In the end, the Forrest Wood Cup came down to a battle between two of the biggest names in the sport – Greg "The Hack Attack" Hackney vs. Mike "Ike" Iaconelli.
On the one hand, the two are alike. They're river rats and intense competitors who excel in tough-bite events, and both have been ranked No. 1 in the world. But there are differences, notably that Hack's usually at his best with
a broomstick in his hand and heavy cover on the bank, while Ike's better known for both power and finesse.
But when Hackney arrived for this Pittsburgh Forrest Wood Cup, he vowed to change. Gone was the Hackney of 2005 who fished to be a hero at the Pittsburgh Bassmaster Classic, then collapsed with a 42nd-place finish.
This time, Hack decided to target 12-inch fish. He played it conservative the first day, exploded the second day with a heavy tailrace bag, held tough on day 3 with a four-fish, 4-03 bag, then brought home the trophy with a day's-best 5-06 limit. He rocketed up to clinch the win despite starting the day in 6th.
Iaconelli charged hard with a 4-10 limit today, but ultimately couldn't overcome his four-fish day 3 and finished a heartbreaking 3 ounces behind Hackney.
Iaconelli finished 2nd at this year's Red River Classic by 11 ounces, which means he missed winning dual titles in a single year by less than 1 pound.
Hackney, on the other hand, adds a title to his mantle that he's always lacked. He's a former FLW Tour Angler of the Year (2005), but has suffered somewhat from the stigma of failing to close at big-time events (his last tour-level win was in 2006, although he did win the FLW Series East/West Fishoff en route to the Cup).
Hackney pocketed $500,000 for the win, but wasn't eligible for the $500,000 Ranger bonus since he drives a Triton.
Although his win was stunning, he certainly got some help from others in the field.
Rusty Salewske began the day in 1st, but caught just one keeper today in his upper Allegheny pool and fell to finish 5th.
And David Curtis, who began the day in 2nd, likewise weighed a single fish (from the Ohio) and fell to finish 6th.
Cody Meyer couldn't make things work up the Allegheny, weighed just three fish, and remained in 3rd.
And Scott Suggs, who began the day in 5th, weighed three fish today and finished 4th.
Hackney Emotional, A Little Sick
Hackney didn't give himself much of a chance today until Mike Iaconelli couldn't weigh enough to surpass him. At that point, Hack said, he began to feel sick.
Then, when Salewske stopped at one fish and everything came to an end, Hackney stood behind the weigh-in podium, completely dazed.
With the check finally in his hands, he broke down. Tears flowed as he declared, "This is the greatest day of my life."
Later, after the confetti settled and the music stopped, he addressed the press to talk about his emotions both during weigh-in and immediately after.
"I don't know how to explain it," he said. "I really don't. I didn't know what the deal was (onstage). A lot of guys, I guess, had a lot of water in their bags. When Iaconelli weighed in, and he didn't knock me out, I thought, 'It's serious now.' I felt sick. I really had a sick feeling. I wanted to throw up.
"It's funny that little brown or green fish have that effect on a grown man. I'm a river fisherman and I was real comfortable here. Historically, in tough events, if I can figure out a little different wrinkle, I do well. Deep down inside, everything seemed to be going my way. I caught that good bag (on day 2), then yesterday, I caught my biggest fish with 5 minutes left. I just think it was my time – my time."
About what the win means to him, Hackney said: "It's been a while since I won AOY, and that was a big deal. I don't know which one's bigger. But this is by far the highlight of my career. Words don't describe it. It's going to be one of those deals where it takes a year to completely sink in. (Today) out there, I didn't have a clue that I was going to win."
He decided to be conservative on day 1 and fished the Pittsburgh pool. The next 3 days, he locked three times up the Allegheny and fished his way back down.
Hackney said that once Mike Iaconelli weighed in and didn't overtake him, things got 'serious,' and he started to feel 'real sick.'
Hackney worked two primary patterns. The first hinged on tailraces below each dam. The second involved mayfly hatches over hard-bottom areas.
He fished fast and hard and spent no more than 10 minutes in any one area each day.
He threw several baits each day and said he caught his biggest fish on a 1/4-ounce Strike King Premier Pro Model spinnerbait with a No. 4 gold willow-leaf and small Colorado.
However, other baits that accounted for fish included:
> A 3/16-ounce Strike King Mini-King spinnerbait (better for numbers)
> An 1/8-ounce Strike King Mini Pro buzzbait (on days 1 and 4)
> An 1/8-ounce Aaron Martens Scrounger head with a 3" soft-plastic shad
> A 4" Strike King 3X Finesse worm (on a dropshot)
> A wacky-rigged 4" Strike King Ocho
> A Strike King Rodent (a flip-bait that worked the final day).
The full details of his winning pattern, plus pattern information for the other top finishers, will be posted soon.
2nd: Ike not Totally Bummed
Of the two championships he's narrowly missed out on winning this year, Iaconelli said this one was easier to take.
"The one back in February hurt more," he said. "This one, I'd already had my first dose of that kind of thing, so I was more prepared.
"I choose to look at the positives – I made $100,000 here and I didn't fish a single FLW Tour or Series event this year. All I did was cherry-pick the Strens. I'm very confident right now in my abilities and my decision-making. I don't think I've ever been this confident in my entire career."
Mike Iaconelli was a total of 14 ounces away from winning both the Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup this year.
Ike said after day 3 that he was strongly considering spending the final day in the Monongahela, but he nixed that idea after further rumination.
"I thought about it a lot last night and I decided to go back to the lower Ohio, and I ended up getting five keeper bites. The only keeper I lost in the whole tournament was one 12-incher yesterday, and it ended up costing me. You can't do that in a tournament like this."
He caught all of his fish the past 2 days on a 5-inch Berkley Gulp! Sinking Minnow. When he fished the upper Allegheny on days 1 and 2, he threw a Jackall Squadminnow jerkbait and a 3-inch Berkley Gulp! Minnow.
3rd: Meyer Just a Bit Short
Meyer had a frustrating day – he said he caught at least a dozen fish in the 11 3/4-inch range. Two were close enough to 12 that he considered putting them in the livewell, but he decided he couldn't risk the pound-per-fish penalty if they didn't measure.
"I'm still happy with the way I finished," he said. "I didn't lose anything and I had those two that were so close (to being keepers). I caught so many that were less than a quarter-inch short that I lost count.
"The bite got better today, but the fish just got smaller. I fished one bank from yesterday, but the rest were all new areas."
Cody Meyer got more bites today than on any other, but the quality was lacking.
He spent the entire tournament two locks up the Allegheny. A Jackall Cross Tail Shad was his primary bait the first 2 days, and he primarily threw a 4-inch Yamamoto grub on days 3 and 4.
4th: Suggs Disappointed
Scott Suggs desperately wanted to be the only one to win two Cups. It wasn't to be.
"I'm disappointed," he said. "I caught what I hooked today, but I had this one spot where I caught two largemouths yesterday. I stopped in there this morning and had one between 2 1/2 and 4 come up on my Pop-R and suck it completely under. I leaned into it but never set the hook – I never felt him.
"I let the Pop-R sit there, blooped it a couple times, I could see him come up and he swirled it under. I leaned into him again but he never tightened the line.
"Knowing I lost by 1-15, and with that opportunity – it's difficult."
About wanting to win a second Cup, he said: "I wanted to do it again. I want to do it so bad I can't stand it. It's not about the money. I don't care about that. I was the first person in history to win that $1 million, and I want to be the first one to win two Cups."
5th: Salewske Shakes it Off
Day-3 leader Salewske had weighed three straight limits from the upper reaches of the Allegheny, but managed just the one keeper today.
"I was more shocked a couple of hours ago than I am now," he said in the aftermath of the weigh-in. "I was sick to my stomach for a while, but I just have to shake it off. What else can I do?"
He said the level in his pool had dropped about 2 feet, but the current had increased dramatically and the water taken on a chocolate hue.
"I knew things would change, but I didn't think they'd change that much. There was so much debris everywhere. I went to more of a finesse deal, but what I probably should have done was upsize my baits. I don't think (the fish) could find what I was throwing.
"I had eight or 10 bites – some of them could've been drum, I don't know. On a couple of them I jerked, but there was nothing there."
A 1/4-ounce jig and a Rapal Original Floater F13 (silver).
6th: Curtis Disappointed Too
David Curtis needed to catch just 4-02 today to win, but couldn't climb the hill.
"Honestly, I'm disappointed," he said. "I had very high expectations. I wanted to win this tournament very much. And I know a lot of guys throughout the course of tournaments lose fish, but I lost three nice keepers today, not to mention the multiple bites where they just nipped and didn't get hooked.
"I wanted a million dollars. I came up a little short."
> He mostly fished a small Texas-rigged tube this week, and fished the Ohio.
8th: Lefebre Enjoyed 'Home Game'
Lefebre, a Union City, Pa. resident, enjoyed the rare opportunity to compete in front of a large contingent of family and friends, but he's also ready for some time off.
"I'm relieved that' it's over," he said. "I've had my foot on the gas pedal constantly. The whole experience was perfect except for one thing – I didn't win a million dollars."
The tournament began with such promise – he caught keeper after keeper on day 1 and could've kept it up until sundown. But current and weather factors altered the conditions and he couldn't reconnect with that huge school.
"It just wasn't mean to be."
Following are some quotes from other members of the Top 10, collected from the weigh-in:
David Walker (7th)
"You can't win one of these on the first day (of the final round), but you can lose it, and I did that yesterday by leaving my fish too early. My goal was to catch 10 (on the weekend), and I put a lot of work into that.''
"Whether it's a tournament up here where you're catching little fish or one at a place like Guntersville with big fish, the goal is always the same – to catch a bass. We all knew that was going to be tough in this event."
Bryan Thrift (9th)
"This (finish) isn't what I was looking for, but I was happy to be in the Top 10. The first two days my fish were easier to catch – I was just covering water with a 1/8-ounce buzzbait.
"When the water got dirty I thought they might move shallow, and I kept covering water because I thought that was my best chance of catching some bigger fish. It just didn't work out for me."
Larry Nixon (10th)
"I had a special hole – one of those holes where you can win. But when the current got high on the second day, I knew I was in trouble because I didn't have a backup.
"But I'm not quitting. I love this sport and I'm not quitting until I get that Cup."
> Day 4 stats – 10 anglers, 3 limits, 1 four, 2 threes, 4 ones.
> Emcee and FLW Outdoors president and CEO Charlie Evans threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior at today's Pittsburgh Pirates game against the Washington Nationals at nearby PNC Park. His toss crossed the plate just beneath the strike zone and was scooped up on a short hop by Parrot, one of the Pirates' mascots who served as the catcher.
> Recording artist Eric Church set the tone for the weigh-in with his raucous, high-energy brand of country music.
> The Pennsylvania National Guard honored the family of Spc. Chip Conrad, a member of the 112th Infantry who's on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He spoke with his parents and fianceé, who attended the weigh-in via an audio/video link.
> For the first time in at least recent memory, Irwin Jacobs did not make the check presentation. He wasn't seen in attendance (he typically sits first or second row to the side of the stage). FLW Outdoors officials didn't know the reason for his absence.
> No official attendance numbers were given, but the crowd was strong today. The lower bowl of the Mellon Arena was largely filled, and the floor was full.
Day 4 (Final) Standings
1. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 4, 4-03 -- 5, 5-06 -- 9, 9-09 -- $500,000
2. Michael Iaconelli -- Runnemede, NJ -- 4, 4-12 -- 5, 4-10 -- 9, 9-06 -- $100,000
3. Cody Meyer -- Redding, CA -- 5, 5-00 -- 3, 2-15 -- 7, 7-15 -- $75,000
4. Scott Suggs -- Bryant, AR -- 3, 4-06 -- 3, 3-04 -- 6, 7-10 -- $60,000
5. Rusty Salewske -- Alpine, CA -- 5, 6-06 -- 1, 0-14 -- 6, 7-04 -- $50,000
6. David Curtis -- Trinity, TX -- 5, 5-07 -- 1, 1-11 -- 6, 7-02 -- $45,000
7. David Walker -- Sevierville, TN -- 1, 0-13 -- 5, 4-14 -- 6, 5-11 -- $40,000
8. Dave Lefebre -- Union City, PA -- 1, 3-15 -- 1, 1-04 -- 2, 5-03 -- $35,000
9. Bryan Thrift -- Shelby, NC -- 1, 0-12 -- 4, 3-13 -- 5, 4-09 -- $30,000
10. Larry Nixon -- Bee Branch, AR -- 2, 0-10 -- 1, 0-13 -- 3, 1-07 -- $25,000