From the cheap seats to the big stage

The last time the Bassmaster Classic came to Knoxville, Louis Monetti was a bass fishing-obsessed college sophomore sitting in the upper deck of Thompson-Boling arena. Like many in the crowd, Monetti dreamed of one day walking across that stage, but for the most part he was just happy to be at his second Classic, taking in the spectacle.

“My college fishing buddy Trevor Topkin and I drove over to Knoxville for the 2019 Classic on a whim,” Monetti recalled. “We absolutely had a blast. We stayed in a cheap hotel, attended the Expo and weigh-in all three days and even watched Mike Iaconelli catch them every cast from a bridge on Championship Sunday in person. The whole weekend was one of the coolest experiences of my life.”

That was four years ago – nearly to the day. Louis posted the picture below on his Instagram with a bold, but simple caption… “one day.” Fast forward to 2023 and “one day” is here. Monetti is back in Knoxville, Tenn., for the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, but this time as a competitor.

Monetti is representing college fishing in the 2023 Bassmaster Classic as the College Classic Bracket Champion. Last year, he and his partner, Michael Fugaro, fished their way to a College Series Team of the Year title somewhat infamously in a 1996 Ranger Boat with the original 115-hp outboard on the back.

With torn boats seats and tattered carpet, the boat wasn’t much to look at, but it served as the perfect vessel to promote Monetti’s message: “It doesn’t take the latest and greatest equipment to fish tournaments and have fun on the water or even compete at a high level.”

Monetti put an exclamation point on his college fishing campaign by winning the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket; earning full use of a 2022 Toyota Tundra and a brand-new Nitro Z20 wrapped in his alma maters’ colors, decked out with the latest Minn Kota/Humminbird accessories, a pile of Strike King and Lew’s tackle plus paid entry fees to all nine 2023 Bassmaster Opens. But no prize or opportunity meant more to Monetti than the chance to fish in the Classic.

“As a kid who grew up in New Jersey, I’d give Iaconelli’s story credit for lighting a fire to fish competitively,” Monetti said. “But the whole experience of the Classic … the confetti falling, the crowds, the energy in the arena – that’s what really started the dream for me. I’ve been to two Classics since 2019, and I’ve always had this tradition with myself where I purposefully sit in the upper deck to watch the weigh-in and take in the show. I told myself I’d sit in the cheap seats until it was my time to be on that stage.”

Well Mr. Monetti, exactly four years later, your time on the big stage is now. I can’t think of any other sport or championship event where this dream could be a reality in such a short timeframe. This is the equivalent of attending a Super Bowl as a fan, not as a prospect or a future star, a fan like everyone else in the arena and then four years later finding yourself across the line of scrimmage from Tom Brady on Super Sunday. It really is mind-boggling.

But that’s exactly where 23-year-old Monetti finds himself this week. He has gone from the cheap seats to the big stage in a few short years with nothing more than a dream, an old boat and a half dozen well-worn rod and reel combos.

“I ate lunch at Calhoun’s on the River yesterday right next to where we’ll launch at Volunteer Landing, and it kinda hit me just how bizarre this whole deal is,” Monetti admitted. “I remembered eating there four years ago with my buddy Trevor … it seems like yesterday. But this week I’ll be one of the boats out there running the river. In many respects it doesn’t feel real yet, and it probably won’t until I roll in that arena to cross the stage.”

No matter how he finishes this week, Monetti’s story will serve as inspiration for every high school or college angler with a dream for years to come. He’s proof that if you work hard, put the time in and stay true to yourself anything can be possible.