By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The daily tide fluctuations of the Delaware River can be a confounding puzzle for someone attempting to catch the bass that live there. Case in point: They knocked Kevin VanDam, the most celebrated bass-catcher in history – for a one-keeper-in-2-days loop.
Mike Iaconelli, who grew up fishing there, might've been the only angler in the Bassmaster Elite Series field who truly had a grasp on them during last week's event. Even he wasn't immune to going bite-less for hours at a time on one of the stingiest venues to ever host an Elite derby, but his understanding of the system at least rendered him capable of surmising where his next bite might come from. The majority of the field was relegated to casting to pieces of cover that had water over them at that particular moment and "looked fishy," or into places that had produced seemingly random strikes before.
It was Ike's tournament to lose from the outset, and he didn't let that happen. He took command of the proceedings on day 2 with a 15-pound stringer that put him atop the standings and he was never threatened the rest of the way, eventually winning by an 8-pound margin.
His daily average was just under 12 pounds, whereas nobody else's cracked double digits. The victory was his first in a regular-season Elite event since 2006 and gave him a berth in next year's Bassmaster Classic that, considering his lackluster showing through the season's first six points events, might've been difficult to come by otherwise.
Here's how he did it.
Iaconelli not only had the historical advantage of having been raised around the Delaware, he also had the logistical edge of being able to spend a great deal of time there before it went off-limits a month before the event. His Pittsgrove, N.J. home sits just 45 minutes from the launch, which allowed him to log 12 solid days of pre-practice.
"A lot of what I learned and re-learned then helped me during the tournament," he said. "I ended up figuring out my pattern for high tides and I found a lot of areas I didn't know about before. That part was exciting for me going into the tournament and was definitely an important key to the win.
"I figured out the type of area that I wanted to be in on each of the tide stages (low, mid-incoming and high) because the way they laid out for the week, you couldn't really run the tide all that well. If it had fallen a little differently like it does in a lot of tournaments, I would've gone to the extreme south and then just run it all the way north, but I couldn't really do that last week."
That three-pronged approach became critical when one of his assumptions proved incorrect. He'd expected to find concentrations of fish either on the main river, in the creeks or in the backwaters, but that didn't materialize. He found some in each, but not an abundance in any.
> Day 1: 5, 9-02
> Day 2: 5, 15-01
> Day 3: 5, 12-13
> Day 4: 5, 10-14
Each competition day started with low tide – considered the optimal bite stage – fast approaching. The field got about an hour of the outgoing on day 1, and then about 45 minutes more on each successive day.
Iaconelli's primary low-tide strategy was to fish main-river hard cover that was adjacent to expansive flats.
"When the water gets sucked off those flats, the bass are forced to the last available hard stuff," he said. "That mainly consisted of industrial pieces and historical stuff like wooden pilings and pieces of metal from seawalls.
"It was the same thing in the creeks and a few of the guys who did well figured that out."
He considers the mid-incoming tide to be nearly as difficult as the dreaded high, mainly because a lot of places become inundated with off-colored water. He spent that stage fishing eddies that formed off of main-river points and one on an old barge that's been highly productive for decades.
Iaconelli spent much of the week fishing around man-made cover.
"The water comes back and hits the barge only on the incoming tide and at the same time a slight current flows through the barge and fish will set up inside there. The barge is really obvious – I'd guess that as many as 40 of our guys probably fished it at one time or another – but most people only fish the edges on the outgoing and they'll catch an occasional fish."
He said the structure is perhaps 50 feet long and 20 feet wide, with lots of holes in the top where the metal has rusted through. Some of the holes are the size of a mop bucket or smaller, while others are as big as the front deck of a bass boat.
"The key is to drop your bait straight down into the holes, but then you run into the problem of getting fish that bite out of there. I call it a 30-percent spot because that's about the percentage of your bites you can expect to land.
"Miraculously, I landed about 95 percent of them last week. That just goes back to the saying about things that are meant to happen."
High tide is the stage that stymies the most anglers as the fish disperse widely and often seem to almost vanish completely. For that period, he relied on a series of drains coming out of tidal pools up and down the river. The pools themselves are always inaccessible by boat as chunks of land lie between them and the river.
The water flows back and forth between the river and the ponds via metal pipes, and Iaconelli believes that bass traverse the pipes as well. High tide is the only time the river end of the pipes can be reached (there's almost always a large mudflow between them and the channel), but there's 6 to 8 feet of water and pieces of cover (concrete blocks, metal grates, etc.) directly in front of them.
"Those fish were unmolested – nobody else found them. I had 12 of those places and five or six were real good ones. They were at their absolute best on dead-high, so I'd check the chart and as soon as the water started going back out, I'd start hitting those drains.
"Every day I pulled two or three fish out of them. That might sound insignificant, but it's a huge number on high water."
A Berkley Havoc Pit Boss in Okeechobee craw was one of Iaconelli's two primary baits.
Winning Gear Notes
Iaconelli's primary baits were a prototype Missile Baits jig and a Texas-rigged Berkley Havoc Pit Boss.
"I alternated between them all week," he said. "If I was around more sparse cover, like main-river docks at low tide, then I'd lean toward the jig. In the nasty, heavy cover like around those grates, I generally threw the Pit Boss."
A vibration jig, which he threw while moving between targets via his trolling motor, produced two weigh-in fish. He caught three keepers (one of which he weighed) on a shaky-head.
> Jig gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Veracity rod, Abu Garcia Revo MGX casting reel
(7.9:1 ratio), 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce prototype Missile Baits finesse jig (brown with purple skirt), Berkley PowerBait Chigger Chunk trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Texas-rig gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Veritas rod, same reel and line, 3/8-ounce VMC tungsten weight, VMC bobber-stop, 5/0 VMC heavy-duty flipping hook, Berkley Havoc Pit Boss (Okeechobee craw).
> Vibration jig gear: 7' medium-action Abu Garcia Veracity rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier casting reel (7.1:1 ratio), 17-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Molix Lover, Berkley PowerBait Rib Shad trailer (pearl).
> Shaky-head gear: 6'6" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Villain rod, Abu Garcia Revo Premier 20 spinning reel, 8-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, 3/16-ounce VMC Rugby jighead, Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper (junebug).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "Managing the tides and having my timing down. Knowing when to be where was hugely important and I felt I got better at that as the tournament went on."
> Performance edge – "I'd say the Power-Poles in that current. Those key pieces I wanted to fish – the pilings, the drains, the barge – if you didn't have Power-Poles the water would suck you right away. They allowed me to be very efficient."
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