Fishing News

Yamaha Pro Randall Tharp Safe, Rebuilding After Hurricane Michael

Posted 11/9/2018

Storm Surge Damages Downstairs Portion of Tharp’s Gulf Home

When Randall Tharp returned home at 3 a.m. Saturday, October 6, from an eight-day fishing exhibition in China, the tropical depression that would soon become the strongest hurricane to ever hit the Florida Gulf Coast did not appear to be a threat at all. To help recover from jetlag, the Yamaha Pro and some friends even spent Saturday evening watching a college football game on television. 
“During the game we learned the storm had grown into a hurricane,” says Tharp, “so the next morning we started taking boats out of the water and putting away outside lawn furniture. We were planning to stay, because we’d been though several similar storms during the five years we’ve lived here. 
“This one did not seem to be posing much of a threat at that time.”
Tharp’s home is in Port St. Joe, within walking distance of Mexico Beach, both popular fishing spots along the Florida Panhandle Coast. When he isn’t competing in professional bass tournaments, Tharp is often fishing there in the Gulf.
By Tuesday morning, Hurricane Michael had strengthened into a Category 3 storm, and by noon it had grown to Category 4. Tharp told his wife to pack anything she wanted to take because they had to get out, and an hour later they were driving north a hundred miles to Dothan, Alabama. Michael came ashore about noon the next day, slamming into Mexico Beach with winds around 140 miles an hour.  
“When we evacuated, I had a bad feeling, and when we watched the coverage from Dothan before we lost power there, I knew it would be major,” continues the Yamaha Pro. “Afterward, it took two days to get back home because of all the blown-down trees across the highway leading south, and when I saw where Mexico Beach used to be, I was stunned. There was nothing left standing there.”
Tharp had built his home just east of Mexico Beach, and the only serious damage they sustained came from the storm surge that flooded their downstairs tackle storage room and a second kitchen. They’d constructed the house on stilts and used materials able to withstand 160 mile-per-hour winds, and while water broke the downstairs doors, their upstairs was virtually undamaged. He did locate two chairs he’d left outside during the storm two blocks away, but the home adjacent to theirs was virtually destroyed, as were three of the six homes on their street. 
“Friends from Louisiana came over with generators and other equipment, and while we had running water back pretty quickly, it took about two weeks to get electricity,” says Tharp. “I’ve spent a lot of time going up and down our street with a chainsaw helping neighbors clear fallen trees. There are thousands of people down here working to get Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach re-built, but it’s going to take a long time.
“Even though my town is gone, I‘m very thankful to have a roof over my head.”
While Hurricane Michael’s devastation immediately changed Tharp’s focus from fishing to re-building, his memories of fishing in the China B.A.S.S.® Nation championship certainly have not diminished. He and another American angler, Brandon Cobb, fished three of the four days in the event and gave seminars about bass fishing to some of the most enthusiastic anglers Tharp has ever met. 
“Brandon and I were not actually competing, but rather, teaching, because a lot of the Chinese fishermen gave up their own fishing time just to watch us,” laughs the Yamaha Pro. “Bass had actually been imported into China to serve as a food fish, but some were stocked into different lakes just for sport.
“The sport of bass fishing is just getting started there, and Brandon and I are honored to be able to help them. The tournament itself was very well conducted, and we’re both looking forward to going back.” Y