GREENWOOD, S.C. — On a lake where 1- to 2-pound spotted bass are plentiful, catching a big largemouth or two becomes paramount to success. UNC Charlotte’s Louis Monetti did just that on Semifinal Sunday at the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket at Lake Greenwood presented by Lew’s, landing a 6-pounder and a 4-pounder on his way to a 16-pound, 14-ounce day.
By catching the biggest bag of the tournament thus far, Monetti powered past Florida Gateway College’s Jackson Swisher in the head-to-head matchup to advance to Championship Monday. There, he will face Florida Gateway College’s Seth Slanker, who caught 9-11 and defeated McKendree University’s Tyler Christy, who caught 8-12 Sunday.
Although a spot in the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic will be awarded Monday, Monetti said he is doing his best not to think about it.
“I have not and will not think about it,” he said. “I am doing everything I can to keep that out of my mind. I am doing everything I can do to go out there and just have a good time. Every one of my marshals and cameramen has been awesome and kept a good vibe going in the boat.
“Every day, we have a job to do and I am going to go out tomorrow and have a good time and we will see what happens.”
Coming into the event, Monetti expected 14 or 15 pounds would be a really big bag. With overcast and calm conditions on Day 1, he landed 10-4 to advance. On Sunday, sunnier and breezier conditions took over, although Monetti said he wasn’t sure how much that contributed to his increase in quality.
While the final tally looked good on paper, Monetti said he lost several key bass. But just as he and his partner Michael Fugaro did throughout their 2022 Team of the Year campaign, Monetti kept a positive mindset and was rewarded.
“Keeping a positive mindset has been the key to the whole year and the key to today,” he said. “I went down hard early. I lost some really key fish. Fish that were as big or bigger than the one I caught yesterday.
“Being able to shake that off, I was impressed with myself, honestly. It was something special, and to rebound with a giant like that, there’s no better way to turn a day around. It really encapsulates what this year was.”
After losing a couple of bass between 2 and 4 pounds early in the day, Monetti made a short move to the other side of the lake to clear his head. He picked up a Whopper Plopper, and after a few casts, he hooked and landed the biggest bass of the tournament.
“I was reeling that Plopper down the bank and she ate it,” Monetti said. “I felt like I had a really good chance of landing her. She jumped and the bait was visible to me. I had 30-pound braid and put brand-new hooks on it. That really eased my mind and made me feel like I was going to be able to do this today.”
Most of the day was spent chasing that shallow bite, which yielded a bass over 4 pounds and then filled his limit with a couple of 1 1/2-pound bass. As the day came to a close, he switched to a different shallow tactic and caught a 3 1/2-pounder.
Monetti has taken lessons he has learned from living around Lake Norman, a fishery with a healthy population of spotted bass and largemouth, and applied them to Lake Greenwood this week. His bag today featured four largemouth and a spotted bass.
He has been confused by one thing, however, and that is how to get a quality spotted bass bite. That will be his focus Monday if more big largemouth don’t show up early.
“I am planning on doing the same thing,” he said. “But I would like to find some way to get that better than average bite, like in the 2 to 2 1/2-pound range. Fishing for only big ones is very stressful. At least there are a couple of limit fillers along the way. I feel like I got enough of those big bites today to make it happen, and I don’t see why it’s something that couldn’t happen tomorrow, too.”
Slanker meanwhile had a tougher start to the morning. After several bass blew up on his topwater bait but did not get hooked, he made a move to an area where he caught fish on Saturday and caught three on a ChatterBait.
From there, he ran new water and landed a 2-pounder for his fourth fish but went a long while before landing his fifth keeper. Around midday, he learned he was slightly behind Christy but was able to fight the nerves and stay focused on the bass.
“I didn’t want to let it get to my head. I didn’t want to get thrown off my deal,” Slanker said. “It is a big mental game and I didn’t want to worry about it. I picked up my jig and started pitching around docks, and finally, I got back to my good dock stretch and caught one.”
He officially sealed his win over Christy with about two minutes to go by catching a keeper bass that lifted him close to 10 pounds.
The areas he has been fishing haven’t produced as well during the event as they did in practice. Slanker isn’t sure what changed, but later in the day, he noticed his ChatterBait bite began to improve and he hopes that will continue into the final day.
Most of his bites have been spotted bass, but Slanker added he would love to have a kicker largemouth in his bag Monday.
“I’m going to pick up a ChatterBait more and throw it around,” Slanker said. “I would hope to catch a bunch more largemouth. My chances of getting a bigger bite would be a lot better. I know if I can get some quality spotted bass and a kicker largemouth, I’ll be happy.”
Monetti and Slanker will take off from Greenwood State Park at 7 a.m. ET and will have until 3 p.m. to catch their five biggest bass. The winner will earn their spot in the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic scheduled for March 24-26 in Knoxville, Tenn., as well as paid entries into the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by Mossy Oak Fishing with use of a fully loaded Toyota Tundra and Nitro boat.
The tournament is being hosted by Discover Greenwood, S.C.