ENTERED The 33rd Bassmaster Classic, Ish Monroe, the first
African-American to qualify for the Super Bowl of bass fishing.
The 29-year-old bachelor from California, who stepped up to the
first-day weigh-in at the New Orleans Arena to the thumping beat
of Rob Base's 1980s dance classic It Takes Two, is changing the
face of competitive fishing, a sport heretofore dominated by
white Southerners. He's also attracting something previously
unseen in the sport: groupies. "There's starting to be a NASCAR
feel to it," says Monroe. "We're starting to see some actual hot
chicks out there." Says Kelly Jordan, a 32-year-old Texas angler,
"Ish is a fresh face, kinda Hollywood, and that's good." Indeed,
as Monroe entered the Arena, 18,000 fans cheered raucously.
(Though Monroe is the first African-American pro in the event,
Alfred Williams entered the field as an amateur in 1983.)
Growing up in San Francisco, Monroe learned to fish from his
father. At 14 he began tournament fishing; at 18 he turned pro.
This year, his sixth full season on the tour, he had four top-25
finishes, which qualified him for the Classic and pushed his
career earnings to $82,904. "The reason I got into this sport is
because there's no color line," he says. "Fish don't see color."
And though he's heard the Tiger Woods analogy "more times than I
can count," he dismisses it. "Until I'm making Tiger's money, you
can't compare us."
Monroe's first Classic fell far short of a Woods payday. He
failed to land a fish on the first day and finished the second
day 54th in the 61-man field. (Only the top 25 advanced to
Sunday's finals, which was won by Michael Iaconelli.) Still,
Monroe took comfort in the "flavor" (his word) he helped bring to
the event. "It's a younger crowd out there," he said. "Maybe it's
a new age in bass fishing." --Chris Ballard
COLOR PHOTO: BASS (MONROE) FISHING FOR COMPLIMENTS Monroe's peers say he brings excitement to the sport.