GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. – On Sunday, in what could be called a tournament of champions, 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey outpaced nine other former Classic qualifiers – including two past champs – and the Toyota Rookie of the Year leader to win a $100,000 paycheck and the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series’ Southern Challenge presented by Berkley on Lake Guntersville.

Iaconelli won with a total weight of 71 pounds, 13 ounces, or just two ounces ahead of second place Alton Jones of Waco, Texas. The weigh-in was tight as nearly every angler took the “hot seat,” beating out their opponents by just ounces.

To catch the nail-biting finish, tune in to ESPN2’s The CITGO Bassmasters on Saturday, April 29, at 10 a.m. ET.

A packed crowd watched on-the-water tape of Iaconelli as he crossed the Bassmaster weigh-in stage. “I know this cliché,” said the excited Iaconelli to the camera, “but, never give up! Never give up!”

The fourth-ranked Bassmaster Elite Series Power Index angler reeled in a five-fish limit and caught his final bass on Lake Guntersville with three minutes left to fish, he said. That last bass gave Iaconelli the boost he needed for the tournament win. It also helped elevate him to third place in the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, now right behind Dean Rojas and Greg Hackney.

Iaconelli targeted pre- and post-spawn bass in the morning, catching two quality bass by 9:30. The bite then turned off and Iaconelli left his pattern and turned to bedding bass in shallow water. He caught his limits all week on a Berkley Frenzy crankbait for the deep bite and a Berkley Gulp Noodle in the shallows, he said.

“The key decision was going up shallow,” said Iaconelli. You’ve got to be versatile.”

Day 1 and 2 leader Jones - who jumped from 52nd to 31st place on the Power Index - caught nearly all of his fish on a three-quarter ounce Booyah Blade Single Willow Leaf spinnerbait.

“I fished for deep fish almost all day,” said Jones. “I had 15 to16 pounds before 9 a.m. I caught them quick and kept fishing for a big bite all day. I finally got that bite, but lost one that was about 7 pounds.”

“I’m disappointed, but still happy with second place because I gave it all I got,” Jones said. “I didn’t want free throws. I wanted a three-pointer, so I stayed in waters where I knew the big ones lived.”

Current Toyota Rookie of the Year leader Steve Kennedy finished third overall with a Day 4 catch of 17-9 and final weight of 69-8. A new angler on the tournament trail, Kennedy is a force to reckon with, as he’s made the Elite 12 cut in three out of the four Elite Series tournaments so far. His Day 4 sack also earned him the $1,000 BUSCH Heavyweight Bag of the Day bonus.

Kennedy fished primarily in Siebold Creek, where he targeted bedding bass by flipping a Reaction Innovations Smallie Beaver and Kinami Flash Worm into clean, open spots in the grass. The Alabama native was thrilled with his performance – he has a 100-plus-point lead in the Rookie of the Year standings over Bill Lowen of Ohio - and he is looking forward to the remaining year ahead.

“I’m pretty good with a weightless worm, crankbait and Carolina rig, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the tournaments,” he said.

2005 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam, the top-ranked angler on the Power Index, finished the day in fourth with a Day 4 catch of 14-8 and a total of 66-13, and Alabama’s Gerald Swindle ended in fifth with 66-5. Included in Swindle’s catch was a 5-pound, 8-ounce largemouth that took the Purolator Big Bass honors for the day and earned Swindle a $1,000 bonus.

Also, 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion Takahiro Omori finished in sixth (65-10); Oklahoma’s Edwin Evers finished seventh (62-1); Mark Tucker ended in eighth (60-0); Jeff Reynolds of Oklahoma was in ninth (57-2); Alabama’s Timmy Horton finished 10th (56-13); Arizona’s Dean Rojas finished in 11th (55-8); and Texan Yusuke Miyazaki closed out the Elite 12 (52-5).

The next stop on the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series is the Pride of Augusta on Thurmond Lake at Clarks Hill in Columbia County, Ga., on May 4-7.

Local Sponsors: Local sponsors include Lake Guntersville Chamber of Commerce and the City of Guntersville.

CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series sponsors: Sponsors of the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series include CITGO Petroleum Corp., Toyota, Busch Beer, Purolator, Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, Berkley, Lowrance Electronics, MotorGuide, Advanced Auto Parts and Theraseed®.

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.

For more information, contact BASS Communications at (407) 566-2208 or visit www.bassmaster.com.