By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Quite a few anglers who'd been with Major League Fishing since its inception in 2011 experienced major struggles during the inaugural season of the Bass Pro Tour. Ish Monroe was among them.

After beginning the campaign with top-20 finishes in two of the first three events (20th at Florida's Kissimmee Chain and 16th in the three-lake derby in North Carolina), the veteran from California never advanced to another Knockout Round. He had three finishes in the 50s, one in the 60s and one in the 70s over the last five tournaments and ended up in a tie for 66th out of 80 anglers on the final points list.

"You have those years where you get some bad breaks and you just kind of have to roll with it," he said. "That even extended into the (California Delta Western FLW Series earlier this month), where I lost a couple of big fish the first day and then literally kicked my check-fish back into the water on the second day.

"It came off on the deck and flopped to one side, and then it flopped to the middle. Then it flopped again and hit the other side of my foot, and then right into the water. It was a 3 3/4-pounder."

Not a Natural Thing

Monroe admits that the MLF format, which is predicated on catching a lot of bass that all count toward the angler's daily total, isn't a natural fit for him.

"I'm not a numbers guy, I'm a big-fish guy," he said. "With that being said, I have to conform in some way, but I just have to change a little, not a lot.

"I have to make a couple of tweaks, but they're things that I already realize and understand. If they're not eating the frog and the flipping stick isn't working, I need to put those down and pick up something that they are eating. Whether it's a spinnerbait, a crankbait, a ChatterBait – I need to give them what they want to eat, no matter if they weigh 10 pounds or 1."

He's never made any secret out of his disdain for spinning tackle, but he might make it a bigger part of his program in 2020.

"Technically, I'm pretty good with spinning gear, but I just don't prefer to use it. The only place where you really had to use it this year was at Table Rock (the site of back-to-back events due to unfishable conditions at Grand Lake). It wasn't even a huge factor at Smith Lake like everybody thought it was going to be.

"It's probably one of those things that I'll pick up some more even though I don't think I really have to. It's a mindset more than anything – you just always need to be on fish that are biting and not trying to make fish bite."

Happy as a Clam

His own performance issues aside, Monroe said he enjoyed the manner in which the new circuit's initial season unfolded.

"I'm happy overall and I'm excited about next year," he said. "Even though I didn't have a lot of good finishes, I got a lot of air time and my sponsors are happy. And to top it off, I didn't pay any entry fees.

"I've heard some of the complaints and rumors (from some other anglers) and I just laugh at these guys. You're fishing for the most money with the biggest (media) platform and you're not paying an entry fee, and yet you're complaining? Those are the guys who aren't using the platform to their advantage. I struggled under the format, but I did get a lot of live time by doing all the interviews and catching some fish at the right times. And it all goes back to the no entry fees."

He's spent much of the off-season on saltwater excursions out of San Diego, catching tuna, wahoo, yellowtail and other species. He competed in last week's U.S. Open at Nevada's Lake Mead, but his results were right in line with his latter portion of 2019 (180th place out of 256 entrants).

Still, his outlook for the future is as positive as it can be.

"The only negative for me is that next season isn't coming fast enough."