Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 03/25/2012

Ish Monroe

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac

Okeechobee, FL – Entering the final day of the Power-Pole Slam on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee with a slim 10-ounce lead over local favorite Chris Lane, Ish Monroe knew that regardless of what was about to play out on the water, he was going to be the main storyline. 

On Thursday, Monroe stormed to the top of the leader board in a big way, toting the heaviest limit of the tournament to the scales weighing 34-5 to open up an 8-pound, 12-oune lead over Davy Hite.  On Friday, he increased his lead to 13-pounds, 11-ounces over 2nd place finisher, Chris Lane. 

Ish MonroeOn Saturday, Lane found a chink in Monroe’s seemingly impenetrable armor.  Even though the California pro brought a respectable 18-2 limit to the scales, Lane crushed 31-3 to virtually eliminate the gap that Monroe had amassed prior to the weekend. 

On Sunday, with Monroe and Lane separated by ounces and Skeet Reese, the closest competitor sitting in 3rd Place, a distant 15-pounds, 2-ounces behind the two, there was little doubt that it would be a heavyweight showdown. 

Monroe won the battle in a big way, crushing a 30-15 limit of Okeechobee largemouth on Sunday to boost his four-day total weight to 108-5 and earn his second Elite Series trophy.  The win also pushed Monroe’s career earnings with B.A.S.S. to over the million-dollar mark, and earned him an invitation to the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.   

For the first three days of the tournament, Monroe keyed on shallow ditches located in Pelican Bay that were loaded with a mixture of reeds and Kissimmee grass.  “I was fishing the edges of the grass, but sometimes I’d go way back into it,” he explained.  “It really depended on where the ditch was located.  If I found one that went into the weeds, I’d follow it back until it ended.

“When you pull in to Pelican Bay, it’s a huge area,” continued Monroe.  “My Navionics chip showed little ditches that came out and I knew that’s where I needed to go.  I’d just use my GPS and go right to them.   The ditches are the freeways for these fish.  The six-inches of deeper water are what you needed to key on.  Every single fish came from one of these ditches.”

On Sunday, with his primary area affected by a combination of changing winds and local pressure, Monroe spent the majority of his day fishing around the Clewiston area.   While he hadn’t hit the location during the tournament, he knew that he needed to take a calculated risk in order to pull out the wire-to-wire victory.

“There are a lot of tournaments that go out of that area so I knew that there would be a large population of fish,” he explained.  “I played the numbers game. I decided to make the switch today because the wind was blowing hard.  My plan was to work my way to Pelican Bay, and the decision paid off when I caught good fish on my third stop. The one rule in fishing is that you never leave fish to find fish.” 

For the first two days of the tournament, Monroe relied primarily on a Missile Baits D Bomb creature bait in Bruiser Flash color.  He Texas-rigged the 4” bait with either a 1-ounce or 1 ½-ounce River2Sea Tungsten Trash Bomb weight with a Punch Skirt and 5/0 Punch Hook.  “A lot of things were keys this week, but I think my baits were the biggest key.  There were a lot of people in my area, and I was still catching them,” explained Monroe. “As the tournament progressed, the bites actually got lighter.”

When the aggressive bite began to change on Friday, Monroe moved to a 1-ounce Medlock Double Guard Jig in black and blue.  When pitching the jig, Monroe used a 4” Bruiser Flash Missile Baits D Bomb as a trailer the majority of the time and also mixed in an unnamed prototype crawfish trailer.  

Monroe flipped and pitched the offering on a Daiwa 8’ Steez SVF Compile-X Flipping rod, and used 70-pound-test Daiwa Samurai Braid line.  “I never broke a fish off this week,” he said.  “I pulled some big ones out of heavy cover.  Once they were hooked, I landed every fish that was on.  I didn’t miss any on the first day, two on the second day, and two today.  I actually missed a 7-pounder today and flipped right back in there and caught it.”

After a dismal 96th Place finish last week at the St. Johns River, Monroe resolved to approach the remainder of the 2012 Elite Series season with the same mentality that he ended the 2011 season with.  “My deal coming here (to Okeechobee) was that I was going to do what I tried do in the second half of last year, which was a Top 12 finish in every tournament for the rest of the season.  Now the pressure is off because I’m in the Classic,” he stated with a smile.

“It was definitely a roller coaster,” Monroe said of his week on Okeechobee.  “When he (Chris Lane) came in with that big sack on Day Three, it really hurt.  I’d of loved to go into the final day with a 14-pound lead, but I knew that I had to step up my game.  I got great support from guys like Mike Iaconelli and John Crews, who reminded me that I was still leading the tournament after yesterday.  It really allowed me to think that if I just went out, had fun, and went fishing, it would work out.”

No Regrets for Lane
After Saturday, it appeared as though there was nothing that could stop Chris Lane’s potentially historic roll in 2012.  With a Southern Open and Bassmaster Classic victory already under his belt, Lane entered Sunday on Okeechobee with the chance to become the first triple qualifier for the Bassmaster Classic in Elite Series history.

Lane’s 18-13 effort on Sunday and total weight of 95-6 was enough to force eventual winner, Ish Monroe, to produce a quality bag, but in the end, his bid for an Elite Series victory fell short.

Chris Lane

“It was Ish’s tournament to lose,” said Lane.  “He stumbled a little bit yesterday and I put the hammer down and had a phenomenal day.  Today, he put a smack down on them again.  I knew that I would need something close to that to win, but to catch another 31-pound sack today would have been a miracle.”

Fishing Observation Shoal for the duration of the tournament, Lane said that the wind on Sunday hurt his chances.  “What happened was that the water cleared up a lot, but it dropped probably a foot where I was at.  I wasn’t willing to change up, because I’d rather flip a big jig and try to bust a big sack.”

Lake fished what he described as a “big jig” the entire tournament, and said that his knowledge of Okeechobee proved to be a difference maker.  “It was huge factor,” he said.  “I was getting a lot of bites on the outside grass edges during practice, but I had to move inside the reeds after the first day,” explained Lane.

“I caught enough to finish 2nd, so we’ll put the money in the bank and roll to the next one because that’s what we do.  To win this one would have probably been a little bit of a shocker to everybody, included myself,” he concluded. 

Reese Maximized his Bite
With two Top 10 finishes to open the 2012 Elite Series season, it’s safe to say that California’s Skeet Reese is back on the top of his game.  On Sunday, he crossed the stage with the second heaviest limit of the day weighing 22-8 to boost his four-day total weight to 84-12 and finish in 3rd Place.

Skeet Reese“I’m tickled to death,” he said.  “To walk out of Okeechobee with a 3rd Place finish, after having only fished the lake one time about 10 years ago, is a pretty good feeling.  I literally scrambled through this one, grinded it out, and was fortunate to get some big bites.”

On the first two days of the tournament, Reese relied primarily on bedding bass.  On Saturday and Sunday, he mixed it up with a variety of tactics.  “I caught some on a Berkley HAVOC Pit Boss, and some on a jig,” he said.  Several of Reese’s bigger bites came on a Berkley HAVOC Sick Fish swimbait that he paired with a 3/0 TroKar weighed hook.  He used 65-pound-test Spider Wire the majority of the time.

“Today, I finally got in an area where I put a big jig in my hands,” he said.  “I was using a 1-ounce black and blue jig with a black/blue Pit Boss as the trailer.”

Leading the Toyota Tundra Angler Of the Year race after the first quarter of the season, Reese is well aware of the fact that there’s a lot of fishing left before the AOY trophy is awarded.  “I have to take it one tournament at a time and see where it goes from there,” he said.  “At least I’m off to a good start.”  

Grigsby Figured It Out Late
While much of the attention this week at Okeechobee was focused on the slugfest between runaway leaders Ish Monroe and Chris Lane, Florida’s Shaw Grigsby got into the action on Saturday by jumping from 41st to 4th Place with an impressive limit weighing 30-7. 

On Sunday, Grigsby maintained his position on the leader board by bringing in another 22-5 limit to push his total weight to 79-2.   Had it not been for a 1-pound bass that he brought to the scales on Sunday, Grigsby could have had another massive limit. 

“It’s disappointing that I wasn’t able to get rid of that little one today, because I could have had a bag pushing 28-pounds,” he said.  “I found a stunning little pattern that was absolutely crazy.  I had a great time.”

Shaw Grigsby

Grigsby caught the majority of his fish on a ¼-ounce Strike King Greg Hackney Heavy Cover Swim Jig. “I think the ¼-ounce weight was really important,” he said. “The bait wasn’t just plunking to the bottom.  It was kind of floating around and the bass would just suck it in and take off with the bait.  When the wind got heavy today, I switched up to a Texas-rigged Strike King Rodent. I was flippin’, casting, pitching, wiggling, and jiggling – just about anything I could do.”

Grigsby said that he actually overlooked his best water on the first day of competition, thinking that it would be trashed by the wind.  When he checked the area on Friday, he was shocked at what he found.  “When I finally went in there, I immediately knew that I’d hit a grand slam,” he said.  “To get out of the Florida swing with good points, I’ve done all that I can do to be in a position to make the Classic.”

Brent ChapmanChapman Made Good Decisions
After failing to record a Top 5 finish in Elite Series competition for the past two seasons, Brent Chapman started off the 2012 season in a big way – with two Top 5 finishes in Florida.  On Sunday at Okeechobee, the Kansas pro brought in 21-6 to boost his four day total weight to 77-8.

“It ended up being a good week, because I didn’t think that I had the best of practices,” he explained. “On Tuesday, I ended up finding a phenomenal spot and decided to commit to it.  Later in the practice day, I stopped on the West Wall and found two other little spots.  That’s where I ended up fishing the tournament.” 

Chapman said that as the tournament progressed, he learned more and more about his two primary areas and was able to maximize his bites.  He used a TightLines UVenko soft plastic stick bait for the first two days of competition and switched to a ¾-oune back and blue War Eagle jig for the weekend.

“My decision making this year has been really good,” he explained. “I don’t know what I’m doing different from years past, but whatever it is, it’s working.”

Jeff Kriet6th Place:  Jeff Kriet (75-12)
Final Day Thoughts: “Today I had several opportunities to have a bigger bag, I just missed some fish.”

Primary Pattern:  “Really just sticking to an area and figuring it out more each day was what worked for me this week.”

Primary Baits: Jewel Swim Jig, Big Bite Cane Thumper, Big Bite Trick Stick, Unnamed Buzz Frog

Key To The Week:  “Sticking with my primary area and showing the fish a different look by switching up my baits.”

Week In Review: “I had the opportunities every day to have a huge sack.  I was able to maximize what I had in one area, but lost some key fish this week.”

Scott Rook7th Place: Scott Rook (75-5)
Final Day Thoughts:  “The wind really hurt me today, I was just fortunate to get a few big bites that helped me out.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was concentrating on the outside grass edges on a big flat, and also some hard shell beds that were located on the flat.”

Primary Baits:  Zoom Lizard, Jewel Swim Jig, Zoom Super Speed Craw

Key To The Week:  “Being able to wait all the other anglers out on my primary area.  Once the other anglers would leave I could hit a couple of little sweet spots on the grass flat and catch my fish.”

Week In Review:  “I am pretty happy about how I finished based on how many other anglers were fishing in my primary area.  I was able to figure out a few key areas within the flat and had to just wait it out.”

Kevin VanDam8th Place: Kevin VanDam (72-6)
Final Day Thoughts:  “I had plenty of chances today to do better, and I gave it my best.  Conditions really changed today and the fish were just biting really weird today.”

Primary Pattern:  “Just changing up based on the conditions, and knowing when to slow down were key for me. 

Primary Baits:  Strike King Hack Attack Jig, Strike King KVD Chunk, Strike King Rodent, Stirke King Rage Toad, Strike King Rage Shad, Strike King Spinnerbait

Key To The Week:  “Having that big day three was really the key for me this week.”

Week In Review:  “Getting some key bites in an area and really slowing down was big for me this week.  I learned a lot about slowing down in Florida, and am pleased to get out of here with two good finishes.  Lake Okeechobee is just an incredible fishery right now.”

Tommy Biffle9th Place: Tommy Biffle (71-0)
Final Day Thoughts:  “Today went pretty well for me.  I was just really hanging on and looking to get out of here with some good points.  I thought about making a move and looking for a 30 pound bag, but just stuck it out in my primary area.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was basically just flippin the reeds.  I would fish the outside edges, and then move back in them when I thought the outside was getting pressured.”

Primary Baits:  Triple Rattleback Jig, Gene Larew Biffle Bug Jr.

Key To The Week:  “Making the adjustment from fishing the outside edges of the reeds and moving back in them.  Slowing down and getting the most out of my area was the key for me.”

Week In Review:  “It’s been a good week for me.  I was in just a good enough area to hang in there, and was hoping that they would show up, but it never really happened.”

Terry Scroggins10th Place: Terry Scroggins (69-10)
Final Day Thoughts:  “The wind changed and really blew the water out of some of my areas today.  I just ran a lot of water, but never got a big bite today.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was just flippin grass like everyone else.  I was hitting the reeds in the morning and the mats later in the day.”

Primary Baits:  Medlock Jig, YUM Big Show Craw

Key To The Week:  “The key for me was just finding the cleaner water, I started the week in some dirtier water but figured out pretty quick that I needed to switch it up.”

Week In Review:  “It’s a good start to the year, I would have liked to win one of the Florida events but I am happy to have some good points.”

Todd Faircloth11th Place:  Todd Faircloth (68-2)
Final Day Thoughts:  “I’m not used to how the wind affects the water level on this lake.  Today the water really dropped out of my area and it made the fish really hard to catch.”

Primary Pattern:  “I mostly was flippin big hyacinth mats this week.  I was also catching a few fish around the hydrilla flats this week also.”

Primary Baits:  Gary Yamamoto Kreature Bait, Sebile Flat Shad

Key To The Week:  “Keying on the biggest mats was the deal for me this week.  I wasn’t getting a whole lot of bites, but when I did it was the right one.”

Week In Review:  “I couldn’t ask for more from the Florida swing.  To come out of here with another top 12 is awesome.  It was a great way to start the year, and I am looking forward to Bull Shoals.”

Kyle Fox12th Place: Kyle Fox (63-15)
Final Day Thoughts:  “Today was really tough on me without the sun coming out.  The wind really muddied up my area today and that hurt it a lot.”

Primary Pattern:  “I was punching mats this week in one primary area this week.”

Primary Baits:  Culprit Incredi Craw

Key To The Week:  “Sticking to one area this week and just changing with the conditions was my deal this week.  Also taking the front legs off the Incredi Craw so it woulod slide through the mats easier, was important.”

Week In Review:  “It didn’t matter where I finished today.  I am just so excited to come in my rookie year and make a top 12 in the second event.  This week has been really fun, anytime I can fish in Florida is a good time.”



Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4 Total Fish Total Weight
1 Ish Monroe 5 34- 5 5 24-15 5 18- 2 5 30-15 20 108- 5
2 Chris Lane 5 21-15 5 23-10 5 31- 3 5 18-13 20 95- 9
3 Skeet Reese 5 19- 6 5 20- 8 5 22- 6 5 22- 8 20 84-12
4 Shaw Grigsby 5 11- 7 5 14-15 5 30- 7 5 22- 5 20 79- 2
5 Brent Chapman 5 12-10 5 16-10 5 26-14 5 21- 6 20 77- 8
6 Jeff Kriet 5 19- 5 5 21-14 5 13-13 5 20-12 20 75-12
7 Scott Rook 5 20-15 5 14-10 5 18-14 5 20-14 20 75- 5
8 Kevin VanDam 5 14- 7 5 12- 2 5 28-11 5 17- 2 20 72- 6
9 Tommy Biffle 5 16- 3 5 14- 4 5 22-14 5 17-11 20 71- 0
10 Terry Scroggins 5 12- 1 5 19-12 5 24-11 5 13- 2 20 69-10
11 Todd Faircloth 5 19- 6 5 17-12 5 16- 2 5 14-14 20 68- 2
12 Kyle Fox 5 18- 1 5 20- 4 5 16- 4 4 9- 6 19 63-15