July 31, 2014 by Colin Moore
Kyle Monti knows the score.
The spotlight won’t linger on him at the Forrest Wood Cup, even if he did qualify to fish it as a co-angler. He won’t have to think of anything clever to say to Chris Jones or Jason Harper when he weighs in, because chances are he’ll be quickly shunted along to make room for the big boys. Monti doesn’t have a problem with that. He’s just finished his first season of the Walmart FLW Tour and knows he’s still an unknown quantity. To be special in this world, you have to do special things.
Although 22, Monti has the build of a slender teenager and a face to match. Still, though he’s not yet fleshed-out, he has man-sized ambition, and his career is progressing nicely along those lines. The rookie from Okeechobee, Fla., finished 11th in the co-angler standings this year. Only fellow newcomer Grayson Smith of Clarksville, Tenn., did better among rookies, having placed fourth in the co-angler ranks.
If you had seen Monti in the pre-dawn darkness on a chilly March morning at Sam Rayburn, shivering in the wind while waiting for his ride on the first day of the Walmart FLW Tour event there, you might not have expected that he would have done so well. Excitement swirled around him, but he was like a boulder in the current. He seemed unmoved by the hubbub that a new tournament season always generates. There was a hangdog look to him, which was understandable considering that his father, John, had died 11 days before in Belle Glade, Fla. According to Kyle, his father had become embroiled in a verbal altercation that quickly got out of control like a windswept sugarcane fire. His father’s life was ended by a gunshot.
John Monti, 39 years old when he was killed, was a rough-hewn cracker who grew up in an area where crimes involving gangs or drugs are frequently in the news, and where disagreements are often settled by violence. Kyle’s father and mother split up when he was very young. Kyle eventually moved with his mom to Okeechobee. His life could have easily taken a bad turn early, but along the way there was always somebody or something to keep him centered. Then, too, he made a decision to stay away from the places where trouble festered and cultures clashed, to keep his focus straight ahead toward his goal of becoming a professional bass fisherman.
John Monti encouraged his son’s interest in fishing. He took Kyle bass fishing in the cane field canals and kept him supplied in tackle and lures. Kyle’s stepgrandfather, the late Ray Austin, introduced him to Lake Okeechobee and the different techniques for locating and catching bass in big water. Other family members supported him as well.
“I think I was like 2 years old when I caught my first bass, and I never wanted to do anything but fish from then on,” says Kyle. “One time when I was just a kid, FLW had a tournament on Lake Okeechobee, and my dad took me to Chevy Pro Night [where Chevy pros meet and greet fans at a local Chevrolet dealership a few days prior to an event]. It wasn’t a very big dealership, so there weren’t a lot of people there. I got to meet all the pros and talk to them. Kevin VanDam was there, and he talked to me a long time.”
As Kyle got older, The Bass Federation played a significant role in his development as an angler. When he turned 10, he was able to join the Big “O” Teen Anglers, a Federation-backed club, and he stayed in it until he reached 18.
“We had 12 tournaments a year, and I had 96 tournaments under my belt by the time I was 18,” recalls Kyle. “I won Angler of the Year three times in three years, and started fishing BFLs when I turned 16. So I got a lot of experience up front. The best thing about it when I was a kid was being able to fish with Federation guys.
“In the junior club, kids would go out with a boat captain who was a local Federation member, and somebody that might have fished at the BFL level too. All the ones I fished with were especially good at something – flipping docks, fishing wood and weeds, Carolina rigs, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater, jigs. I cut years off my learning curve just by fishing with those guys.”
In addition to fishing the Walmart Bass Fishing League when he turned 16, Kyle was a member of the Indian River State College fishing club. In 2013, he and teammate Mike Cornell finished eighth in the FLW College Fishing National Championship on Beaver Lake.
Along the way, Kyle made a lot of friends, some of whom support him today: Bill Lewis Lures, Medlock Jigs, Denali Rods among them, as well as local help such as the Farm Bureau Insurance office and Cam’s Mobile Marine Service. Next year, he’ll join the Walmart FLW Tour pro ranks and hopes to follow in the footsteps of such co-angler-turned-pro-standouts as Scott Martin, Stetson Blaylock, Casey Martin and Spencer Shuffield.
“Flipping a jig is by far my favorite way to catch fish,” says Kyle. “Anytime flipping comes into play, I feel that I’ve got as good a chance as anybody to win. I would describe myself as a power fisherman, but I’ve also developed versatility, thanks to what I’ve learned from pros like Cody Meyer. If you’re not versatile, you can’t be successful at the top level.”
Kyle proved his versatility earlier this season [on YouTube, type Kyle Monti Promo in Search box]. Despite the grief and mental turmoil he felt over his father’s death, Kyle fished the Rayburn tournament and finished 20th. Prior to that, in the first tournament of the year on his home lake of Okeechobee in February, he placed seventh, and he came in 10th in each of the last events of the 2014 campaign, at Pickwick and Kentucky lakes – fishing deep. Through it all, he was able to practice or fish with the likes of Jim Moynagh and Casey Ashley, Cody Meyer and Kerry Milner, and learned something important from each.
Kyle’s ambition isn’t unique. Somewhere up ahead, he wants to take his turn at being the best. He wants to be the next Andy Morgan or Kevin VanDam until he becomes, finally and firmly, the one and only Kyle Monti.
If you spot him on the dock before takeoff at the Cup, seemingly engaged in a cellphone conversation with someone, chances are Kyle is listening to his father’s voice. In times past, before various tournaments, John Monti would call his son and wish him well. Kyle saved a dozen or so recorded messages and plays them back occasionally. Words of encouragement such as any man might pass along to his son, but words that are echoes.
The Forrest Wood Cup is nothing if not a statement that people who set their minds to do something important can overcome obstacles to get it done. The greater the prize, the bigger the roadblocks. Kyle Monti understands this already. He’s got time, and will proceed at his own pace. Though his eyes are on the stars, his feet are firmly planted.
He knows the score.