It seems that everywhere you look in the world of pro fishing, Ish Monroe has a presence. Last week, we pretty much decided it had little to do with the fact that he’s black, and more to do with the fact that he’s a human highlight reel.
Not long ago, it was Ish mashing the monsters at Amistad with his West Coast tricks. Fast-forward to Okeechobee and it’s 7-pound shootout events just a few years ago. And who could forget Ish just about calling his shot in Major League Fishing?
Numerous pros have more wins, some have won a lot more money. But when Ish is near the top, everyone knows it.
The previously mentioned MLF seems tailor-made for someone of Monroe’s caliber: A guy who plays to win, but loves doing so in front of the camera.
Monroe currently competes on the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour as well, and is quick to point out that all three circuits have their own appeal.
“FLW does a great job promoting for its sponsors,” he says. “And B.A.S.S. has built a brand that people follow. But MLF allows the fishermen to do the same thing for themselves and their sponsors regardless of who they are."
By this, Monroe insinuates that MLF is allowing its featured fishermen to build themselves as the promoted brand, as well as the supporters and sponsors of those fishermen, a la reality TV. Ever heard of Troy Landry, Uncle Si Robertson or a work-dodging kid named Chumlee? Wonder why they’re so drastically more popular than bass fishing stars?
Monroe continues: “MLF brings out the reality of tournament fishing without using the same old mold." Ish’s marketing side then kicks in “The fans of Bassmaster and FLW are the real hardcore fishermen. But the fans of MLF are the real hardcore fishermen and the occasional anglers. And it’s those occasional anglers that you want buying your product. For them, it’s almost like an infomercial."
Major League Fishing appears to be tailor-made for a man of Ish Monroe's talents.
I know exactly what Monroe means here; it’s the same as the Banjo minnow. For the seasoned angler, it was a Fluke with it’s own commercial. For the gift-buying wives and girlfriends, it was the only product of the sort they knew, and the rest is millionaire history.
Monroe also points out another MLF perk. “If I want to promote for Daiwa, I can. If I want to promote my frog, I can. MLF sells a lot of frogs."
I assume, then, that, if given the ultimatum to choose just a single tour, Ish would easily pick MLF. Not so, I’m told. “I need all three. FLW helps me with my relationship with Ranger, it’s good for all of us. And with B.A.S.S., I need the Classic. But MLF allows me to be my own entity.”
Many of you have read my feelings on MLF, and how I feel it has the best potential to push the television side of this sport to the next level. Ish also points out how some of the old guard see things differently.
“The hardcore bass guys will get on my social media and tell me they don’t like it when I throw a rod or swear, but then I get a message from the occasional fisherman, and that’s exactly what they like about the show.”
Perhaps we may need to see things more often from outside the box ...
As a journalist, a 10-minute conversation with Monroe is like gold. Before I let him escape, I hit him with a set of questions about growing up West Coast in the world of pro bass.
Many of my early heroes were Western guys: Tauber, Klein, Yelas. Many regarded as the best around today started there: Reese, Rojas, Ehrler. Surely, it’s got to be drastically more difficult to get the ball rolling several thousand miles away from bass fishing world headquarters.
“Nowadays, if you want to be a bass pro from California, you pack up and leave,” Ish said. Back in the heyday, he says, things were different.
“From like ’96 to about 2005, there was a bunch of money (in tournament prizes) out west. Most people don’t know it, but John Murray made more money fishing tournaments than anybody by staying local.”
Ish concludes that Murray surpassed Nixon’s publicized money records years ago. “But now, it’s different. Now you pack up and go fish FLW or the three B.A.S.S. Open divisions."
I laugh as I ponder the thought of fishing all three Open divisions concurrently. Ish just thinks of it as normal.
Through my interviews with Ish, I went from fan to super-fan, and I learned a few things about the man. First, he’s smart, in a great number of ways. Second, he’s going to win the Classic someday, mark my word.
Lastly, he ain’t afraid of nothin'.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)