OKEECHOBEE, Fla. — When Ish Monroe wins in the Bassmaster Elite Series, he goes big.
Monroe of Hughson, Calif., won the Power-Pole Slam Sunday on Lake Okeechobee with a four-day total of 108 pounds, 5 ounces. It was his second Elite Series win. In his first, six years ago on Lake Amistad in the inaugural event of the newly formed series, he also totaled more than 100 pounds — 104-8 to be exact.
“Winning with over 100 pounds is awesome,” said Monroe, who took home $100,000 and an instant berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. “I really wanted to break my own record today, and it feels really good.”
His Sunday check pushed his Bassmaster career earnings to more than $1 million. Weighing more than 100 pounds of bass over four days gave him a second entry in what’s known as the B.A.S.S. Century Club, an exclusive group of Bassmaster Elite Series pros who have busted the mark.
Monroe’s performance at the Power-Pole Slam was a complete turnaround from his 96th-place finish at last week’s Elite Series event on the St. Johns River, which Monroe called “a mental screw-up” and a wrong turn in his quest to qualify for the 2013 Classic.
“The pressure’s off now; I’m in the Classic. My deal coming here was I was going to try for an Elite Top 12 at every event to make sure I got there,” said Monroe, who had missed several Classic qualifications in a row before he returned in 2012.
Although Monroe scored a wire-to-wire win, and twice had big leads, victory wasn’t a sure thing for him on Sunday, when he started the day with a 10-ounce lead over 2012 Bassmaster Classic champ Chris Lane, a Florida native who now lives in Guntersville, Ala.
“Chris Lane is the best in the world right now, and having him on my back was a scary feeling,” Monroe said after bringing 30-15 to the scales Sunday. His margin of victory was 12 pounds, 12 ounces, over Lane, who finished second with 95-9.
Monroe began the tournament Thursday with what proved later to be the event’s largest sack at 34-5. He led that first day by 8-12 over South Carolina’s Davy Hite. It was the largest Day One lead in Elite Series history. Monroe followed up Friday with 24-25 and widened his leader’s margin to 13-11, this time over Lane. It was the largest Day Two lead in Elite Series history.
Then Monroe ran into trouble Saturday. Lane smashed 31-3, deflating Monroe’s cushion to just 10 ounces.
“When he came in with that big sack on Day Three, it hurt because I would have loved to have gone into today with a 14-pound lead. Who doesn’t want to go in with a 14-pound lead on the last day? But it also made me step up my game,” said Monroe, who now has four B.A.S.S. wins.
Monroe said his tackle for Okeechobee was a dark blue D Bomb Bruiser Flash by Missile Baits rigged on a 1-ounce locally made Medlock jig, or a 1 to 1 1/2-ounce River2Sea Trash Bomb that had a punch skirt and 5/0 punch hook. He said he used 70-pound Daiwa Samurai Braid and an 8-foot Daiwa flipping stick he designed.
The rod was key because it allowed him to feel light bites, he said, and Okeechobee bass were biting light, especially on Sunday.
“As the tournament progressed, the bites got progressively lighter,” he said. “The flipping stick allowed me to get those real subtle bites and jack on those big ones. And I never broke a fish off this week, not one. And I pulled some heavy ones out of the cover.”
Wind velocity played a key role in his pattern. Day One the wind speed was high, but it dropped over the next two days. On Sunday, the wind picked up again. Monroe said he looked for spots where the water was somewhat dirtied by the blowing wind.
“Wind changes the color of the water. There are fish always in those areas, but when it gets really, really dirty, you’re not going to catch them,” he said. “If the water gets really, really clean, you’re not going to catch them because they get spookish on you.
“But when you get just a little bit of tint to that water, the fish are in there and they’re biting.”
He keyed on ditches that crisscrossed the lake’s tall bulrushes and vegetation, channels he called “freeways” that the bass hung on because of the slightly deeper water.
His primary locations were in Okeechobee’s eastern Pelican Bay the first three days. He made a change Sunday because the high wind made running across the wide and shallow Okeechobee to Pelican too rough and time-consuming, so he took a route that ran him through the lake’s southern end near Clewiston. He stopped to fish it. Once he began to land big fish there, he naturally felt no need to move on to Pelican, he said.
The 8-6 that anchored his Sunday bag was his largest of the tournament and largest of the day. He caught most of his fish early in the day, except that big one.
“I caught that right at the end of the day on the second spot I stopped on, on the second time I stopped on it. I knew what the water looked like in there. I knew the wind had switched directions a little more and was blowing a little harder, and I knew what kind of fish were in there,” he said.
Lane, the recent Classic champ and winner of a Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes, missed taking his third Bassmaster trophy of 2012. Although he has two other Bassmaster wins (both on Okeechobee), he has yet to win an Elite Series event.
Each of Lane’s 2012 wins came with a qualification for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, so he didn’t care about not winning the Classic berth at Okeechobee. Although it appeared Monroe would cruise to victory, Lane did give him a scare.
“To win this one would probably have been a bit of shocker to everyone — including myself,” Lane said. “I’m not disappointed.”
Finishing third was Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., with 84-12. Fourth was Shaw Grigsby of Gainesville, Fla., with 79-2. Fifth was Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan., with 77-8.
Reese took over the points race after the Okeechobee event. Points count toward earning postseason berths and 2013 Bassmaster Classic qualifications. The pro with the most points at the end of the regular season wins the 2012 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
“It’s nice to be in position for Angler of the Year,” said Reese, who has twice been neck-and-neck with Kevin VanDam for the Angler of the Year title then lost it. “But the bottom line is there are six more events, and that’s a lot of fishing yet to be done.”
Bonuses earned by anglers at the Power-Pole Slam included:
* Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, which paid $750, plus another $750 if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing: Kevin VanDam’s 8-14 on Day 3.
* Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Ish Monroe’s 34-5 on Day 1.
* Power-Pole Captain’s Cash of $1,000 if the winner has Power-Poles installed on his boat: Ish Monroe
* Toyota $1,000 bonus to the leader in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Skeet Reese with 192 points
* Luck “E” Strike Comeback Award of $500 to the most-improved pro in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Ish Monroe, from 96th to 49th
Elite Series competition continues next month in Arkansas with the April 19-22 Bull Shoals Quest.