By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

(Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 2-part series reviewing the top stories of 2017 as selected by the BassFan staff. To check out part 1, click here. In addition, BassFan will suspend publication of First Cast stories during the holidays as it does each year, although important breaking news will still be reported. The staff wishes everyone a joyous and safe holiday. We'll resume feature publication on Tuesday, Jan. 2.)

Wherever he’s at today, Tom Monsoor is probably smiling. Maybe he’s off throwing a swim jig somewhere warm and far away from his hometown of La Crosse, Wis. Or maybe he’s just chilling at home, reminiscing about the swim jig in current clinic he put on at the Potomac River last June. Either way, he’s definitely smiling.

Monsoor, a 68-year-old lifelong fisherman (his family operates a commercial fishing business in La Crosse), surprised many when he finally broke through with an FLW Tour victory in the season finale near the nation’s capital.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said after winning by 5 ounces over Tour rookie Chad Warren. “I can die tomorrow. I’m good now. I finally didn’t finish 2nd or 3rd or 4th or 5th. I finally got the trophy.”

It’s the second year in a row that a pro 68 years old or older has won a major event (who will forget Rick Clunn’s win at the St. Johns River in 2016?) and it might’ve sparked something in Monsoor, who won a two-day BFL at the Mississippi River in September, his fifth career BFL win in his backyard. Before this year, his last FLW win came in a two-day BFL back in September 2004.

What’s more is that Monsoor’s victory came 3 1/2 years after he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and suffered a series of heart attacks in the aftermath. He wasn’t sure he’d come back to the Tour, but after a life spent fishing for a living, tournament fishing continues to be a release for him. Maybe he’s just now hitting his stride.

KVD Claims 24th Win; Hits Milestone Birthday

Speaking of getting old (just kidding), Kevin VanDam joined the 50 club this year and also captured his 24th career B.A.S.S. victory – and ninth full-field Elite Series win – with a wire-to-wire triumph at the St. Lawrence River.

On the topic of his age and where he’s at in terms of career accomplishments and personal fulfillment, VanDam says he still gets charged up every morning of a tournament and refers to turning 50 as ‘just a number'. He’s in good health, enjoys the competition and doesn’t see himself slowing down anytime soon. That’s good news for the sport.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Kevin VanDam ruled the St. Lawrence River Elite Series, a few months before turning 50 years old.

Folks from around the industry said it’s hard to fathom the sport without him in it and know his type do not come around too often. It’s tough to argue with them.

As for his third career triumph at the St. Lawrence, you needn’t look further than the final day of his 300th career B.A.S.S. tournament to understand his greatness. Faced with changing conditions and a stiff wind blowing against the current, he set the tone with a 6-05 brute early in the day and that laid the foundation for an eye-popping 23-12 to push his four-day total over 90 pounds. His winning margin was 8 pounds even.

It’ll be worth watching next August when the Elite Series returns to Waddington, N.Y., where VanDam believes the possibility exists for someone to crack the century mark solely with smallmouth.

Palaniuk Overcomes Big O Bomb

Brandon Palaniuk’s 2017 Elite Series season started with a top-12 at Cherokee Lake, but he followed that up with a 105th at Okeechobee, the worst finish of his pro career. He then struggled at the Bassmaster Classic (49th at Lake Conroe), but quickly got his bearings two weeks later with a 5th-place showing at Toledo Bend Reservoir.

That set in motion a historic charge up the points standings. Toledo Bend touched off a run of six straight top-20 finishes that included a win at the first Toyota Texas Fest at Sam Rayburn Reservoir along with back-to-back 3rd-place finishes in New York at the St. Lawrence and Lake Champlain. He took over the points lead after the St. Lawrence and never looked back. He sewed up his first AOY title with a 29th-place finish at Lake St. Clair and a 20th at the AOY finale at Mille Lacs Lake, besting Jason Christie by 14 points.

No previous AOY had overcome a triple-digit finish to win the prestigious title. All the while, Palaniuk claimed to not be monitoring the points standings and tried to avoid conversation about where he stood throughout the season.

Chase Anderson
Photo: Chase Anderson

Chase Anderson is heading up his family's majority ownership stake in B.A.S.S.

What made Palaniuk’s triumphant season more memorable was that it was all captured on film. He commissioned a camera crew to follow him around during the season – on and off the water, behind the scenes through the ups and downs. The footage, compelling from start to finish and well worth your time, was later edited and a video series was posted on his YouTube channel.

Business Matters

It was a busy year in board rooms around the fishing industry. From the mega merger of Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s finally gaining approval from government regulators in September to the bankruptcy purchase and rebranding of Gander Mountain by the owner of Camping World and star of a reality TV business show, it was a year of significant change across the industry.

The Bass Pro Shops-Cabela’s deal gives Johnny Morris a sizable share of the outdoor retail industry and offers him another major outlet to market and sell his growing stable of boat brands, which added Legend Boats back in May. The true fallout for Sidney, Neb., the rural town where Cabela’s has been based, still has yet to be determined.

Gander Mountain, long a competitor of both Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s, filed for bankruptcy protection in March, setting up the process for the company and its remaining assets to be sold at auction. Enter Marcus Lemonis, the owner of Camping World and star of the CNBC reality show The Profit.

Lemonis acquired the assets, intellectual property and all of the store leases and trademarks, while the remaining inventory was purchased by another entity and liquidated at discounted prices. He said the goal was to keep many of the stores open.

Earlier this month, the first of many rebranded and restocked Gander Outdoors stores opened in Lakeville, Minn. Lemonis was there to kick off his new venture.

Closer to the bass fishing world, what had been rumored for some time came to fruition with the sale of a majority stake in B.A.S.S. to Anderson Media Corp., which has its roots in Alabama. The previous ownership regime of Don Logan, Jim Copeland and Jerry McKinnis still has a presence, but the Anderson group, led by 37-year-old Chase Anderson, is now calling the shots.

All indications so far are that the Anderson family will bring long-term stability to B.A.S.S. and no drastic changes are anticipated in the short term.

In one of the bigger tackle business deals in recent years, it was announced in early November that Srike King Lure Company was acquired by Lew’s Holdings Corporation, which is part of the Peak Rock Capital private equity firm. The move could position Lew’s, which has flourished under the leadership of Lynn Reeves and Gary Remensnyder, to offer a full suite of tackle from rods and reels through soft plastics and hard baits.

About a week before the Lew’s-Strike King deal was announced, PRADCO Outdoor Brands acquired War Eagle Custom Lures, adding a respected maker of wire baits and jigs to its brand portfolio.

No Talking!

Earlier this year, speculation swirled that B.A.S.S. was mulling changes to the off-limits rule for the 2018 Elite Series season. You know, the one that prohibits anglers from asking locals or guides for waypoints inside of the off-limits period.

The topic of soliciting information has been raised repeatedly by competitors and after internal discussions, the changes were officially announced in July.

The language in the revised rule regarding what is prohibited is largely the same as before –
anglers are not allowed to solicit or intentionally receive any information about the locations of fish or fishing areas on those waters. What changed, though, was when the rule went into effect – immediately upon release of the upcoming year’s schedule – and it also applies to the Bassmaster Classic. Essentially, when B.A.S.S. released its 2018 Elite Series schedule back in July, anglers were not allowed to seek out information about venues on said schedule other than what’s available through public-facing sources (websites, newspapers, etc.).

Scouting trips in advance of the standard off-limits period are still permitted, but anglers won’t be able to pair up with a friend or local guide to get an insider’s view of the venue.

“This new rule is supported overwhelmingly by the Elite anglers themselves,” said B.A.S.S. tournament director Trip Weldon, referring to a recent survey in which more than 80 percent of Elite Series anglers responding supported extending the “no-information” period to a much earlier date. “This change not only helps level the playing field, but it also puts a premium on the all-important ability to find, as well as catch, bass.”

How it impacts the outcome of tournaments remains to be seen, but a number of competitors are anxious to see how it affects other anglers and their tournament preparation.

Major Addition

Since it inception in 2011, Major League Fishing has been building momentum and gaining in popularity among bass fishing fans. Its TV series on Outdoor Channel is among the top-rated shows on the network and it’s even been featured in weekend time slots during the summer on CBS.

This past June, CBS aired the first MLF World Championshipover the course of six hour-long episodes and featured the field of 12 anglers – Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens, Mike Iaconelli, Greg Hackney, Mark Davis, Edwin Evers, Gary Klein, Bobby Lane, Boyd Duckett, Jeff Kriet, Mike McClelland and Tim Horton – being narrowed down to four finalists. Anglers qualified via their placement on the MLF points list over a 2-year period. The competition took place on small lakes near Nacogdoches, Texas, in March, just before the Bassmaster Classic at nearby Lake Conroe.

Lane, Davis, Kriet and VanDam made it through to the final round with Lane tallying 57-04 (33 fish) to capture the first MLF World Championship. Now, the competitive bass fishing scene has another championship to pay attention to and aspire to be a part of. No doubt we’ll be watching.