I recently watched some behind-the-scenes footage of the Forrest Wood Cup dinner banquet, which is held the night before the championship commences. The footage was being used for the final episode of the Circuit Breaker reality show series starring FLW Tour rookie Casey Martin. But I was most struck by what I saw from Randall Tharp, who would go on to win the Cup in impressive fashion.
At the risk of sounding creepy, let me first state that I kind of enjoy people watching. And the registration dinner always provides plenty of surprising scenery. Case in point – pro fishermen look way different dressed up at a formal banquet than they do on the water. We see these guys all year long in their hats and sponsor jerseys; so to see them in coats and ties is strange. By and large, they clean up incredibly well. It’s also funny seeing their styled hair (or lack thereof). Who knew Matt Arey and Mark Rose had thick, bushy mops? Likewise, Wesley Strader and Jacob Wheeler are receding like the Great Salt Lake (and believe me guys, I can relate). I’m digressing.
Tharp meanwhile strolls down the red carpet before dinner sporting cropped silver hair, a pair of black sunglasses and a huge Cheshire grin that says, “I’m going to wipe the floor with you guys and take a half million dollars.”
And that’s precisely what he did.
Tharp straddles the line between confidence and arrogance and does so without even realizing it. On a personal level, he’s about as nice of a guy as you’ll ever meet. As a competitor, he’s ruthless, hence the nickname “Honey Badger.” If you’ve never seen an actual honey badger in action, I suggest spending a few minutes on YouTube. Those are some nasty, fearless creatures. In fact, they are so reckless that other animals feed on their scraps, which is also a Tharp reference as he tends to draw a crowd on Okeechobee.
I can remember last year at Beaver Lake harmlessly wishing Tharp “good luck” minutes before takeoff the first morning like I do to dozens of pros at each tournament. While everyone else simply says thanks, Tharp snapped back with, “Save your well wishes for someone who needs them!”
That might seem odd or even rude to some, but that was Tharp the competitor, not Tharp the person. I had simply caught him while he was already in “the zone.” As a side note, he went out and caught 15 1/2 pounds that first day to lead the tournament.
In five years of covering Tharp I can’t ever recall him expressing doubt. On the other hand, I have the words, “I’m going to catch them; there’s no doubt,” burned into my memory. After finishing second at Okeechobee in 2011 to Brandon McMillan, Tharp prophetically said on stage, “I will get my win down here (on Okeechobee); there is no doubt I will.” He was true to his word just one year later.
Fast forward to day three of the Cup and Tharp was once again sporting that scary look in his eye. His confidence was growing, even after relinquishing the lead for the first time all week. He was convinced he was around the winning fish, had the perfect pattern and wasn’t afraid to tell the press.
Is that arrogant? Cocky? I say no, because all fishermen get these instincts about when they are going to catch them. They’re not bulletproof, but these intuitions are right more often than they are wrong. If you can’t understand that, you’re probably not a fisherman because even a chowderhead like me has had a few of these moments. That’s really what makes this sport so addicting – that feeling that you’ve got it figured out followed by the rush of execution. Imagine that coming together with $500,000 on the line. I think its great Tharp was willing to share that feeling with the media and fans. While I hate the cliché, its stuff that like that helps grow the sport.
Tharp is slowly, but steadily growing a sizeable fan following. I think that base will grow exponentially when the casual fishing fan learns his background. In short, he’s proof that the dream of starting from scratch and working to become a successful full-time bass pro still exists. Tharp, 44, didn’t start fishing seriously until his early 30s. He didn’t come from money as he worked as a contractor until officially going pro in 2008, about the time the housing market collapsed.
In addition to his pure roots, the EverStart pro is among the most ethical anglers you’ll ever find. He despises local help (even if it’s allowed), doesn’t network with anyone on Tour and never dips into the gray areas of the rule book we so often hear about. He’s the truest champion possible – one with some serious swagger. It isn’t enough for him to just beat you – he has to beat you in the most moral and ethical manner possible. He wants the challenge – almost needs it like a drug.
I will have the distinct pleasure of playing him in a game of bags (or cornhole as some call it) before next year’s FLW Tour opener on Okeechobee. Thankfully for me, he’s not actually good at bags, he just thinks he is. But in bass fishing, his confidence is completely founded.