STOCKTON, Calif. — Surveying several of the competitors preparing to blast off Thursday morning for Day One of the TroKar Elite Series Duel in the Delta, you get the impression that the tournament is Ish Monroe's to win or lose. Of course, when the nearby Hughson, Ca. native is made aware of the fact that he's been singled out by several of his Elite peers, Monroe does his best to dodge that tag: "Oh, great, put even more pressure on the local kid. Thanks, thanks, I really need that."
Here are some of the Elite pros' picks:
"I'm going to pick Mark Tyler. He's also an old Delta rat like myself, and he's fished these conditions before. He's not the record holder (for the 14-9 biggest fish caught in a BASS tournament) for no reason at all. He knows this place, and knowing his style of fishing, he'll catch them. But that's only if I wasn't fishing the tournament, right?"
"I think the guys from out here will do well. They know the fishery, they understand the tides. I'd expect Aaron Martens and Skeet Reese to be a couple of favorites, without a doubt. I wouldn't be surprised to see Greg Hackney and Denny Brauer do well, because this is flippin' country. Gary Klein should do well, too."
"Kevin (VanDam), man. Kevin's always the favorite, no matter where we fish. He's just in the prime of his career. He's always fished well, but nothing compared to the way he's going now. He had good tournaments before, but now he just flat out wins 'em. When you get in the zone like he is, you go unconscious. He just figures out exactly where to throw his bait, he makes the right decisions, and there's no doubt that, when he's out there, he has one concern: catching fish."
"A darkhorse might be Cliff Crochet, a kid who (lives) about 45 minutes from me. He had a good Classic, and he's a Delta fisherman. When he was growing up, the only place he'd fish was the Delta at home. He knows what to look for. This Delta is similar to the one at home, but it's deeper. He's never fished for fish this big, though — I talked to him before we came out here, he was asking me 'Man, when we're out in California, is it going to be BIG poles and BIG hook sets?'."
"Without a doubt the California guys: Skeet, Aaron Martens and Ish. Those three will do well here."
"Well, your first pick has to be Ish. He's the local guy, he has a lot of history and a lot of experience here. It'd be pretty easy to say another California guy, but I'll go out on a limb and say Matt Reed. He's a helluva fisherman as far as finding concentrations of fish. He'll get into an area, camp out and just fish 'em. I think he could do pretty good here."
"It'd have to be Ish Monroe. He has a lot of confidence and experience on this fishery, and he should: He has a lot of success on the Delta. If I had to pick a darkhorse, I'd say 'Me'. If I don't go out there believing I can win, I don't have any business being here. I haven't won on the Delta before, but I've had some good tournaments. A lot of guys wouldn't think of me as a guy to win the Delta, but I think I could go out, run some pretty good spots and surprise a few people."
"Ish Monroe has a real good chance of doing well or winning. Kevin will probably hold his own here — I think he'll probably finish in the top 20. I'm sure that Denny Brauer and Tommy Biffle are going to do well here because it suits their styles. It's the flippin' Mecca, so I think those guys will probably do well. I think those are a couple of guys who are going to catch them better than they think they are."
"Everytime I make a prediction, these guys make me look bad. I've been to tournaments before where these guys were all crying the blues in practice and they go out and catch the heck out of them during the tournament. It's really hard for me to predict one guy. I'll tell you what, though: The guys that settle in and fish through the tides will figure it out."
"The whole California gang. Outside of them, almost anybody can do it. Hackney, Tracy Scroggins, Kelly Jordan … all of those guys are flippin' guys. And Denny Brauer or Tommy Biffle. If it has anything at all to do with a flippin' stick, you gotta throw those guys in there."
"I'd have to give the nod to Aaron, not just because he won last time, but because he has a lot of (history) out here. Also, Skeet and the other local guys. When it's tough — and I consider it to be tough — then you have to give the nod to the guys who have that knowledge to fall back on. Where do you go, what do you do? Those guys know. And a darkhorse? I don't have a clue, buddy."