Mike Iaconelli knew he needed a solid finish last week at the Lake Dardanelle Elite Series if he was to have any hope of staying in the mix for a berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic.
Things didn't look so good after day 1 when he found himself in a tie for 80th place with 12-09. He'd spent most of the day up the lake in the river stretch, but upon coming back down he stopped on an area that ultimately clued him on a pattern that produced for him the rest of the way.
He rocketed up to 16th after day 2, then squeaked inside the 12-cut with a 17-12 bag on Saturday before closing with a stout 18-08 to come away in 6th. His 74-place jump up the leaderboard put him in 65th in the Angler of the Year points.
"Hopefully, this is a turnaround tournament for me," he said. "It was a critical event from the standpoint that I could've left here with another bad finish and what that would've done is force me to go win one.
"Now it puts me in a position where if I have two more good events I could qualify for Angler of the Year championship and that puts me back in position to possibly qualify for the Classic. It gets me in a better mindset becaue if I'd left here with another 60th, there's no way I'd be able to make the Classic. It's still going to be a tough, uphill battle, but it's doable now."
The constantly changing water conditions seemed to have the greatest impact on the river section of the lake where he spent most of day 1.
"It's a more flat environment up there and that makes it more susceptible those changes," he noted. "Had I not gone up there, I think I had a real shot to win. Luckily, I left up there with enough time to make a pass through an area down lake and I had enough bites in the last 50 minutes to enable me to figure it out. I wasn't the only one who found it."
While a lot of the field was zeroed in on the bank grass or visible cover and bridges, Iaconelli was focused on submergent grass in 2 to 4 feet of water out in front of coves and pockets.
"I had some bites on the second day of practice that clued me in," he said. "It was mostly in hydrilla and coontail. That was key for me. Once I got those bites, I had to figure out how to trigger those bites and a vibrating jig was the key in that grass. I caught about 80 percent of my fish on a half-ounce Molix Lover.
"I found some in the backs of some places, but only got a few bites. These fish were coming out because they were post-spawn and were leaving those areas."
His retrieve was key to triggering bites. He said was catching between 10 and 20 keepers a day.
"I was feathering it through the grass," he noted. "It was almost fishing a Rat-L-Trap in grass, but the snaps weren't as violent. I'd stutter it through that vegetation and the way it vibrates and ticks the grass and then pulls free that was the trigger for those fish."
He also caught some fish cranking riprap around openings by bridges.
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