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Updated: Mar 30, 2023

As part of the Media Day kickoff to the Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville, I got to meet with a group of young anglers just starting out what they hope will be a career-long flirtation with the Classic Trophy. The first was Jonathan Dietz. Like a lot of kids growing up in northwest Pennsylvania he spent a lot of time in the woods and fishing a pond on a secluded section of the family farm. Trout fishing was also very popular, and by the time he was in high school he had mastered the fly rod. Jonathan started out his college career making friends with other guys who had a passion to fish. One of them had been on a bass fishing team at his high school and competed in local BASS leagues. This was his first introduction to competitive bass fishing, and Jonathan was hooked and started competing in local tournaments. He transferred to the main campus of Penn State where he joined the College Bass Fishing Team. That was a turning point in his career path. Since then, he has competed in the Toyota Series, Bassmaster Opens, and the BASS National Championship, through which he qualified for the Bassmaster Classic. Jonathan had an air of confidence about him. He was at the same time humbled by the enormity of the event. When I asked him what has been his biggest surprise since qualifying he said it was the positive response of support he has received from sponsors and fishing fans in general. He was very focused on the work he had to do and while he had a plan, he was quick to say that he believes one of his strengths is his ability to adapt and change his tactics as new situations and changes in the conditions present themselves. That indeed proved to be the case as Day 1 saw him weigh a limit of 10-1 for 20th.

My next “young gun” was Louis Monetti fom Brielle, N.J., a “Jersey shore” town where saltwater fishing is king. Like Dietz, Monetti grew up fishing something other than bass. Whenever he could hit the beach for a day of fishing he did, and he was often found hanging out at a local tackle shop where he ultimately got his first job. In middle school, a friend invited him to try freshwater bass fishing. Monetti, whose parents were always encouraging whatever he pursued, was intrigued by the idea of competing in fishing. He started to compete in New Jersey Bass Nation Youth tournaments. He knew that bass fishing was something he wanted to continue in college and he focused his college search on schools where he could compete. "At UNC Charlotte, I felt I could instantly start competing, which was a key factor in me coming here." Monetti joined the Charlotte bass fishing team and competed for four years. Monetti graduated in 2022 but continued competing in tournaments because the college season runs from April to October. Monetti credits his time with the team for giving him the tools and confidence to win the College Classic Bracket. "It was a blast and an awesome time. We might not have had a lot of money for gear, but we made up for it in heart and talent." While this is his first Classic as a competitor it is not his first Classic. As a fan, Monetti has attended every Classic since 2018. When I asked him what the best advice he had received about fishing the classic he said “one veteran fisherman came up to me and said ‘Don’t just be happy to be here, make it count’. It was clear in talking to him that he was taking that advice to heart. “Making the Classic is a huge deal,” Monetti said. "Not sure when I will have this chance again, so I want people to know that I belong here.” On Day 1 Monetti did that, weighing in a five-bass limit of 7-13.

My next Classic rookie, Jay Przekurat, has already lifted an elite trophy. He also holds the record as the first angler to earn a Century Belt with an historic 4-day 102-9 bag of Smallmouth! He is the youngest angler to win an Elite Series event. The Stevens Point, Wisconsin angler also earned Elite Series Rookie of the Year (ROY) honors, and finished in the top 40 of the AOY standings, qualifying him for the Bassmaster Classic. Jay is the latest winner to emerge from a seriously talented fishing family. His dad, Jason is a two-time angler of the year and decorated walleye champion. He is still a bit dazed from the whirlwind of events that have landed him here in Knoxville. But he has a quiet, focused demeanor and is trying hard not to let all the hype get in his head. The waters are new to him but he has put in the work. Despite his clear prowess at smallmouth fishing, he was confident that he would find largemouth to be key to what could be a winning bag. When asked what his “go to bait” would be if he could have just one, he was quick to say “the StrikeKing Thunder Cricket” a bladed jig, but he also pointed to a couple of shad colored lipless cranks he had tied on, smiled, and said “got these just in case”. Since, unlike Dietz and Monetti, he has competed against many of the Classic qualifiers for an entire season, I asked him if he had any advice for the other rookies, Przekurat said “trust your instincts. Your gut is usually right, so try to avoid second-guessing yourself. Be confident in what you know.” That quiet confidence is admirable in one so young. It is clearly serving him well as his Day 1 ended with him firmly in the Top 10 with a 14 lb limit.

It was not iBass360’s first interview with my last angler, not a rookie but 2nd time Classic qualifier, Ava, Missouri pro Cody Huff. We spoke with the 2019 Carhartt Bassmaster College Series champion four years ago when he was sitting on top of the College fishing work. Huff just completed a dream year in 2019 that included qualifying for the 2020 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville. He was then a 22-year-old business major at Bethel University where he had seen a lot of collegiate fishing success. Since then he qualified for the Elite series through the Bassmaster Opens and through the Elite Series has qualified for his 2nd Classic. That first appearance was a bit of a blur and Huff is looking forward to taking in the whole experience again. He hopes to channel his mentor, 4- time Classic winner Rick Clunn. Huff credits Clunn with much of what he has accomplished to date. One of those lessons was to shake off a bad day and forget about it the next. Cody is looking to employ that on Day- 2 as he will want to forget his one-fish bag weighed on Day 1. Huff is confident in his knowledge of the Tennessee River, and he is confident in the skills that have put him in the Classic for a second time. It is time to do what he has always loved, just go fishing.


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