments by making great decisions.”
Those decisions, Tharp said, focus on the many variables in play – when to fish, where to fish, getting a feel for what is going on with the fish and your competitors.
For example, Tharp attributed his blazing final day on his observation that fish were biting big in the afternoon, when the temperatures had risen, and in shallow waters.
That research and understanding the competition and waters is a critical part of the process, Tharp said.
There are three days of “practice” fishing prior to every tournament.
“We show up for a tournament and get on the water and fish from morning until night for three days,” Tharp said. “You try to establish a pattern. For instance, I like fishing in really shallow water. I call it power-fishing.
“But you also have to have versatility to win every week.”
Tharp discovered small local tournament fishing in the late 1990s.
Born in Miami, he had met his wife, Sara, in Alabama and established a construction company. On the weekends or summer weeknights, Tharp said, he competed in plenty low-dollar tournaments, pocketing his share of “$20 purses.”
But he understood he had much to learn. He began reading voraciously, seeking information wherever he could find it. He also had innate gifts.
He started fishing in satellite series, the Bama and Choo-Choo BFL Divisions, winning points titles in both divisions in 2007 and $15,000.
He saw a path ahead.
“That’s when I decided I was going to try this fulltime,” Tharp said. “I was having fun. I was winning quite a bit of money fishing.
“It was not something I planned. I’m just real competitive.”
He soon realized he could make a go of the fishing gig, winning an EverStart event on Lake Eufaula and the first two B.A.S.S. Opens he entered during his first year as a pro in 2008.
“It hasn’t been easy to fish at this level,” Tharp said. “I would compare it to golf. You can have all the equipment, knowledge and practice, but you have to have a talent.
“I also found I have another thing the top anglers have. I can go anywhere in the country and the world and dominate.”
Tharp has been a BFL Divisional points winner three times, the EverStart Southeast points winner in 2009 and BASS Southern Open points winner in 2010.
In 2010, Tharp qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup, PAA Championship and Bassmaster Classic, the championships of each circuit he was fishing.
The circuit is a consuming mistress, though. Tharp is currently home for a few weeks, but he will soon hit the road.
He fishes 15 to 22 or 23 events each year. He and Sara “live” out of a recreational vehicle and when on the road it is 24/7. Tharp estimates he has roughly a month off each year.
“It’s a different lifestyle but we have come to love it,” Tharp said. “It is fun and we have met some of the coolest people all over the country.”
A little more than three years ago he and Sara moved to St. Joe Beach. They had vacationed in the area before and were beckoned by the beaches, saltwater fishing and the opportunity to gaze onto the ocean each morning they are home.
“This is where we wanted to be,” Tharp said. “I fell in love with this area and my wife did too.”
And on a recent sunny morning, his Forrest Wood Cup home beside him as he gazed out on the Gulf of Mexico, the future seemed quite bright for Randall Tharp.
“People are so passionate about fishing, especially tournament fishing,” Tharp said. “There are a lot of people like me who are also competitive about fishing, who love to compete. I think the sky is the limit.”