During his era, many kids grew up clutching a baseball bat or grabbing the laces of a football. Neighborhood pickup games ruled the day.
Not so much for Tom Monsoor.
The kid from French Island — who still lives there, by the way — grew up with a fishing rod glued to his hand. He’d either walk or ride his bike a mile to his favorite Mississippi River fishing spot, then test his skill against bass, walleye, northern, you name it.
And he would win. He still does, as you’ll soon find out.
The world has certainly changed during Monsoor’s 72 years, but when it comes to fishing, his passion for the sport — and his success in it — has not.
As he enters his 19th season on the Major League Fishing (MLF) Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit, Monsoor exudes as much passion as one of the tour’s elder statesmen as he did two decades ago.
Tom is still Tom. In other words, this guy loves to fish. Period. Money nor fame has changed him.
“I am still just as driven when it comes to the love of fishing,” said Monsoor, who is coming off his best pro season ever, a 2020 performance in which he won a $125,000 Super Tour event in his home waters of the Mississippi River in La Crosse the last week in July.
“I have been beaten up over the years with sore forearms, sore shoulders, cramps and pains in your arms and hands. Some people complain and whine about it, but that’s the way it is.”
This isn’t a story of you can love fishing but it won’t love you back. Hardly.
Monsoor loves to compete, and he does it throughout a season where events are held across the country. Monsoor had some tough love to start 2021 Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season, however, when he finished 158th out of 162 competitors at Lake Okeechobee in Clewiston, Fla., in mid-February.
Still, the seasoned veteran found a silver lining as he prepares for the second stop at Lewis Smith Lake in Cullman, Ala., on March 11-14.
“I had the worst tournament last year (to open the season) and the same thing happened this year,” Monsoor said. “Last year it was Texas; this year Florida. A day after the tournament I went out and caught a bunch of them. For two days before that, I couldn’t get them to bite. Yes, it was the same spots.”
Monsoor, who has survived open heart surgery, a triple-bypass and two heart attacks, knows he’s lived a charmed life for the most part. With career winnings topping $1.1 million (on the pro tour), he’s had plenty of reasons to smile.
It’s a good bet, however, he’d fish for free. In fact, he still does when he’s not competing.
“When I was commercial fishing (before turning pro), I was happy. That is all I have ever wanted to do is fish,” said Monsoor, who still makes many of his own bass jigs. “I was happy, and still am, with a cane pole, fly rod, casting rod, whatever, in my hand. As long as I am fishing.”
Professional fishing has always been ultra-competitive, and that’s what makes Monsoor’s career so impressive. He’s worked his way up the ladder after getting tested in his own backwaters, so-to-speak, where he says there has always been – and remains – some top-notch anglers. A number of area anglers, he believes, could go pro and do well. Some already have in the lower pro levels.
“Two or three that I think are good are Nick Trim, Cade Laufenberg and Mike Brueggen. One guy (Brueggen), wins FLW events. He’s probably the best (bet). I tell them all the time to get into it. They’ve got the skill.”
It takes more than skill these days, as it takes sponsors, money, time and equipment. Sometimes it’s hard to separate those, as sponsors bring money and money buys equipment. Some of the latest electronics, Monsoor says, have changed the fishing game.
“These young guns have all the advantages as they are so computer oriented and really understand how to use their electronics,” Monsoor said. “They don’t even fish if they don’t see fish (on their electronics). I go fish to find fish.
“There are fish finders that show you fish, almost like a TV. You still have to catch them.”
Between the first and second Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit events, Monsoor was busy installing some of the latest electronic gear in his boat. He was waiting for one of his longtime sponsors, Lowrance, to come out with a new version of sonar, which produces high-resolution images of fish swimming around different bottom structure, and even striking a lure.
“This is live imaging where you can see on a screen a tree and fishing swimming around a (submerged) tree. You still don’t know what (species) they are, but you can see their size a little bit.”
Some of these “electronics,” as Monsoor called them, can cost up to $3,000 a pop. You put three or four of them on a boat, he says, along with a transducer, and you are looking at $12,000 to $15,000 just to equip a boat.
“Most guys have $80,000 to $100,000 in a boat,” Monsoor said.
It’s all part of the game, he says, if you want to be competitive on the country’s top bass fishing league.
“That’s where my sponsors, Ranger boats, Yamamoto Custom Baits, Lowrance, they are really good to me,” said Monsoor, whose current Ranger boat is one he won after claiming the top prize in a FLW event in 2017.
“You need this stuff to fish more efficiently. I’ve got to compete at their (top anglers) level. Again, they can say where a fish is, but you still have to catch it.”
And you have to get to the tournament. The travel, Monsoor says, is the toughest part of the whole deal — even more than fishing. He drove 27 hours, one way, to the Florida tournament and will make two trips to Alabama, and one each to South Carolina, Maryland and New York before the season-ending event in La Crosse on Aug. 17-22.
“That is the part that sucks. The driving part, that is horrible,” Monsoor said. “Staying in the hotels are not that cool either, but that’s part of it. My girlfriend (Karen Savik), goes to some of the tournaments with me. My lab, Jigs, comes along, too.
Monsoor named his lab “Jigs,” because she sits and looks at him while he’s making many of the jigs he uses. Appropriately named, for sure.
What also seems appropriate is that Monsoor ends his Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit season at his home waters once again this season. He knows he will be hard-pressed to top last season, a season in which he earned $173,500 in purse money.
“Winning where you live means more than anything,” Monsoor told MLF at the time. “Now everybody knows I won in my hometown. I beat all these guys, the best guys in the world, in my hometown. I am the best right here, not somewhere where they don’t relate to.”
Monsoor’s the best pro angler to ever come out of this area, and has been for a long time. He’s won here, he’s won in Maryland, he’s won across the country.
And before you ask, no, he’s not about to retire anytime soon.
“This is relaxing. This is what I love to do,” Monsoor said. “It’s not a job. I’ve been doing it (fishing tournaments) since 1986, so why stop now?”
Jeff Brown, a former longtime sports editor for the Tribune, is a freelance outdoors writer. Send him story ideas at email@example.com
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