Kyle Monti has worked a lot of jobs, despite being only 26 years old.
They include supermarket clerk, bartender, telephone call center customer service representative and systems engineer for a telecommunications company, to name a few.
The way Monti tells it, every one of them prepared him in some way for the only job he’s ever really wanted — to be a professional angler on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
He dreamed of the Elite Series when he was fishing canals that ringed sugar cane fields near the little south Florida town of Belle Glade where he was raised. He dreamed of it when he was president of the Big O Teen Anglers (a B.A.S.S.-affiliated club) for four consecutive years during junior high and high school, and he dreamed of it while on the road for practically half a year working for that telecom outfit.
“It was a pretty good job,” Monti said, “But I never — I mean never — got to fish.”
Monti is entering his second season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, which means he continues to live his dream. He finished in the top 50 in two of eight Elite Series events last year (on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake and South Dakota’s Lake Oahe), which leaves room for improvement in 2019.
Monti was quick to admit that there were some wild swings in his game last year.
Take, for instance, the season opener on Lake Martin in Alabama, where Monti finished last of 110 Elites in the field. He was plagued by boat, motor and trailer issues leading up to the tournament, and he only spent a total of eight hours on the water during three full practice days. Bad luck, coupled with a few bad decisions, derailed him.
“You spent all the money you’ve ever made trying to make it to this point,” Monti said, reflecting on his maiden voyage on the Elite Series. “All your time, all your effort, you’ve been waiting for this. Why in the world would you try to go fish spotted bass on the first day of the tourney when you know it’s not going to win? And that’s what I did.”
Monti got better as his 2018 season progressed. He especially was heartened by the 41st-place showing on Oahe, which he describes as about as different from “fishing in south Florida as you can get.”
Not that Monti’s south Florida experience is typical. While most native Floridians cut their freshwater-fishing teeth throwing to grass on inland lakes and rivers, Monti’s dad and grandfather (a first-generation American from Cuba) were both sugar cane farmers. They were poor, and they didn’t have a boat, so fishing for bass (i.e.: food) around culvert pipes, floodgates and spillways was a regular practice.
Monti learned to fish that way, and it wasn’t until he was 10 or 11 that he caught a bass in open water on Lake Okeechobee in his step-grandfather’s boat. By then, Monti was positive that he wanted to be a professional fisherman, and his determination only was galvanized when he and a friend won $600 in the second tournament they entered.
Monti continued fishing competitively throughout high school, saving enough money from odd jobs to try his hand in BFL and Costa events as soon as he became eligible at 16. Though he got his “butt kicked,” Monti said he was learning valuable lessons about handling adversity.
Monti had a tough start to the 2015 Bassmaster Southern Opens when he finished 63rd on Lake Toho in central Florida and 176th on the Alabama River. He found a silver lining, however, when he rebounded to finish 30th on Lake Seminole in Georgia to close the season.
Monti’s dad died in 2015, and he found himself instead fishing as a co-angler on the FLW Tour in 2016. Monti made only one check in six events that year, and he credited a tough “self-assessment” with enabling him to turn his career — and his life — around.
“I was in a dark place,” he said. “I took a complete look at myself and what had happened to cause me to do so poorly. It was my mindset. When you start doing more research on sports psychology, you find that people at a couple levels of the sport (Opens, Elites) are mechanically very similar in things like boat control and casting.
“I had to work on the mental side of it. People say this is 80 percent mental, and then they don’t do anything about the mental side.”
Ceaselessly watching videos that helped him have a “positive mental approach,” he said, paid immediate dividends in 2017. Monti finished 22nd on Florida’s Harris Chain of Lakes to start the Southern Open series, and he followed by finishing 21st on Lake Chickamauga in Tennessee. He saved his best effort of the season for last, however, when he placed fifth on Alabama’s Smith Lake in the final Southern Open of the year.
That fantastic showing qualified Monti for the Elite Series. Now that he has one season under his belt, he plans to take a tournament-by-tournament approach to the 2019 Series, which he said is part of his mental strategy.
“No one wins 100 percent of the time,” he said. “You only win a very small percentage off the time. People focus on being on top; winning AOY, winning the Classic. Those things are great, but it’s also about how you put the trolling motor in the water during the first Elite Series event of your life, and it doesn’t work.
“That happened to me on the very first day on Lake Martin (in the 2018 Elites Series opener). Sometimes those things happen…I didn’t have as many of those hurdles (in 2017) when I qualified. But when I did have them in 2018, I knew how to handle them.”
Monti said he’s optimistic about the 2019 Elite Series, and he’ll be prepared whatever comes his way.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a time an angler going into his second year (on the Elite Series) has more experience than 25 to 40 percent of the field,” he said. “But I have that this year. It’s kind of unique.”