In no form or fashion does Collin Smith nor Louis Monetti resemble any character in the movie Dumb and Dumber, but the first-time Bassmaster Classic qualifiers are taking Lloyd’s optimistic approach.
When told his chance to date the pretty girl was one in a million, Lloyd (played by Jim Carey) at first looked disappointed before delivering his oblivious but ever-hopeful line, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
Hope sure does spring eternal. Smith and Monetti, the two anglers with the lowest odds, hold tight on their dream to win the 53rd Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota. They know it’s no joke that they do have a chance.
The odds for Smith and Monetti to win are 150/1 and 125/1, respectively, as enumerated by B.A.S.S. Times Editor Bryan Brasher, who does a masterful yet unenviable job at assigning odds to the qualifiers. It isn’t but a thing for Smith.
“I saw that,” Smith said of his odds. “It doesn’t bother me in the least bit. At the end of the day, it’s me vs. the fish, not me vs. anybody in that field.
“I’m going to go fish like I always do, and the cards are going to fall where they fall. All I want is a shot and to be in contention going into the final day. If I can just be within striking distance …”
Smith, 27, is undoubtedly hopeful, especially after a fruitful scouting trip. Although none of the previous eight Team Championship qualifiers have made a two-day cut, Smith won’t shy away from fighting up in class.
“I know it’s the first time for me fishing against the top anglers in the country, but the route I took to make it was, in my eyes, one of the hardest,” he said. “You have no room for error qualifying for the Team Championship. You can’t have one bad tournament.
“The odds for me to win the Classic are 150 to 1. Just alone at the Team Championship, I had a 1-in-500 chance of making it here.”
Monetti had similar odds qualifying to the Classic. His path included being among the four top teams through the Strike King Bassmaster College Series season, then, like Smith, coming out on top of a head-to-head Classic Bracket competition.
“If you look at the math on winning that bracket, it’s a tall task,” Monetti said. “There’s 400, 500 teams over a year that compete in the College Series. To be the one to win Team of the Year, one of four teams to make it to the bracket, and then one of eight individuals to win it, I don’t know what the numbers are, but I would imagine they’re a lot worse than 2% at winning the Classic.”
Elite Series pros take up all but eight of the 55 slots for the 2023 Knoxville Classic, with Brasher’s top selection being reigning Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year Brandon Palaniuk. He’s at 3/1 odds to win his first Classic while defending champ Jason Christie, who went off at 4/1 last year, is in a group at 5/1 this time.
While Brasher notes no one below 15/1 has won a Classic in his seven years of odds-making, Palaniuk is of the belief that odds don’t mean much in this sport.
“I don’t really look at numbers,” he said. “To me, this isn’t a math test. There are too many variables in fishing. We’re competing against each other, but really we’re competing against another living creature that doesn’t live by the set of rules we do.
“Nobody has even been on this body of water or fished the conditions we will have March 24-26, 2023. None of us really know what to expect.”
Brasher put Brandon Lester, the highest returning finisher from the 2019 Knoxville Classic, at 4/1 odds with Jeff Gustafson, who won the 2021 Elite on the same fishery. Each of the competitors have long dreamed of hoisting the Classic trophy, and Lester, fishing his eighth championship, said thinking you have a chance is a necessity to realizing it.
“If you don’t believe you can win, you’re probably not going to,” he said.
Palaniuk topped the odds list for his abilities and resume, which includes six victories and two AOY titles, but The Prodigy still isn’t buying his spot as a numbers favorite.
“The thing with bass fishing, it probably goes against the odds more than any other sport, because it’s so much more mental,” he said. “When you’re talking a three-day tournament, anything can happen.
“Yes, there are some odds based on longevity of careers and past performance, things that create better odds for guys. But when it comes down to it, when we blast off Friday morning, everyone’s going to have equal opportunity.”
Palaniuk will be fishing his 12th Classic, third in the field behind Gerald Swindle (20) and Greg Hackney (17). In Palaniuk’s first Classic in 2011, he finished fourth at the Louisiana Delta as a relative unknown, and his top finish was second at Tulsa in 2013. He said the nature of the tournament has also found him down the leaderboard.
“The Classic has always been hero-or-zero event for me, mostly because of the way I fish a Classic,” he said. “With no points, it’s really just having a win-or-nothing attitude. The difference between saying and fishing that way are really two different things.”
Smith said he knows second is just first loser, so he’s doing everything he can to win. Right after qualifying, the grounds foreman for Anderson County, S.C. – he oversees some work at Green Pond Landing where Classics have launched – mapped Fort Loudoun and Tellico lakes. He broke down the fishery, pinpointing areas he expects the fish to be this week and what they should be doing.
“I took all that into consideration, just riding, marking every little bit down to isolated targets. I couldn’t break it down much more than I did,” said Smith, who on his second day finally made his first cast and landed a 3-pounder.
Easy peasy. Twelve of those with a kicker each day would probably put him in contention. In 2019, the Classic was won with 49 pounds, 3 ounces, an average of 16-6 per day.
Brasher pointed out that the eight Team qualifiers have averaged 40th place, with a best of 26th. Smith hopes he can belie his odds and do much better.
“I would love to think so,” he said. “I’m not going to go up there and be starstruck. I’m going up there with a purpose. I feel mentally, ever since I qualified, all I’ve done is prepare myself. I’ll be honest, the nerves may get a little bit when I get there, but right now I’m calm and at peace. I’m just ready to get up there, get to practice and get that first clue to run with.”
As the 12th College qualifier, Monetti’s hill to post the best finish among them is steeper. Pointing out his family’s place across from the Lake Guntersville takeoff in 2014, Jordan Lee went out and finished sixth on his home water. At Big G in 2020, Cody Huff became only the second College qualifier to reach Day 3 when he finished 24th.
Monetti, adept at catching smallmouth from growing up in New Jersey, said he was hoping the weather would warm so some kicker largemouth would move shallow — his true strength is sight fishing. Admittedly more of a points angler, he knows from his Classic Bracket triumph that he can switch gears and go for broke.
“I hope to flip that switch and figure out how to get five big bites every day,” Monetti said. “I mean shoot, you have to try and win the dang thing.
“From a straight mathematical equation, it’s technically one of the easier tournaments in the world to win. It’s a one in 55 chance, and there’s only three days as opposed to four, so yeah, there’s a chance. Somebody’s got to win. For me to land on them, I have just as good a chance mathematically as anybody else in the field.”
Palaniuk agrees. He grew up with 1994 Classic winner Bryan Kerchal as his hero. Kerchal, from Newton, Conn., finished last in his first Classic qualification, then he became the first and only angler from the B.A.S.S. Nation to win a Classic. He most likely would have had the highest odds.
Palaniuk said no angler, no matter the odds, can be eliminated yet.
“One hundred percent,” he said. “Everybody that makes it is good enough that they could have the best three days of fishing in their life and win the Classic.”
So even for those with the lowest of odds, there is a chance.