Torn boat seats and College Series Team of the Year titles

When I phoned Louis Monetti earlier this week he was on Lake Norman “skipping a jig under every pontoon boat on the lake” and trying to stay primed for the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Lew’s that takes place Sept. 30-Oct. 3. Spending time on the water and putting in the work is largely what led Monetti and his partner Michael Fugaro to winning the coveted Bassmaster College Series Team of the Year (TOY) title.

The TOY award was the culmination of a yearlong effort Fugaro and Monetti strived for after starting the season with a 26th-place finish on the Harris Chain. Throughout the rest of the season, the UNC Charlotte duo never finished below that 26th spot, which is truly impressive given the diverse fisheries where they competed.

But I didn’t call Monetti and Fugaro to talk about their incredible season. Instead, I wanted to hear more about the message they promoted onstage in front of their peers at the Strike King Bassmaster College Series National Championship on Winyah Bay a few weeks ago. It’s something every young, aspiring angler could benefit from hearing.

“Just encourage people. Whether they’ve never fished a tournament before or they are just starting out, let them know they can do it,” Monetti said. “Having the latest and greatest equipment is awesome, but it doesn’t take a brand new bass boat and truck to have fun on the water, or even tournament fish at a high level. We proved that this year. If you have the opportunity, just encourage those who might look up to you.”

Powerful words from a couple 20-something-year-old college anglers.

Everything about Monetti and Fugaro’s 2022 Team of the Year campaign is unique and inspiring. For starters, both are laid-back dudes who somewhat buck the trend of your average tournament angler. Monetti grew up saltwater fishing before getting bit by the bass bug at 12 when he started fishing with local clubs around New Jersey and the B.A.S.S. Nation out of the back of the boat.

While Fugaro had never competed in a bass tournament before 2021, he met Monetti and eventually started fishing UNC Charlotte club tournaments with him. As a senior, 2022 was Fugaro’s first year fishing the Bassmaster College Series.

“This whole year has been an incredible experience, but truth be told I started out just trying to not mess anything up,” Fugaro humbly said with a smile. “Louis is super good at fishing and so dedicated, I just tried to stay focused while keeping things light-hearted and fun. Throughout the year I surprised myself. I was able to catch some key fish and contribute more than I expected. I learned so much from Louis, it was just an awesome year.”

On top of their unassuming nature, the duo competed the entire year somewhat infamously out of Monetti’s 1996 Ranger bass boat, with the original 115-horsepower outboard on the back. The seats and carpet were in impressively bad shape, and they each employed a half dozen well-worn discount rods and reels. Their boat didn’t have a graph on the front deck until the last tournament of the season and 44 mph was the fastest they ever cruised to a fishing spot.

There is absolutely nothing flashy about the equipment these two used enroute to the Team of the Year title, and that’s partially why their story is so cool.

In this modern world of tournament fishing where it seems you “have to have” the latest technology, the best and brightest equipment, the shiny new boat, all the bells and whistles, it’s refreshing to see guys like Monetti and Fugaro reach the pinnacle with some old, beat-up gear and a can-do attitude.

“That’s why Team of the Year was our goal all season, we wanted to prove to people in our situation that the gear you own is capable,” Monetti explained. “One of the negative aspects of tournament fishing is it can be intimidating from the outside looking in if you don’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have the gear going for us, so we relied on hard work, guts and a positive attitude. You can do that too!”

Fugaro and Monetti are realistic and know this way of thinking only gets tougher in higher levels of tournament fishing, but they are proud of what they accomplished this year, and they should be. Following in the footsteps of some of their fishing heroes like Matty Wong and John Cox, they proved anything is possible regardless of equipment if you stay true to yourself and put in the time.

It’ll be hard not to pull for these two as they compete in the College Classic Bracket this weekend with a one-in-eight shot at winning a brand-new Toyota Tundra and Nitro Boat along with a ticket to the 2023 Bassmaster Classic.