By Jonathan LePera
Special to BassFan
Ish Monroe knew the outcome was going to be close, but he’d prepared himself accordingly. During each day of the Mississippi River Bassmaster Elite Series, he was confident that the area he was fishing had all that he needed to be the last man standing on the final day.
As he celebrates his 44th birthday this week, he’s taken stock of what’s important, which gave him the necessary perspective to remain calm and focused during the tournament.
“Fishing isn’t that serious in life; you start stressing yourself out,” he said. “You do that and you are going to have a heart attack and I’m not going to go out like that. I do my best and sort it out at the end.”
Following are some of the details from his third career Elite Series victory.
By the end of the 3-day official practice period, Monroe figured he’d have to rely on the location that he'd tabbed as his big-fish area. Despite getting only nine bites after fishing the entire bay, he was reassured as they were all good-quality fish. Other than an area he'd located on the initial practice day, he had no other water to run to.
He’d been to the Mississippi River during previous Bassmaster stops and was well aware that it's one of the best frog-fishing bodies of water in the country. However, he’d never seen such an influx of water into the system, nor was he sure how it would affect the fish, but he was determined to roll with the changing conditions each day.
> Day 1: 5, 15-06
> Day 2: 5, 16-11
> Day 3: 5, 17-04
> Day 4: 5, 16-02
> Total = 20, 65-07
Monroe is confident that not many anglers have parked their boat on a sandbar as perfectly as he did during day 1 of competition. It took him more than an hour to push it off by himself (B.A.S.S. rules prevent marshals from assisting anglers). The silver lining was that the incident keyed him into another productive area not far from his main spot. He fished his way toward his primary location for the better part of 5 hours and continually padded his limit along the way.
He said that after freeing his boat from the sand bar, he was so tired that he dropped his trolling motor into the water just to take a break.
"I looked up and saw an area like what I’ve been fishing and caught a limit in 10 minutes."
That spot was only 1 1/2 miles from his original destination, so he just fished his way there. It took him until 1 p.m. because he was catching so many fish.
He grew increasingly confident in not only the fish he was catching, but also the area's potential to reload. That's why he committed to it for the rest of the event.
All along, there was a pond behind the reeds that he was fishing that he’d seen, but hadn’t paid much attention to it. As the water level continued to rise, he realized that he might be able to access it. He turned to the CMAP satellite imagery afforded by his Lowrance units and found a cut that would provide an entrance
Heading into day 4, he had no doubts.
“I was committed to my belief in what lived there,” he said.
When he returned to his area on the final day he noticed that the wind and direction of the water had blown some of the significant duckweed growth from day 3 out of the area. By mid-morning he began to second-guess his decision. He’d contemplated hitting other spots that he’d allowed to rest for a couple of days, believing the bass would be reloaded, rejuvenated and ready to chew. His toughest decision was to stick it out in his big-fish area and shut those doubts out.
“I missed a lot of fish (on day 4)," he said. "They were reacting differently than they had previously. I wish I could have fished later."
In hindsight, he realized that he started out in the wrong area.
“I’d been starting on this one stretch and it’s the one that I caught all my fish from (on the final day). Then I’d rotate to the stretch I started on as the sun got a little higher because there was still shade on the banks from the trees, and it just didn’t pan out. The fish weren’t there, or they weren’t biting.
"I went back to that stretch this afternoon and saw half a dozen cruisers in the 2-pound range. That tells me more fish were coming in.”
He could've had a second straight 17-pound bag had he caught one more quality fish. He had such a bite that came unbuttoned halfway back to the boat despite a solid hookset.
He was balance-beaming fish and gaining ounces with each cull.
It’s no secret that Monroe’s obsession and proficiency with a frog runs deep. From the time he arrived for practice, he consistently fished a snipe- or yellow head-colored River2Sea Ish Monroe Phat Matt Daddy Frog. He caught some fish on a Missile Baits D-Bomb and a "buzz frog" that he’d constructed, but they were limit-fillers.
Monroe said the River2Sea frog is wider and heavier (3/4-ounce) than most, and those elements were important. It left a pronounced indentation in the thick duckweed mats that he was fishing, allowing largemouth to track it down and engulf it.
His goal is to roll the momentum from the win into this week's derby at Lake Oahe as he tries to offset three finishes of 80th or worse from earlier this season. He likely needs to finish among the top 50 in the remaining regular-season events to qualify for the AOY Championship and get a shot at gaining entry to the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.
Winning Gear Notes
> Frog gear: 7'4" extra-heavy Daiwa Tatula Elite Ish Monroe Frog Rod, Daiwa Zillion SV casting reel (7:3:1 ratio), 65-pound Maxima braided line, River2Sea Ish Monroe Phat Matt Daddy Frog (snipe or yellow head).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – “The difference between myself and the other committed frog anglers like (Cliff) Crochet and (Dean) Rojas is that we will not put that frog down all day, knowing that if we get seven bites, the five fish we bring to the scales will be better than everyone else."
> Performance edge – “Frogs with a keel, when fished over matted vegetation, turn on their side. My redesigned frog (with a flat bottom that pushes more water when worked over a mat) allowed me to catch big fish. (Also), without access to the Lowrance CMAP satellite imagery, I might never have gotten into my winning area."