Iaconelli Assumes Angler of the Year Lead

Inside BASS

Don’t look now, but Michael Iaconelli has quietly assumed the lead in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race as the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series nears this season’s midway point.

Quiet is not a word often associated with the colorful, sometimes controversial winner of the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic. But quiet is an appropriate term, since it is a mentally retooled version of the 33-year-old New Jersey pro that has him in prime position to make a run at winning his first Angler of the Year title.

For many fishing fans, the lasting image of Iaconelli has been his highly publicized meltdown on camera during the 2006 Bassmaster Classic on Kissimmee’s Lake Tohopekaliga. His actions cost him a boat sponsor and some of his fans; it even tarnished his bad-boy image somewhat.

Since then, the emotionally charged competitor has been a model citizen. It is obvious he has learned from his mistake.

“I take responsibility for my own actions,” he said. “But I think you can draw positives from a bad experience. It’s like when you have a bad tournament. When I have a bad tournament I’m mad at myself, but I look back and try to look at what I did wrong and learn from that.

“I’ve always had an issue with failure, with mistakes and with being hard on myself. And my temper. That was bad,” Iaconelli explained. “And obviously I looked at it and said, ‘This is something that I’ve got to work on.’ One thing that I have done this year since that happened, I’ve been able to really take a bad situation — like a lost fish or a broken line or whatever — and just turn it into a positive. And fish harder. I’ve done that in every tournament.

“And that’s going to help me become a better angler. That’s just maturity. So, maybe I’ve matured a little bit in the last couple of months.”

Looking back, Iaconelli admits his life and career had gotten out of control leading to the Bassmaster Classic in late February.

“It was just a lot of negativity to get through, but I think what happened is it put me back into a place where it made me think, ‘What’s this all about?’” he said. “And what this is about for me is the competition and fishing. I’m passionate about fishing. So it grounded me more.

“I think I needed grounding. I think my life was getting a little out of hand, spiraling a little out of control. Basically what was happening was my career had gotten to the point where sponsorships were coming in left and right. All these opportunities — the product lines, non-endemic stuff. Photo shoots with non-traditional magazines. All of this literally was happening within a three-month span.”

“You throw on top of that I had gotten sick. You throw on top of that trying to be ‘normal,’” Iaconelli said. “I’ve got two girls and I tried to go home on my off days and be a normal dad. I booked 22 shows in January and February before the Classic. Again, I don’t blame anybody else. I brought this on myself.

“It (caused) a lot of self-examination. I’m human. Everybody makes mistakes. All I can do is move forward.”

And move forward he has.

In addition to winning last month’s Bassmaster Elite Series event on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, Ike has finished no worse than 18th this season in five tournaments; that was at South Carolina’s Santee-Cooper Reservoir. His other finishes were 16th in the season opener on Lake Amistad in Texas, 13th on Texas’ Sam Rayburn Reservoir and 12th last weekend at Georgia’s Clarks Hill Reservoir.

That has put Iaconelli atop the Angler of the Year standings with 1,296 points. He is trailed by Greg Hackney at 1,238 points, John Crews (1,233), Toyota Rookie of the Year leader Steve Kennedy (1,228) and Dean Rojas (1,222).

BASSMASTER MEMORIAL. The first Bassmaster Major event, set for next week on Texas’ Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Worth, will honor Don Butler, the first member of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and winner of the second Bassmaster Classic.

“Most of those boys don’t know what an incredible man he was,” BASS founder Ray Scott said in reference to the Bassmaster Majors competitors. “He was just a remarkable guy. He was a man of rich action. When he spoke, you listened.

“In addition to being the first member of BASS, he was first in a host of ways,” Scott said. “God has been good to me by putting me with classically great people. I just never would have made it without them. And running into Don Butler was a real stroke of luck.

“He trusted me and I was fortunate to have his trust when I was first starting out. My first tournament would have happened without Don Butler, but I probably would not have had the 106 people I ended up with without him.”

WEIRDEST CATCH. It was in a tournament on Florida’s St. Johns River when Byron Velvick hooked into the biggest surprise of his career.

“I snagged a bat ray in the wing with a Rat-L-Trap,” the Bassmaster Elite Series pro said. “I guess they come through there, so people weren’t as surprised as I was.

“It was a small skate, about the size of a large pizza. It was the weirdest fight,” Velvick said. “At first, I thought it was a bass. Then I thought it was a catfish, because it was kind of pulling and dogging. But it still fought like a real stubborn bass that wouldn’t come to the surface.”

DID YOU KNOW? By electing not to compete on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit, 2006 Bassmaster Classic champion Luke Clausen will become just the third Classic qualifier in BASS history not to fish in the world-championship event. Florida’s Johnny Adams skipped the 1971 Bassmaster Classic rather than spend his vacation time, and 1994 Classic champion Bryan Kerchal was killed in a plane crash before he could defend his title.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. Tim Loper of Mississippi becomes 47 on May 13. Michigan pro Gerry Gostenik will blow out 37 candles three days later.

IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO … Kathi Hurst would be spending more time working at her two jobs — running a catering business and reading electrical meters in Ripley, Miss.

“I stay pretty busy,” the Mercury Marine Women’s Bassmaster Tour presented by Triton Boats competi tor said. “Fishing these tournaments gives me a break.”

THEY SAID IT. “I really think you have to have a little bit of a competitive nature to be a tournament angler. There are some great anglers out there that are not competitive. But to be a great tournament angler, you also have to be able to fish all seasons, all conditions. Probably the thing that has helped me more than anything is guiding for 15 years. And you've got be able to change on a daily basis. The amazing thing about bass fishing is that it doesn't stay the same from day to day. And the guys that end up winning are usually the guys that make the best adjustments.” — Venerable Bassmaster Elite Series pro and ESPN Greatest Angler Debate winner Rick Clunn.

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BASS is the worldwide authority on bass fishing, sanctioning more than 20,000 events through the BASS Federation annually. Guided by its mission to serve all fishing fans, BASS sets the standard for credibility, professionalism, sportsmanship and conservation, as it has for nearly 40 years.

BASS stages bass fishing tournaments for every skill level and culminates with the CITGO Bassmaster Classic. Through its clubs, youth programs, aquatic resource advocacy, magazine publishing and multimedia platforms, BASS offers the industry's widest array of services and support to its nearly 550,000 members. The organization is headquartered in Celebration, Fla.

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