By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Next month's Bassmaster Elite Series event at the Delaware River certainly won't be a big-fish extravaganza. But the Elite pro who has more experience on the venue than anyone in the field says weights won't be as paltry as some are projecting.
"It's not going to be Pittsburgh (site of the 2005 Bassmaster Classic, which Kevin VanDam won with a 4-day total of less than 13 pounds) or the Ohio River from the 1980s," said New Jerseyite Mike Iaconelli, who competed on the river up to a dozen times a year before launching his tour career in the late '90s. "You're going to see the majority of the field catching a limit every day. Granted, the average limit on the Delaware weighs 6 to 10 pounds, and that's definitely a lot smaller weight than we're used to seeing on the Elite Series.
"When you go to Pittsburgh, it's hard to get five bites," continued Iaconelli, who was runner-up to Greg Hackney in the 2009 Forrest Wood Cup at the Three Rivers. "In an average day of fishing on the Delaware, you'll get a dozen bites or more. It's just that a big one is hard to come by – a 2 1/2-pounder is a good one, a 3-pounder is a great one and a 4 is like an 8 or a 10 anywhere else."
He views the Philadelphia-based derby as a major opportunity for him – at No. 65 in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) race, he needs either a victory in one of the season's five remaining events (including two Northern Opens) or three consecutive strong Elite showings to qualify for next year's Classic.
"I'm looking at this event at the Delaware River almost like a gift – it's an opportunity to seize the moment and try to win it. I'm cautious about the fact that guys don't historically do well on their home body of water and I'll keep that in the front of my mind. I won't be fishing history and 700 old waypoints, but instead I'll try to fish smart and clean.
"I haven't won an Elite event in a while (the Guntersville stop in 2006 was his last full-field victory) and I'd love to do it."
Brown Ones Bigger
Iaconelli said that largemouths vastly outnumber smallmouths on the Delaware, but there's a valid reason to seek out the less-plentiful bronzebacks.
"It's about a 70-30 fishery, but the interesting thing is that the smallmouths on the average will weigh bigger than the largemouths," he said. "The average smallmouth is over 2 pounds and because of that, you're going to see guys gamble a little bit to catch them.
"You're going to see a lot of guys go to extreme measures, like driving their boat up into rocks and making huge runs distance-wise."
The Delaware is a tidal system with a big variation in water levels at the extremes. The daily differential averages 7 feet.
"There could be guys in places where they don't have enough water to get out of when the tide goes out," he said. "We call that 'getting flower-potted.'''
Better than Before
Iaconelli said the Delaware is now a vastly improved fishery over what it was in his amateur days.
"A system like that is constantly in flux and it's not the same river I knew back then," he said. "It's 100-percent better and it's the same kind of success story you hear about a lot of urban fisheries.
"In the '60s and '70s and into the early '80s the water quality was really low due to all of the industrial pollution. Once all of the water-quality acts started taking effect nationally, things improved dramatically. Cleaner water has meant more grass, and that directly correlates to the number and size of the fish."
He said that 20 or 25 years ago, an 8-pound bag would frequently win a 1-day tournament no matter the time of year. Now a stringer in the 12-pound range is no guarantee of victory, even in the heat of summer.
"They're even seeing some 16- and 18-pound bags. Fifteen or 20 years ago, that was unheard of.
"The number that's really in my mind (for the Elite event) is 12 to 14 pounds a day is going to win it. There'll be some bigger bags, guys will be in the high teens for one day, but can they keep doing it over 4 days? I think with an average of 12 or 13 pounds a day, you'll be right there."
From a fan's perspective, he said the closeness of the competition should make up for the lack of bruisers shown off on the stage.
"I think it's safe to say it'll be one of the closest, most exciting tournaments of the year. It's always a game of ounces there and that makes for fun weigh-ins and really good TV."