Monica Altman wins Women's Bassmaster National Title
She had never even seen Louisiana's Cypress Black Bayou Lake.
She had only known for a month that she would have the opportunity to fish in
the Women's Bassmaster Tour national championship.
But when Monica Altman hit the water for the lone official practice day in Shreveport-Bossier City, she knew she'd done something right.
The Sanford native and Angier resident, fishing as a non-boater, was paired with boater Diana Clark. And when Altman caught a glimpse of what the 2006 WBT Angler of the Year had tied on her line, she felt a surge of confidence.
"She was using the same thing I brought with me," Altman said.
Leaning on her pitch-and-flip technique, Altman knew she would be using Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver creature baits with an X-Point X-Gap 3/0 hook on Berkley Vanish 17-pound gold fluorocarbon line.
She used a Texas rig with a 3/8-ounce Tru-Tungsten weight on a 7-foot JB Custom jig rod and Abu Garcia Revo-S reel. And she coated her bait with CB's Hawg Sauce sweet and sassy garlic gel.
What she didn't know was that after three days of tournament fishing against the top 20 co-anglers on the WBT, she'd walk away with a 10-pound lead over the national title runner-up.
"I was ecstatic. Words can't describe," Altman said. "After last year, finishing second in the championship, I wanted to prove I could do it."
The win gave Altman her fourth Triton boat prize package and $3,250 in cash, upping her WBT cash-and-prize total value to $131,255. That's the highest amateur total on the tour, and she's only been fishing it three years.
"I love to tell other fishermen that my wife has won four boats. I brag more than she does," proud partner Max Altman said.
He told me the polite term for a WBT husband: boat caddy. And there are plenty of them to share his stress with.
"It's neat because we sit on the bank and talk, and we're nervous all day long and worried like little hens running around. And they're out there fishing and we can't do one thing about it. It's a helpless feeling," Max said.
No luck necessary
For us fish-for-fun types, luck can play a major role in whether we boat the big one or get skunked.
But for the big fish - tournament anglers like Monica, who spend countless hours on the water, and even more time dwelling on how to improve - luck comes down to preparation and opportunity.
"My mind is just going all the time, thinking about what I need to do differently, if there's anything I can do to make myself better," she said. "There's so much thought that goes into it. It's unreal."
The on-tour learning started for Altman on July 27, 2006, when she won her first WBT entry with a 15.3-pound haul on Lake Norman.
"When she won that first tournament, to me, that was telling her something," Max said.
He encouraged her to join the tour full-time. So in February of 2007, the couple trekked out to Del Rio, Texas, and Monica's march on the WBT began in earnest with the first stop of a complete schedule.
The year was a disappointment, as Altman's highest finish was a 34th-place outing at Gilbertsville, Ky. With no major winnings and the high costs of travel, entry fees and gear, the Altmans assessed the situation before committing to another tour.
Monica realized that a lack of physical conditioning had hurt her performance. She suffered heat exhaustion two times during tournaments because she was not accustomed to fishing four days straight. She didn't take the time to have a break, hydrate and take in proteins.
She wasn't used to spending 50 nights a year in hotel rooms, getting up at 4 a.m. for consecutive days and then driving sometimes 18 hours just to get up Monday morning and start a 40-hour week as a hospital billings and claims representative.
But she kept her faith, and she blasted off in Lewisville, Texas, at the April 2008 WBT opener.
That year culminated with a runner-up finish at the national championship.
This year, Monica rallied to win at Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, Tenn., on Sept. 12, to qualify for the championship.
She credits her backers - sponsors, family and friends - for her success.
"Having a good support system at home, having people who believe in you and have faith in you - you have to have that support network to feel like you can make it," Altman said.
Altman takes the high road as an ethical competitior. Knowing that her boater was using the same soft plastic she'd brought, Monica used a Strike King red-eye shad in citrus shad colors to try to find a different pattern at the national championship.
After Day 1, she was in second place with 9 pounds and 11 ounces.
On Day 2, Altman was paired by draw with 2007 Angler of the Year Sheri Glasgow.
"She was basically doing the same thing Diana Clark did on the first day - fishing reeds and docks and sea walls, which is where some of our fish were coming from," Altman said.
On a cold, windy second day of tourney action, Altman slowed down, throwing her soft creature bait into areas where the wind was hitting points and hopping her bait off the bottom and letting it sit.
She finished with 11 pounds and took the lead. That would be enough for the win. Still, Altman didn't let up.
On Day 3, she went out with the youngest angler on the tour, 22-year old Meadow Burrell, and had two keepers in the boat by 9:15 a.m. With that bit of insurance, Altman did a modest happy dance and finally let herself soak in the victory that she always knew she was capable of.
"Faith is the main thing. Put faith in that you're where you need to be at the right time. Like I told them on stage at the WBT, I truly believe that God puts you where you need to be when you need to be there," she said.