Finally, a cigar for Ish

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DEL RIO, Texas — For the last few months, Ishama Monroe of California has been reinventing himself mentally and physically.

Known to enjoy outings with friends and for his carefree attitude, Monroe has been around the fishing scene but not in it as much as he has hoped. He never could break out in a big tournament on either pro tour. Close, as they say, but no cigar.

All that changed in the last year. He put behind him the worries of building a new home and moving. He told sponsors he wanted to do business in the off season so he could focus on his job for them, which is doing well in tournaments to gain exposure. He hangs up on friends if they call with a drama-queen story. He said he stopped drinking a month before the season, began eating right and quit partying late with friends.

"It's tunnel vision," said Monroe, who on Sunday left Lake Amistad with 23 pounds, 8 ounces, anchored by a 9-pounder, for a four-day total of 104-8 and his first major win at the Citgo Bassmaster Elite Series season-opener.

Amistad lived up to the pre-tournament hype, giving up a total of 1,347 bass weighing more than 5,000 pounds to the 106 Elite pros. Seven bags weighing more than 30 pounds were caught, including Monroe's 34-1 on Saturday that puts him atop the Busch Shootout standings. Monroe's 9-pounder Sunday was the Purolator Big Bass, which he also won Saturday.

"This season I'm putting everything into focus. Everything," Monroe said. "All my tackle is in order, my rods are in order, my hooks are sharp, everything. I have a $55,000 investment in the Elite Series and $20,000 in the FLW Tour, so that's $75,000 my sponsors have invested in me and so that's like my money, my investment.

"I am not going to (ruin) a $75,000 investment. This is my career. This is what I do. I'm rooming with Mike Iaconelli, who has a tremendous focus on winning, and with Fred Roumbanis, who is a good friend of mine from California who I've fished with. He finished second here today, so you see what kind of drive he has. It's a focus on winning."

Monroe searched for bedding fish this week along Amistad's shorelines but while doing that tossed a Snag Proof Tournament Frog and Reaction Innovations Vixen topwater bait to catch almost all of his fish. The frog, which Roumbanis also was throwing along with swim baits to catch 101-13, was critical.

"Fred and Dean and I were the only ones throwing the frog, so we kept that to ourselves and decided not to talk about it at all," Monroe said. "We figured if we can catch 25 pounds on the California Delta, which has grass and big bass, then we could do it here."

Roumbanis just close

In his second Bassmaster season, the energetic 27-year old came just a few pounds shy of winning after bringing in a catch of 28-1 on Sunday.

He started the day with two small bass but before long was culling 4-pounders and said he lost a 9-pounder on his last cast that took him into a treetop. Strikes were violent on his frog and the variety of swim baits he was using, including a 3:16 Mission Fish, Storm and Triple Trout.

"I had less bites but got all the big bites I wanted," Roumbanis said. "They're just moving around looking for a place to spawn, on the tops of the islands and humps."

Monroe came close to Rojas's record of 108-12, which is secure for at least another week as the Elite Series moves on to Sam Rayburn Reservoir in east Texas. He would have liked to have had that mark, too, but didn't mind taking home the hardware and a check for $100,000.

"The record is a piece of paper," he said. "But the win is a whole lot more."