By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Tom Monsoor's confidence level was pretty high going into last week's Mississippi River FLW Pro Circuit Super Tournament in Wisconsin. He'd found multiple congregations of quality fish in Lake Onalaska, in close proximity to his residence in La Crosse.
He was more than ready to get the big-money "home game" under way when Wednesday morning rolled around. He locked up to Pool 7 from the launch site in Stoddard, only to discover that his fish had disappeared.
"There was no sign of them whatsoever," he said. "At my first three spots I didn't get a bite. I looked for them and kept going and going, but I couldn't find them."
That scenario would spell doom for a lot of anglers in such a stacked-field event (150 Pro Circuit competitors plus 50 from the Bass Pro Tour), but it was nothing that Monsoor hadn't seen before on the river that he's fished for the vast majority of his 71 years. He locked back down to Pool 8 and "just went fishing" for the next 3 1/2 days, compiling four stringers that combined to weigh 54-10. That was 1 3/4 pounds more than he needed to stave off Jacob Wheeler, the No. 1 angler in the BassFan World Rankings and the winner of both a Super Tournament and a BPT derby this year, for his second career victory at FLW's top level.
He broke his own record as the oldest competitor to win such an event, having set the standard 3 years ago when he triumphed at the Potomac River. With his $125,000 paycheck, he also blew past the $1 million mark in career FLW earnings.
"Getting that first win and getting that first million is a tough deal – from now on it should be easier," he quipped.
It's Always Something
Monsoor said there are a myriad of environmental conditions that can cause Mississippi River bass to abandon locations where they were loaded up just a day earlier.
"Weather, the time of year, Mother Nature ... wind, rain and all the natural elements," he said. "The big factor this time was rain up north. My main spot for the first day of the tournament had been full of largemouth, but when I got there it had current in it. I didn't have current in practice and the fish didn't like it.
"I had two big schools in there and I hadn't fished but about a third of it."
He finally caught two fish at his fourth stop on day 1, including one that he eventually took to the scale. He returned to Pool 8 at about noon.
"I just started running places where I'd caught fish in previous lives. I was throwing my white swimjig to being with and I caught my biggest fish and one other good one. I caught some on the Bitsy Bug (his own model developed more than a decade ago, not the Strike King version) and some on the football-head. I ended up throwing the football-head most of the time after the first couple days.
"I found that if I fished steep banks and let it slide down the banks and kept it right on the bottom as it went down, I could get some bites. It was something that just clicked. I caught a 3-pounder on a deep weed edge that was about 100 feet long and I said, 'Okay, I gotta keep doing this.' The light just kind of went off."
The 71-year-old Monsoor broke his own record as the oldest angler to win an event at FLW's top level.
He also scored fish off some gravel points. He doesn't recall which day it occurred, but on one occasion some fish came up schooling in his area and he used the swimjig to catch his biggest fish of the day and another quality specimen.
He never weighed a bag heavier than 14 1/2 pounds (the 16-06 caught by Zack Birge on day 2 was the biggest haul of the tournament), but he never came in with less than 12-10.
Better Late than Never
Monsoor took the lead on day 2 and held it the rest of the way. He collected the bulk of his weight in the last couple of hours on both days 3 and 4.
He caught a 3-pound smallmouth at 1 o'clock on the final day that completed his limit, but the bronzeback was his only quality fish. He went down a bank that he hadn't yet fished in the tournament and picked up a largemouth that was close to 3.
"That gave me to decent ones, so I started thinking that maybe I had a chance," he said.
He'd concluded the previous day by catching three good ones off a deep weed edge and started day 4 there, but caught nothing. He went back in the afternoon and added another 3-pounder and a 2 1/2.
"Now I had four good ones and a baby and I was asking God to give me just one more. Then something hit me, like maybe this was enough. I can't believe I actually thought that because that's never what goes through my mind.
"The way it turned out, it ended up being enough."
Winning Gear Notes
> Football jig gear: 7'3" medium-action Lew's Custom Lite Speed Stick rod, Team Lew’s Hypermag Speed Spool casting reel (8.3:1 ratio), 16-pound Sugoi fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce homemade jig (green-pumpkin), 4" Yamamoto Cowboy trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Swimjig gear: Same rod and reel, 12-pound Sugoi fluorocarbon, 1/4-ounce Humdinger jig (white), 3.5" Yamamoto Swim Senko trailer (pearl blue silver flake).
> He threw the Bitsy Bug jig on the same setup as the swimjig. It was a 5/16-ounce version with a 3.75" Yamamoto Fat Baby Craw trailer (both green-pumpkin).