By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Mike Iaconelli insists that his desire to participate in high-level bass tournaments still exists, and in fact has not diminished at all. He just doesn't know where – or if – he'll partake in that pursuit in 2021.
"I want to compete – I'm as competitive right now, at age 48, as I've ever been," he said last week after next year's MLF Bass Pro Tour roster was announced and his name was not included – he was one of five anglers who had voluntarily opted out. "I want to continue to fish tournaments, but for next year I don't know if that means Toyota Series events and (Bassmaster) Opens or if I'll end up doing other things to help facilitate that competitive drive."
He finished 47th out of 80 competitors in this year's BPT points race. He had a 7th-place showing in the season finale at Sturgeon Bay, but struggled badly in the two Florida events (72nd at Lake Okeechobee and 73rd in Heavy Hitters at the Kissimmee Chain).
"I'm not leaving MLF for B.A.S.S. or anything like that. The truth is that (the BPT) needed a response, I want to say it was by the middle of October, they needed a yes or no and I couldn't give a yes. I couldn't sign that document and I knew that the consequences would be that they'd have to move on. That's okay – I totally get it."
No 'Legends' Talk
Iaconelli said he's had no discussions with B.A.S.S. about returning to the Elite Series under a "Legends" exemption (as the 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion and 2006 Angler of the Year, he's one of a select few anglers with multiple Legends points who's not competing on that tour). He won't rule out the possibility, but has no plans to initiate such talks.
A couple of factors played into his decision to relinquish his MLF slot – a concept for a new TV show that he's trying to sell and a strong 2020 for his non-tournament undertakings (the Ike Foundation, Ike Live! online show, the Bass University) despite the COVID-19 pandemic. An increased workload is a possibility with the former and a definite with the latter.
"I've worked really hard on this TV project and it hasn't been picked up yet, so some of it hinges on that," he said. "If it takes off and gets picked up, I might have to totally step away from tournament fishing in 2021. That's an unknown right now.
"The other piece is that with this being such a strange, weird year, I didn't fish a lot of tournaments (due to a COVID-reduced schedule) and we had to rethink our business model – the way we work for sponsors, the way we reach fans, all that. It was very, very successful for us; we realized that we have an amazing reach and the ability to influence people and help sponsors sell products without fishing tournaments and we're very fortunate to have that through the different businesses. The thing that's keeping me and (wife) Becky sane is conversations with sponsors and them telling us we're doing a wonderful job in this weird time. They've had more sales and impressions than when things were normal and what keeps us calm is that no matter what happens, we can continue that into the future."
His previous TV endeavors – "City Limits Fishing" and "Fish My City" – were both created by the broadcast entities that aired them. That's not the case for the new project.
"This one worked a little bit in reverse – it was developed by my company, Professional Edge Fishing, and the production company we work with. We're trying to find the right home for it because we really want to put it in the right place. I'm not an expert on digital TV content, but I know that's the most important piece. You could have the best show in the world and it it's on the wrong channel or distribution network, it doesn't matter because nobody's going to see it.
"I've never felt so excited about a project. I've got feelers out and people are interested, but until you see the signatures on the contract nothing is really done."
Still has MLF Stake
Iaconelli was one of the original angler/investors in MLF, which launched in 2011, and still possesses his ownership stake. As with his TV project, there are some uncertainties about where that will eventually wind up.
"Without having an attorney dissect the ownership documents, I don't know 100 percent," he said. "If I don't fish tournaments and pursue other things, it should be okay and if I end up going back to MLF it should be okay. If I end up fishing B.A.S.S., that's something that would have to be figured out – I'd have to have an attorney look at the documents to see what they actually say.
"My choice, no matter what happens, would be to remain an owner. I'm definitely not a guy who likes one league over the other; I like what MLF is doing and I like what B.A.S.S. is doing. Both have a lot of good things that they do and a few bad points and that's the reality of it.
"There's just no way of telling what the future holds right now," he concluded. "We're living in a crazy world."