Iaconelli is primed for another Classic run

Inside BASS

To the delight of his fans — and dismay of his detractors — Michael Iaconelli just keeps getting better.

The controversial New Jersey pro, who turned 33 years old this month, has been on a remarkable run since winning the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic. It is the kind of streak that is unthinkable, considering the immediate post-Classic track records of most champions.

There is reason that only two Classic winners, Jay Yelas and David Fritts, have ever followed their championship with the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year award. Demands for their time and attention are like nothing else in professional fishing. And as a result, time on the water lessens and their fishing suffers.

“(My schedule) hasn’t slowed down at all,” Iaconelli said recently. “In fact, I thought last year when I handed that trophy to T.O. (2004 Classic champion Takahiro Omori,) that it would finally slow down. Bit it got worse this year. It got more hectic with the book and other stuff.”

Since being crowned in New Orleans in the summer of 2003, Iaconelli has competed in 22 BASS events and his average finish is an impressive 26th place. Included are eight top-10 performances. He has placed third and eighth, respectively, in the two Angler of the Year races since his big victory. He also published a book, “Fishing on the Edge.”

Still, Iaconelli maintained his game. In the recently completed Bassmaster Elite 50 tour, he made the top 10 in each of the four events, finishing second in the standings to Kevin VanDam.

“I always had a stumble. I always had one incident that kept me from winning,” he said. “Plus, I was fishing against the greatest angler in the world — Mr. KVD. That made it tough.

“But I look back those E-50s and I don’t regret anything. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Considering the rigors of post-Classic life, how then has Iaconelli managed to remain so competitive?

“I think my body started getting used to the pace and I just started to handle the schedule. I learned how to utilize my time more efficiently and started getting more comfortable with the pace that I was on,” he said.

“I feel like I’m fishing more natural than I’ve fished in years. I get to a body of water and I feel like I’m going to figure out what the fish are doing. I feel like when I drop my trolling motor, within a day or two those fish will tell me what I need to do,” he said.

“It’s a really strange feeling, but it’s a good feeling. It reminds me when I used to get my mom to drive me to lakes. I’d be restricted to the bank and I’d have five or six hours to fish before she came back to pick me up. It always seemed within an hour or two, I’d figure out how to catch the fish. And it seems like the same thing is happening now but, of course, I’m in my boat.

“I’m going to these places I’ve never been and within a couple of days, figuring out the rhythm of the fish. It’s a strange feeling. But I’m not trying to analyze it too much because I want to keep it going for at least one more tournament.”

That tournament would be the 35th annual Classic in Pittsburgh, Penn., July 29-31.

Iaconelli, who won a tournament on another national circuit last weekend on the Potomac River, was asked if he was growing frustrated over not being able to win his fifth BASS tournament despite coming so close the last two seasons.

“I wouldn’t say I’m getting frustrated,” he replied. “I’m a big believer in when it’s your time to win, it’s going to happen. Maybe I’ve had a little bit of frustration because I’ve been coming so close. I led three of the four E-50s at one point. So to not be able to close them is a little frustrating.

“But at the same time, when the tournament was over and it had time to set in, I always looked back and figured I did the best I could and it wasn’t meant to be. I think all good tournament fishermen don’t dwell too much on their last tournament. You want to take lessons from it, and I always try to do that, but at the same time, can I cry about breaking a three-pounder off at Lewisville that cost me the tournament? Yeah, I’m going to cry over it for about 15 minutes, but the next day I wake up and move on.”

Iaconelli’s string of successes is providing plenty of momentum as he scouts the three Classic rivers in the Pittsburgh area this week.

“I feel more confident going into this Classic than any Classic I’ve ever fished,” he said. “Coming off a great E-50 season, coming off a win on a river and then getting to fish the Classic on a river — that’s what I grew up fishing. I grew up fishing the Delaware River and it’s as close to Pittsburgh as you’re going to get, minus the tide, so I feel real comfortable coming here.”

CLASSIC OUTBOARDS. Mercury Marine made a huge splash at last year’s CITGO Bassmaster Classic with the introduction of its revolutionary Verado four-stroke outboards on the transoms of Classic Tritons. The fishing/boating world noticed when the distinctive-looking outboard performed flawless, despite only being on the market for a couple of months.

Mercury officials hope to use the 2005 Classic as a similar launching pad this summer when it puts the Classic pros in Tritons powered by its new OptiMax 225 Pro XS engines.

“That’s how good we feel about the 225 Pro XS,” said John Hoagland, a spokesman for Mercury. “It’s a terrific engine. We’re trying to use the Bassmaster Classic to highlight our newest products as they come out.

“It knocks the competition right out. It has great fuel economy and it’s a great engine.”

The new OptiMax 225 Pro XS is lighter, more powerful and fuel-efficient than any competitive engine in its class. Engineered and developed by Mercury Racing, this powerful new 3.0L outboard also is the lightest in its class. The select pros now running the outboard say it delivers awesome hole shot, jaw-dropping mid-range punch and outstanding top-end speed — the perfect combination for bass boats.

WEIRDEST CATCH. At the final weigh-in of the 1990 Bassmaster Classic, Richmond, Va., fans got a glimpse of the wide-range of creatures that inhabit the James River. One angler brought a 22-pound, 4-ounce blue catfish to the scales. Mark Davis followed with a large flounder. “They say this is a Virginia flat bass,” he told emcee Ray Scott. “I've never caught one in Arkansas, so I thought I'd bring it in and maybe we could figure out what it is. He's colored like a bass, but only on one side. I vote for him being a smallmouth.” Davis somehow managed to catch the bottom-dwelling fish on a crankbait. “I just knew I had a big smallmouth,” he said. “It was all brown and I was excited. Then I looked and here comes all these teeth and eyeballs on both sides of his head and it scared me to death.”

DID YOU KNOW? Arkansas and Texas will have the most representatives at the 35th Classic with five each. California and Missouri are next with four each, followed by Alabama, North Carolina and Oklahoma with three each.

PRO BIRTHDAYS. California pro Skeet Reese will blow out 36 candles on June 30. Texan Alton Jones turns 42 on July 1. BASS record-holder Dean Rojas will be 34 on July 3. New Jersey pro Pete Gluszek becomes 38 on July 5, while Kansas' Brent Chapman becomes 34 one day later.

IF I HADN’T BECOME A BASS PRO … Veteran Texas pro David Wharton: “I have a degree in education, so I would have been a high school teacher. I would have followed in the footsteps of my dad and mom, who were teachers.”

THEY SAID IT. “People stop me in airports and these guys will talk about every segment of the show. (My fiancé) Mary said, ‘You light up when a guy talks to you about BassCenter.’ But when someone comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, you’re from the Bachelor, it’s like, ‘yeah.’ She says I am totally different when a guy in the airport or a guy on a plane says, ‘You’re on BassCenter.’ Sure, because those are my brothers and they want to talk about the show or a segment of the show they saw. That’s so cool.” BassCenter co-anchor and Tour competitor Byron Velvick, who appeared on The Bachelor.