SYRACUSE, N.Y. — California's Ish Monroe and Virginia's John Crews entered the Ramada Champion's Choice in 80th and 82nd, respectively, in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, atypical positions for the two road roommates and multiple-time Bassmaster Classic qualifiers.
Crews hasn't made a top 12 since the 2007 Major here at Oneida and hasn't finished higher than 33rd in Elite Series competition this year. Likewise, Monroe hasn't finished higher than 35th this year, although his last 12 cut came slightly more recently than Crews' — last May at Lake Murray.
The third member of their triumvirate, Mike Iaconelli, entered the tournament in sixth overall and with a stellar history on Oneida. Therefore, it may come as a surprise to casual fishing fans that at the end of Day Two both Crews, in 12th with 29-02, and Monroe, tied for 15th with 28-13, are poised to make a run at fishing on Sunday, while Iaconelli missed the cut and will work for his sponsors and sign autographs the next two days.
Indeed, Ike's stumble is an aberration, but neither Crews nor Ish is surprised that they are both in contention for a major breakthrough. The difference comes down to attitude.
"We've said it since before Iowa that we knew we were out of the Classic so we were going to come up here and have fun," Crews said. "That made a big difference."
Monroe said that their struggles were exacerbated by the fact that they knew they hadn't lost their touch. Each understood how to catch fish and where to catch fish, but couldn't put all of the pieces together. "We were not focused and happy," he said. Accordingly, he actively sought out a change in attitude.
"I've learned that sometimes you just have to smile and go along with it," he said. He talked briefly to a psychologist, but also to anglers and non-fishing friends alike about how to get over the hump. Part of the solution was to keep on fishing. Monroe has been dominant in his non-BASS events out west this year, with a win (his second in 12 months on the California Delta) to go along with a second-place finish and another top ten.
"If you believe you're going to catch them, you can't get frustrated, you can't get upset when you lose a fish," he continued. "You can't worry about having less tournaments next year. You don't worry about the loss of sponsors. You just have to have a good time and go catch fish."
While Iaconelli is the odd man out for this one week, he can take credit for some of the success that his two compatriots are experiencing. Of the three, he's perhaps best known (fairly or not) for riding his emotions, and the group frequently discusses the best methods of channeling those emotional highs and lows for better success.
Of Monroe, Ike said that "he's realized that he's human and that he can have a bad tournament like everybody else. There are very few anglers who keep on wrecking them tournament after tournament. We've all talked about how to get out of a slump and we agreed that the best way is to keep on fishing."
Like Ish, Crews fished and talked his way back into the right attitude. "Sometimes you have to work at it, but eventually it will come back," he said. "I evaluated everything, absolutely everything. The only thing I knew all along is that my family life is absolutely great."
Speaking of family life, it's been a busy time on that front for the people surrounding Monroe: Crews has a young family; Iaconelli got engaged during the interim period between Iowa and Oneida; Ish's sister got engaged last night; and two of his best friends are due to be married in the next month. When anglers undertake those long-term relationships, the responsibilities can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they provide stability and a support system. On the other hand, there are additional pressures when an angler's catch is responsible for providing for people other than just himself.
Crews, he of the stable conventional family life, says it's just part of growing older: "We're all in our thirties," he said. "Our friends are getting married and having babies."
Monroe said that the other two are starting to pressure him to put down greater roots and Ike confirmed that they've turned the screws a little bit. "We tease him a little bit about it," Iaconelli said. "We tell him that he's the next to get married. But there's a funny thing about this lifestyle. You have to find the right person because it's really a commitment to come out and do this for a living."