Natalie Phelps Finnie, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Provided by the IDNR

Boatload of firsts for Louis Monetti going into the Chicagoland Fishing, Travel & Outdoor Show

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When Louis Monetti climbs the fish tank at the Chicagoland Fishing, Travel and Outdoor Show on Thursday, it’ll be another first.

‘‘I’ve worked a couple of shows with Bizz Baits, but this will be the first time up on the tank doing a seminar,’’ he said.

He will alternate seminars each day between ‘‘Shallow Smallmouth Secrets’’ and ‘‘Mastering Small Baits for Big Bass.’’ At other times, he’ll be in the booth for Bizz Baits, where he works.

Firsts keep piling up for Monetti.

He and Michael Fugaro won Team of the Year for UNC-Charlotte in the 2022 Strike King Bassmaster College Series.

On Oct. 3, Monetti won the Bassmaster College Classic Bracket, qualifying him for the 2023 Bassmaster Classic in March and earning him paid entries into all nine Bassmaster Opens and the use of a Toyota Tundra and Nitro Boat for a year. On Monday, Monetti will fly from Chicago to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to pick up that boat.

His honors border on miraculous, considering his boat.

‘‘She deserved a better owner than me,’’ Monetti said.

Seats and carpeting in ‘‘Old Range’’ are worn and tattered. For most of the season, Monetti and Fugaro had no graph on the front.

‘‘I definitely pride myself on being a shallow-water fisherman,’’ Monetti said.

When he fishes deeper, he said, ‘‘I will usually run a marker buoy.’’

That’s a college guy with old-school skills.

His 17-foot 1996 Ranger R72 was a gift from his mom on his 16th or 17th birthday.

It worked out well for Monetti’s college career. He graduated in May with a degree in marketing.

‘‘For me, [marketing] was inspired by Mike Iaconelli,’’ Monetti said. “In ‘Fishing on the Edge,’ he talks about how much it helped. I was reading that book since I was 15. He’s always been my hero and super-cool. I went on his podcast.’’

Iaconelli, a record-setting bass pro, also came from New Jersey. Monetti grew up on the coast in Brielle. He needed to leave the North for college.

‘‘Basically, I knew for sure I wanted to come somewhere I could fish 12 months out of the year,’’ Monetti said.

New Jersey did not have high school fishing, so he couldn’t build his résumé and earn a scholarship.

‘‘So I had to pick my school and be a walk-on,’’ he said.

At Charlotte, which has a great history in college fishing (Shane LeHew, Jake Whitaker and now Monetti), bass fishing is a club sport without scholarships. But it was an affordable school and an OK drive, and Monetti walked on and into history.

‘‘I competed in every sport, but I sucked at sports,’’ Monetti said. ‘‘But this is something I can compete in and try to be one of the best who has ever done it.’’

The show (chicagoland.sportshows.com) runs Thursday through Sunday at the Schaumburg Convention Center.

Monetti never has been to Chicago. But Bizz Baits founder Brian Souza grew up in Arlington Heights, so Monetti thinks they will see Chicago sights at night.

Natalie Phelps Finnie, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

New IDNR director

Gov. J.B. Pritzker named Natalie Phelps Finnie, a former downstate legislator, as the director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources on Monday. She had served as deputy director since August 2021.

In memory

Nick Kushnerik died unexpectedly Jan. 15. Just after graduating from Marist, he and Nick Engel won the 2012 Illinois Student Angler Federation High School Fishing State Championship on Lake Shelbyville. Kushnerik worked at Johnson Outdoors in Minnesota.

Stray cast

Divisional weekend without pandering to Tom Brady refreshed like a walk through a snowy pine stand.





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