Six anglers who finished among the Top 20 in the 2007 FLW Tour Angler of the Year (AOY) race turned that same trick on the Eastern FLW Series. Five of those names – David Dudley, Clark Wendlandt, Dave Lefebre, Koby Kreiger and Mark Rose – are familiar to all serious BassFans.

How about the sixth guy? That was 49-year-old Keith Monson of Burgin, Ky. – a doting grandfather and former convenience store owner who hadn't competed on the Tour for a decade. He ended up 17th in the Tour points and 13th in the Series standings.

"I was real pleased with my season – I was real consistent," he said. "I had a couple of opportunities to make Top 10s and I had the fish hooked to do it, but they got off.

"What we always say is we want to be on the first page (of the standings), which means in the Top 50. I feel very fortunate that I got some breaks at the right times and was able to catch the fish I needed."

A Long Hiatus

Prior to this year, Monson's only previous full season on the FLW Tour was 1997. He finished in the money just once in five events, and that check was for $1,250.

He fished about 100 FLW Outdoors tournaments over the ensuing decade while relying on his store to support his family. He won four times – at the 2000 Kentucky Lake Stren and three BFL Mountain Division events.

By the time the formation of the Series was announced in late 2005, his kids were out of the house, he'd sold his store and he was ready to take another crack at tour-level competition. But his first couple of outings weren't promising.

He finished 138th at Cumberland (his home lake) and 113th at Old Hickory. But he hasn't had a triple-digit finish in 13 events (Tour and Series combined) since then.

Perhaps because of his age and experience level, those first two tournaments didn't shake his confidence. After all, lots of top-flight anglers struggle on their home waters, and he'd gotten plenty of bites at Old Hickory.

"I had enough fish hooked to do real well there," he said of the Old Hickory event. "I just couldn't land them on the first day – I think I had seven good ones that all got off.

"I was disappointed, but not down. But I also knew that my performance had better improve, or I was going to be in trouble."

Better Times Arrive

Monson improved to 81st in his third event at Lake of the Ozarks. Then came his big breakthrough, a 10th at Lewis Smith in the '06 Series finale. Early in the '07 season, he logged his best Tour finish thus far – a 12th at Fort Loudoun-Tellico.

If you throw out the first two tournaments, his average finish since his return to top-level competition is better than 50th, which equates to the upper 25% of the field.

He was pretty much a shallow-water specialist when he first came back, but he's greatly expanded his repertoire over the past 2 seasons.

"I've learned many different techniques at the different lakes we've been to," he said. "I never used a spinning rod for anything 5 years ago and I didn't even own one, but now I've got five or six and a lot of times, one of them is the first thing out of the box.

"I've enjoyed going to new places, and I've adapted fairly quickly."

The Sensible Path

Now that he's tasted some tour-level success, does Monson wish he'd stuck it out a decade ago and tried to make it happen sooner? Not even a little bit.

"I don't regret anything," he said. "I'm what you might call an old-fashioned family guy and I knew my kids were only going to grow up once. I wanted to be around for it and make the most of it, and I got to spend a lot of time coaching basketball and things like that."

Besides, there's still plenty of time left for him to enjoy a productive tour career – especially if he can maintain his consistency and start putting some of those potential Top-10 fish in the livewell.

"The Angler of the Year is a definite goal, along with winning a tournament. And at some point, I'd like to put myself in position to have a shot at winning the Forrest Wood Cup.

"A good friend of mine (fellow Kentuckian John Devere) made the Top 10 there this year. We've talked about it quite a bit, and he was just a fish or two away from a million dollars."

Even on his busiest days at the convenience store, he never saw money like that.


> Monson is a four-time qualifier for the BFL All-American. His best finish was 21st at the Connecticut River in 2006.

> He thoroughly enjoyed his initial visit to Lake Erie during last year's Detroit River FLW Tour. "You can catch 30 pounds there (over 2 days) and not be anywhere close to the lead, but it's still a lot of fun."

> He's eagerly anticipating his trip to Texas' Lake Amistad next month for the Series East/West Fishoff. "I've heard a lot about all the big fish they've got down there and I think it'll fit my style of jig-fishing. It'll definitely be a new experience for me."

> He started the year at No. 314 in the BassFan World Rankings presented by Tru-Tungsten, but had climbed all the way to No. 127 by the time it was over.