How’d I get here?

How, in the modern bass fishing world, did a kid from New Jersey in a 17-foot boat built in 1996 find himself getting ready to fish in the 2023 Bassmaster Classic?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times in the last few months. I haven’t come up with the simple answer quite yet, maybe this column can explain a little bit of it.

I’m Louis Monetti, that kid who won the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket back in October. If you missed it, it was probably because it was the same weekend as the Walleye cheating fiasco. I’ll be writing a few columns this year as I make my way through the Bassmaster Opens EQs and the Classic, so I figured this one could be a little introduction to me and my “fishing story.”

Before I get into all of that, I’ll start off by saying one way to answer the question of how I found myself here is entirely thanks to B.A.S.S. The opportunity they offer college anglers to make their dreams come true is truly remarkable, and despite seemingly impossible odds at times, here I am. It can be done; the path is there for you.

Like a lot of us, my dad took me out fishing for the first time when I was a toddler. Growing up as a fisherman in a little coastal town in New Jersey meant that every year revolved around the annual striped bass runs, with plenty of other saltwater species to chase in the meantime. I spent every free hour I had on the docks of the Manasquan River as a kid, catching everything and anything that swam by.

Sometime in the fourth or fifth grade, a good friend of mine asked me to go freshwater bass fishing. I’ll be totally honest – I thought that sounded about as boring a time as one could have. You see, at that age I was getting pretty big into throwing pencil poppers and chug bugs for stripers and blues on light tackle. The idea of chasing a little green bass in a pond seemed about as lame as it could be.

Safe to say, after a few days of catching small bass in a farm pond, it became an addiction. I needed to know everything about it. Baits, techniques, cadences, patterns — I had to know it all.

When I was 14 I started fishing New Jersey B.A.S.S. Nation Youth events, and the addiction only got worse. I can’t go any further into this tale without shouting out the guys who boat captained me in those events who eventually became some of my best friends, especially the members of Hooked Bassmasters. They played a pivotal role in my life, teaching me how to fish as well as how to fish tournaments the right way. I love those guys and would highly encourage any young angler to join a local club as early as possible. Not enough guys talk about the importance of that when you’re young.

My partner Frank and I would end up being the first ever team to fish the National Championship from our state after finishing second in our State Championship my sophomore year. I knew I wanted to fish for a living at that age, and going to the National Championship was where I thought I’d make my name after getting through the state events relatively easily. That 2016 tournament on Kentucky Lake was when reality slapped me in the face in the form of a 145th-place finish. I knew it was time to get a whole lot better and start working a whole lot harder.

That would be my one and only year fishing the high school series. I spent the rest of high school fishing B.A.S.S. Nation events as a co-angler and club events out of the front of what was, to me, the coolest boat in the world. My birthday/Christmas gift when I was 17 was my 1996 Ranger R72 with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard. Once I bought a 2011 Ford Escape to pull it, I was fishing whenever I could. College fishing was my next destination, and after touring a few different schools I decided UNC Charlotte would be my home for the next four years.

In 2018 I went down with my mom to tour the school a second time once I had already been admitted, and we scheduled the trip to coincide with the Classic on Hartwell. After a day or two at school we drove down to Greenville, and my eyes were opened to the magic of the Classic atmosphere. It became my life mission/dream to walk across that stage. I’ll never forget sitting in the rafters as Jordan Lee hoisted the trophy. Despite seeing livestreams and TV shows as I was growing up, something about being in that crowd really inspired me to do everything I could to get there.

I’d love to continue and start telling the story of my college career, but I think I’ll save it for another day. Those stories are some of my favorites to tell, and I look forward to writing about them more in the future.