April 1, 2008
Faced with the dilemma of competing in a regional tournament with the Military Bass Anglers Association or keeping his job as a car salesman, Ishama Monroe chose fishing–and won $1,100. Since that fateful day in 1998, he has immersed himself in the sport, competing for the last 10 years with the prestigious fishing tournament BASS and earning roughly $631,000 in winnings. In March 2006, Monroe, originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his entire family enjoyed fishing as a pastime, became the first African American to win a Bassmaster Elite Series event. He also won $14,000 and placed 14th out of 50 in the Bassmaster Classic in Alabama, the Super Bowl of bass fishing.
Fishing season, which runs from February to September, is a demanding sport with very specific parameters for competition. In the Elite Series, anglers try to catch black bass including spotted, largemouth, and smallmouth. In the competition, weight is the determining factor. In a tournament that may last for eight hours, anglers are eliminated daily based on the combined weight of the five largest fish they catch; by the final day, only 12 anglers remain to vie for the top prize. “An ounce [can] be the difference between a $100,000 and a $350,000 prize,” Monroe says. “One guy lost a Classic by an ounce. That cost him $1million.” Those who weigh dead fish are penalized 4 to 10 ounces.
BASS tournaments are all catch-and-release events. “We shoot for 100% [release], we keep fish out of water for 30 seconds to 45 seconds in protective bags where minerals are replenished,” Monroe says. “After weigh-in, they are placed in a release tank.”
Costs to compete
To compete in a season, Monroe, 33, who lives in Hughson, California, has to “make $120,000 on paper” to cover $55,000 in entry fees and $20,000 in expenses, which in his case is mostly covered by sponsors such as Lowrance Electronics, Cocoons Sunwear, Yamaha Outboards, and Purolator Oil Filters.
The Elite Series is a top-tier circuit of bass sport fishing. Entry fees are $5,000 per event, while fees for the lower level circuits, such as the Opens, are significantly lower. Each state requires a license for competitive fishing and nonresident license fees that range from $12 in Alabama to $100 in California. That doesn’t include gas, meals, fishing tackle, rods and reels, and a variety of other expenses.
Monroe competes in a Range Z21, valued at $60,000, and carries roughly $40,000 in rods and reels and lure selections (fish bait). “The most expensive lure I have cost $240. It’s handmade and called the Armageddon. When you have a fish on it, it’s usually a big one.”
The top prize for each Elite event is $100,000; co-anglers, who fish from the back of the boat, compete for a $45,000 top prize. The nonboater division accommodates beginners and has lower fees and prizes.
“Fishing is a physically demanding sport,” Monroe says. “Your heart is racing; you’re making casts, setting the hook. Tendonitis in elbows, wrists, and knees, as well as back issues from