Capt. Ed Monette of Bernhards Bay, the skipper of Cannonball Runner Charters that operates out of Oswego, is on a natural high. Two weekends ago, his four-man team topped the field of 31 boats to win the Orleans County Open Trout and Salmon Tournament – his first tournament win ever out of his boat.
This particular tournament, based on two days of fishing, allows for up to five salmon and five trout each day. Scoring is 10 points per fish and a point per pound. On the surface, it’s quite a feat to win any tournament on this Great Lake. However, this win was something special. This is what made it a great story, a tale that needed to be told. It wasn’t just about the fishing. It started four months earlier ...
“I was visiting Florida, living healthy and enjoying life,” said Monette. “I was fishing and hanging out in Florida and nothing was wrong. When I returned, I walked off the plane and went to a sport show to meet clients for my charter business. When I finally arrived home I had a cold. I’m normally stubborn about things like that but I decided to go to the doctors to get checked out. I get in on a Friday and I’m thinking I’m probably going to have to take antibiotics or something. I tell the doctors to check me for flu since I had a slight pain in my stomach and some other symptoms. Three hours later, I’m being told I have Stage 4 kidney cancer. They want to operate immediately.”
“How can that be?” questioned Monette. “I just have a cold!”
Doctors told Monette if he didn't have surgery he’d have only three weeks to three months to live. It hit him like a steamroller and he realized this is the real deal. He did his research and found out the best surgeon for this sort of operation. The 13-year charter captain showed up at the doctor’s office with no appointment and explained that he’ll be sitting in the corner waiting for a cancellation. Forty minutes later, that’s exactly what happened. Someone was looking out for him. He was told to think positive, but there were no guarantees. They told him he’ll be brought in for surgery by the end of the week.
The end of the week arrived and he was told that they would be taking out the bad kidney. The doctor said that if it all goes OK – and it didn’t spread - he should be fine. Monette wondered what if it did spread from the affected area. “What about fishing?”
“I don’t know,” replied the doctor.
“Don’t tell me I can’t fish doc,” Monette said “I will prove it to you that I can make it back. I will be walking down my dock the first week of April to go fishing.”
He thought of his wife and kids first. Then he thought about fishing, the charters and the tournaments. He has fished Lake Ontario for 35 years and it’s an important part of his life. To take that away …
“As I’m waiting for surgery that day, not knowing the eventual outcome, I kept my feelings all to myself," he said. "I kept things positive with others but I also knew I might not be able to do what I love the most: Make people happy through fishing.”
Monette had to wait three weeks after surgery to know if it was a success. “All I can say is it was dark. And every time I would think the worst, it didn’t matter what time of night, I’d get a text from my friend Tom Allen asking if I was OK. We’d chat a bit and I was back on track. I went about my business getting ready for fishing. Then I got the word: I was clean! I had some problems, but I was cancer-free. Clean.”
Relief set in. He is focused. Focused on the family and the future, focused on life, focused on fishing. As he walked down to his dock in Oswego the first week of April, he knew he had made it back. It was a new lease on life.
The Orleans County Open
“I had a pact during the winter with a friend of mine, Capt. Vince Pierleoni of Thrillseeker Charters, to fish it," Monette said. "After all I had been through during the winter, there were some doubts. But I was on my way. I would fish this tournament.”
First mate Hunter Wojslaw, Justin Altman and RJ Cruz teamed with Monette to fish the contest. They had a plan in place and stuck to it. After the first day, they were in fourth place. “Wow, we are still in this,” Monette thought.
Day Two, the wind was howling and the water was big. They went with the same game plan. “We know we can do this,” Monette said. “We fish a lot of big water in Oswego. Stick to the game plan. First pass, we hit two fish. Next pass another. We have eight in the box by 8 a.m. We have a shot. That’s where it ends, two short of the tournament limit.”
The moment of truth was the weigh in. First and third place from Day One had already weighed in and the Cannonball Runner score pushed past. There was one team to beat and, as luck would have it, it was the Thrillseeker team led by Capt. Vince Pierleoni of Newfane. The team with the most tournament wins on the Great Lakes. A legend with six fish in the box. It would come down to the total weight.
“All I could think of was how far I have come in four months,” Monette said. In the end, it was Cannonball Runner with 290 points; Thrillseeker … with 285 points. The win and a check for $5,000 for Monette and his team.
“As we were celebrating, I wasn’t only celebrating the win,” reflected Monette. “I knew I was back.”