CELEBRATION, Fla. — No matter what happens in the rest of his professional BASS fishing career, California angler Ishama "Ish" Monroe always will have one, shining distinction: He won the first ever CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series tournament — and he did it in style.
Though Monroe, 31, already is approaching his fourth event of the season, the excitement of winning $100,000 at the Battle on the Border presented by Mercury Marine is still very fresh in his mind.
"It's been great because now I have more focus than I ever had before," said Monroe, of Hughson, Calif. "I know I can win a BASS event, and now I want to win more of them."
The Elite Series was launched this year, putting the world's best anglers into an 11-event season while visiting the top bass fisheries in America at the best times of year. Along with offering more than $7.5 million in payouts, the Series also is providing unprecedented levels of exposure for anglers and their sponsors on ESPN and in other media outlets.
The win at Lake Amistad in Del Rio, Texas, was part of a record-day for Monroe. Not only did he win the first tournament of the 2006 season, he also won the first event in his 10-year BASS career. In addition, he became the first African-American angler to win a tour-level event in the 38-year history of BASS.
Ironically, the win and the resulting attention contributed to Monroe's poor showing in the second Elite Series event at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas when he failed to make the cut, he said.
"I needed some time between my win and the second tournament because I wasn't mentally prepared," said Monroe, who bounced back in the Elite Series' third event to finish in 25th place. "I missed a day of practice and then my phone must have rung 40 or 50 times a day during practice when I was out there. I couldn't have turned it off because some of them were important calls I didn't want to miss, but it was a distraction."
While Monroe — who is ranked 13th on the Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index, catching an average of 29 pounds, 5 ounces per tournament - was enthusiastic about the Elite Series before the season started, he's even more excited now to chase the big money and the big fish.
"Definitely the money," he said. "Even after winning that $100,000 in the first tournament, we still have a lot more Elite Series events, plus the three Majors, and now I'm qualified for the BUSCH Shootout. There's still a lot of money to be made.
"And when 75 percent of the field is catching limits, it's great fishing and it's fun."
Monroe's sponsors include Lowrance Electronics, Cocoons Sunware, Ranger Boats, Team Daiwa, Maxim fishing line, Power Pro fishing line, Bass West USA, Snag Proof, Navionics, Motorguide trolling motors, Bigfishtools.com and Reaction Innovations.