By Todd Ceisner
Since he left his California home in January and headed out on the 2013 tournament trail, Ish Monroe has slept a grand total of zero days in his own bed. The few days he spent in Las Vegas last week for ICAST were as close as he'll get to home for a couple more months still.
This is nothing new for the veteran of several two-tour seasons on the road. Having the kind of success he's had so far this year has made it a bit easier to be away from the comforts of home, however.
He's one of seven anglers to have fished both tours this season and his average finish of 37th across the 12 events (six FLW, six Elite Series) so far is tops among them, just ahead of Jason Christie, who's won three times. He's cashed checks in all but two events and will be looking for his 11th straight money finish when the Elite Series shifts to the St. Lawrence River in early August.
He qualified for next month's Forrest Wood Cup and is currently 7th in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) standings with two Elite Series derbies left up north. If he's able to maintain his standing in the Top 8, he'll knock over a few more dominoes: Qualify for next year's Bassmaster Classic, clinch a spot in the Elite Series postseason event and wrap up berths in the next two Toyota Texas Bass Classics.
"I'm very happy with the season so far," he said last week while getting in an early-morning workout before hitting the show floor at ICAST. "I was disappointed with the start of the FLW season, but the Elites started well and I've been fishing good. I've had some mishaps with some missed fish, but other than that it's been a good year."
According To Plan
To pull off fishing both tours this year, Monroe decided to employ a two-boat strategy, which significantly cut down on driving time for him. His sponsors were on board with the decision and when FLW and Elite Series events bumped up against each other on the calendar, he'd park one boat in storage, hop a plane to the next destination and have the other boat waiting for him.
"One hundred percent, everything worked out the way it was supposed to," he said.
He's thankful for the help of Rich Sweadner, who fished the FLW Tour as a co-angler and towed Monroe's FLW boat from event to event.
"All of my sponsors allowed me to double up on equipment," he said. "From Ranger and Yamaha giving me a second boat and motor to Daiwa providing another 40 rods and reels, I had no reason not to compete this year on both tours because of their efforts."
Having two sets of everything made transitioning from one boat to the other a breeze.
"It's not realistic to do it with one set," he said. "Everything has to work perfectly to make both championships."
So far, so good on that front. As he noted, he got off to a slow start on the FLW side, posting 94th- and 85th-place finishes at Lake Okeechobee and Smith Lake, respectively, but rallied to make the Cup with a 30th-place average finish over the final four events.
"The Eufaula FLW event was the key tournament that triggered a lot of things for me," he said. "I was burned out. I was at the end of a 4- or 5-week stretch of tournaments. I was done. I was in the 50s after day 1 and at 11 a.m. on day 2, I had one fish. I was like, 'Something's wrong here. I know I'm mentally exhausted, but I have one more day to stay in contention.' So I took 5 minutes, drank a Red Bull and ran to a place 30 miles up river and caught 16 pounds in an hour. That was more than enough to salvage the week."
He wound up 34th there and earned enough points to make a move into the Top 50 in points with two derbies left.
"The emotion there was all about confidence," he said. "It just shows you how mental this game is and if you can make decisions with a clear head, good things will happen."
This week, he'll fish the Lake Champlain Northern EverStart for no reason other than to knock off the rust from not fishing a tournament in 3 weeks and to get tuned in to how the summer time fishing will be up north for the last couple Elite events.
"Just to keep my focus fishing wise," he said. "When you take a 3-week break from competitive fishing, it can mess with you mentally so I want to be able to get my mind clear."
After that, he'll take a break for a week before diving headlong into an intense 5-week flurry of tournaments that includes the Oneida Lake Northern Open, the St. Lawrence River Elite Series, the Forrest Wood Cup, the Lake St. Clair Elite Series and then filming for Major League Fishing.
"The Classic is mine to lose," he said. "We're going to two great fisheries. The Thousand Islands is going to be great."
What gets lost in the perceived glitz and glamour of fishing both tours is the mental grind it can become. Not being at home really at all means he has to manage all of his bills and home upkeep from afar and he entrusts those duties to his personal assistant Valerie Lorenzo. She makes sure everything is taken care of from bank deposits to sorting through mail.
"She's great," he said. "She handles everything and lets me know if something important is coming up and tells me everything's good."
While Monroe is enjoying a fabulous year on the water, things don't always go as planned. He's no stranger to these ups and downs and he's benefitted this year from rooming with second-year Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock along with longtime pal John Crews.
"I take a huge amount of satisfaction from the success I've had this year," he said, "but another key to my success have been the people around me."
He said Shryock provides him a steady stream of links to motivational videos on YouTube starring either Michael Jordan or actor Will Smith, for example. He said it helps him push harder when the easy way out is always within reach.
"They talk about being successful and how bad do you want something," he said. "It's a way of thinking that takes incredible commitment even when distractions are right there in front of you. While other guys went out and partied in Vegas (at ICAST), I went to bed early and got up early and hit the gym to get ready for the day. Every time I get to a point I feel like I don't have enough to keep going, I'll watch one of those and push a little harder."
Monroe said he and Crews haven't so much taken Shryock, 26, under their wing as he's helped add to their tournament preparation.
"He's just another piece of the pie," he said. "All three pieces are together and we're all doing well."