By Pete Robbins
The 2017 season was shaping up to be the worst of Tom Monsoor’s lengthy career on the FLW Tour, and the biggest body blow occurred on his home pools of the Mississippi River. The Wisconsin pro was expected to dominate the sixth event of the season, but rising water threw him off his game and he ended up a dismal 105th.
“Up until the day of the tournament, I was catching 18 to 20 pound sacks easy every day,” he recalled, which made his two lackluster days of competition even more frustrating. But rather than getting mad, Monsoor decided to get even, and that attitude paid off with the first tour-level win of his career, and a check for $100,200 in the final regular season event on the Potomac River.
After stumbling at the Mississippi, he spent the next week back on those same waters, “catching 50 to 60 giant bass every day,” he said. “I’ve never seen it like that. I was having fun, catching them all on the same jig I used at the Potomac, so I just went out there with the same jig tied on and continued having fun.”
The Potomac had not previously been one of Monsoor’s better venues – in fact, he hadn’t finished better than 47th there in FLW Tour competition – but he’s comfortable whenever there’s a grass bite and especially comfortable when he can sling a swim jig from start to finish. In practice, he plied several spots where he’d had varying levels of success in the past, and found two that paid off more than the others. The first was a limit spot, and didn’t feature particularly clean grass, but the second one “was beautiful, and clean, with none of that black snot on it. That’s the type of spot that the big ones like.”
With over 35 years of swim jig education and experimentation, he knows how to tailor his presentation and gear to the cover at hand, much the way a crankbait expert alters his presentation to deal with the prevailing conditions. In fact, he prides himself on the ability not only to fish the jig in 2 feet of water or 30 feet, in clear water and in chocolate milk, but also on the ability to adjust his retrieve to maximize his success. That’s why he was able to tempt, hook and land so many larger than average fish, enough for a four-day total of 66 pounds 11 ounces, an average of nearly 3 ½ pound per fish, on the highly pressured Potomac.
“That grass down there was just like the grass I was fishing here before I left,” he said. “It was real clean and crisp. I love a straight retrieve sometimes, but in this tournament it was important to hit the stalks and have the jig bounce off of it. When that happened, I would kill it and they’d annihilate it. It was like a war. I use a very good, sensitive rod and reel, but in this case even if you’ weren’t paying attention, it was so violent that you couldn’t miss it.”
While the strikes were violent, that didn’t mean that the fish didn’t have to be coaxed or fooled. Monsoor believes that his 16 pound test Sugoi fluorocarbon gave him an advantage over anglers fishing other brands and types of line. Braid “isn’t my deal,” he said, noting that it makes noise and is highly visible, while the gray fluoro is quiet, abrasion-resistant and nearly invisible. His homemade jig, he added, has exactly the right weed guard, exactly the right head for coming through the grass, and the perfect hook and line tie to maximize effectiveness.
“It’s like Gary (Yamamoto) making plastics,” he explained. “I’ve done this so long that I know which jig works best in which conditions.”
He keeps his swim jig colors simple, relying almost exclusively on green pumpkin, black/blue and white, occasionally mixing in a perch pattern. “If you can’t catch them on those, you might as well go home,” he advised. Nearly 20 years ago a co-angler in a BFL argued that the only color Monsoor fished was black/blue, to which the river expert replied “Well, it works.” That was his attitude at the Potomac, where that single shade led him to victory.
Just because he keeps his swim jig gear simple doesn’t mean there’s not a reason behind every aspect of his system. For example, while some anglers might prefer a single style of trailer for all conditions, Monsoor is known to mix it up based on various factors. One of his all-time favorites is the 3.5” Swim Senko, which he characterized as “perfect for a swim jig” and “the most under-known trailer there is.” That might’ve been a starting point at the Potomac, but he quickly realized that the fish were dining on massive numbers of crustaceans, so he had to adjust.
“My livewells were packed with crayfish,” he said. “I lost weight every day and that’s not good, especially when you only win by 5 ounces. I was tempted to start throwing them back in their throats.” That diet keyed him in on the right trailer to use, however, a Yamamoto Flappin’ Hog, which likewise paired perfectly with his swim jig.
His Lew’s rods and reels also played a role in his success. When Lew’s introduced gear with Winn Grip handles this year, he expected to dislike them – so much so that he asked the company to send him some replacement handles – but after his girlfriend tried them and “went nuts and stole them from me,” he realized that the newfangled grips offered some advantages.
“In my starting spot, there was a rock pile with some nasty grass over it,” he said. “On nearly every cast I was cleaning nasty black stuff off the jig. With most rods my hands would’ve been slipping but with the Winn Grips I had no problems at all. I’ve been doing this a long time, and when something works I stick with it.”
Monsoor concluded that while he’s exceptionally satisfied with the win, he was also gratified to realize that eight of the top ten pro anglers in the event used some sort of Yamamoto product to earn those top finishes. None of the others took the trophy home, so Monsoor has that over them, and now that he’s earned his first major win the 68 year old is convinced that there are more to come.
“Fishing BFLs years ago, it was tough until I won one,” he said. “But after that I won four points titles in a row and then came in second the next year. I believe that one you crack that nut, it’s yours.”