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OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

Outdoors commentary: Elite anglers head to La Crosse for marquee event

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When pro angling’s bass hot shots hit La Crosse next week, it’s all about cast-and-catch, cast-and-release, catch-and-weigh. As fast as they can perform all three — and it’s often done within seconds — can mean the difference in winning or losing.

The number of fat-bellied bass these angling wizards can weigh in has a direct impact on the size of their paycheck. Small bass, smaller payday, if you consider $10,000 for 50th place small. Check that, places 31-50 each pocket 10 grand.

Major League Fishing’s Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit TITLE on the Mississippi River, set for Aug. 17-22, brings together 50 of top professional bass anglers in the world for a season-ending event that has an eye-opening $235,000 first-place prize.

Yes, you read that right. This is the cash cow event for MLF’s Tackle Warehouse Circuit. Enough about the money, this tournament — headquartered at Veterans Park near the Clinton Street bridge for six days — features the best of the best.

It’s a marque fishing event in our backyard. If you’re into angling, this is a can’t-miss event. Even if you’re lukewarm about tournament fishing, the entertainment factor at the weigh-in is worth the price of admission (it’s free, by the way).

And what a catch this is for the Coulee Region.

“It is huge for the area. It is a huge impact initially with the direct impact coming from six days of competition, actually six days plus practice days, then the expos on Saturday and Sunday,” said Jeremiah Burish, director of sports sales for the La Crosse Visitors and Convention Bureau, who estimated the economic impact at $1.2 million.

“It will showcase how great this fishery is. And the on-water coverage will show it even more.”

If this tournament sounds like a whopper, it is.

Get this: only the top 50 anglers in the season-long points standings earn a spot in the event, meaning the other 113 anglers who fished the six regular-season tournaments failed to qualify.

Even a stud fisherman like Tom Monsoor of La Crosse, who has won nine MLF fishing tournaments and earned $1,142,165 during 18 years on the Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, came up short this year. Monsoor has competed in seven TITLE events, but will be a spectator at this one.

“I had the worst year I’ve had in my life. The first four (tournaments) were terrible. Everybody said it was because the championship was in La Crosse, that I put too much pressure on,” said the 72-year-old Monsoor, who finished 17th and 36th in the final two regular-season events, but still wound up 91st in points

“This was just the wrong year to have a bad year. Don’t get me wrong, they are all good. When you take 160 and take it down to the top 50, they’re good. Most of them are young guns coming up who spend a lot of time on the water.”

La Crosse has earned a reputation as a hot spot on the water for tournament fishing, whether it be for bass or walleye, in high-powered, sleek-looking bass boats or kayaks. With its infrastructure, such as the Clinton Street boat launch and adjacent Veterans Freedom Park to the hotels, restaurants and businesses that cater to travelers, it’s a perfect fit to hold an event like this.

And, of course, the biggest draw is the Mighty Mississippi, which is an incredible fishery. Major League Fishing, it seems, agrees.

“We couldn’t be more excited to take the Tackle Warehouse TITLE to La Crosse and the Mississippi River later this month,” said Kathy Fennel, MLF Executive Vice President and General Manager.

“We’ve had tremendous success hosting tournaments in La Crosse in the past, so it made bringing our championship there an obvious choice. The bass fishing fans in Wisconsin have always been extremely passionate and enthusiastic, and we’re proud to be showcasing our prestigious championship to them.”

It’s an event with an interesting format, too. This isn’t your get out to a big first-day lead, then hang on type of tournament. In fact, it includes a knockout round — without boxing gloves, of course.

Here’s how it works: 50 anglers are separated into two groups of 25, based on their regular-season points standing. Group A will fish Days 1 (Tuesday, Aug. 17) and 3 (Thursday, Aug. 19), while Group B will compete on Days 2 (Wednesday, Aug. 18) and 4 (Friday, Aug. 20). The winner of each group advances directly to Sunday’s championship round, while finishers 2-10 move on to Saturday’s knockout round.

Here’s where it get interesting. The 18 anglers who earned a spot in the knockout round start over, or have their catch weight return to zero.

“It will be very interesting to see, as this format is definitely different than most professional events we’ve had in the past where it is four days of cumulative weight,” said Burish, a tournament angler himself.

“It is a unique format that will definitely put some extra tactics and decision making into play. The quantity of quality fish here is unbelievable, but it will be the big fish that will stand out and make the difference here.”

On Sunday, the championship day, there will be 10 anglers (eight from the knockout round and two who came directly as winners of their group) starting at zero weight once again. The heaviest bag of five bass caught on Sunday will translate into $235,000.

Got all that? It’s a bit complex, but zeroing the weights twice — after the group competition and again in the knockout round where the field is reduced from 18 to eight — creates an entirely new strategy for the competitors. Some like it, some don’t. I, for one, am interested to see it in action.

“It is anybody’s game. Whoever finds the best fish wins,” Monsoor said. “That can be the 50th-place guy coming into this. You cover all the water you can. If they are biting, you catch what you can. If they aren’t, you are gone right away.”

Monsoor said he typically gives a fishing spot five minutes, or about 20 casts, and if you don’t get a fish, you’re back in your seat, firing up your motor, and zipping off to the next. There’s no time to eat or drink, just fish.

“It is going to be fun. I can’t wait to see it happen,” Monsoor said of the tournament, admitting it’s disappointing not to be a competitor. “It’s a big deal that it’s here. These guys are the best at what they do.”

Jeff Brown, a former longtime sports editor for the Tribune, is a freelance outdoors writer. Send him story ideas at outdoorstrib@gmail.com

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