Mike Iaconelli experienced all sorts of new things on his most recent voyage across the country and back. The business portion of the trip went pretty well, too.
He and wife Becky took nearly 2 weeks getting back to their New Jersey home from California, where Mike logged 4th- and 25th-place finishes at the California Delta and Clear Lake,
respectively, to put himself in the No. 5 position at the quarter-pole in the 2010 Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year (AOY) race. That's a big improvement over his previous log from the Golden State, which consisted of a pair of showings in the mid-50s en route to a sub-par final placement of 28th on the points list.
On the return journey, he and wife Becky did some wine-tasting in California's vineyard region, got their first look at the Grand Canyon, took in the natural beauty and history of Santa Fe, N.M. and spent a couple of days at a posh resort in Georgia for the filming of a LaserLure commercial. The resort has a private lake where he estimates that he caught 100 bass over 2 days that averaged 4 pounds apiece.
He also made his maiden visit to the Oklahoma portion of the Arkansas River, which will be the site of the final regular-season event in June. There was one downer, though – his 94-year-old grandmother died on the Saturday of the Clear Lake event, and the couple flew to New Jersey from Tulsa, Okla. for the funeral, and then back the following day to resume the trip.
"That part was tough because she was a big part of my life and one of the big reasons I got into fishing," he said. "She was an amazing woman."
Ready to Win
The California swing continued a run of strong fishing by Iaconelli that's seen him log a dozen single-digit finishes in tour-level events over the past 2 calendar years, plus a win and several other high placements in triple-A tournaments. But excluding a 12-angler Elite Series postseason event last fall, he doesn't have a tour victory since his triumph at Guntersville 4 years ago on his way to the AOY.
That dry spell has begun to gnaw at him.
"The last couple of years have been the best – I've never fished this good for this long – but the one thing I'm missing is that big win," he said. "I have this burning desire to win one soon.
"One thing about fishing is you can always look back and try to figure out why certain things happened the way they did. At the start of my career I would've been crushed, probably almost devastated, by some of these (near-misses). But I've been doing it long enough now that I know that when it's meant to be, you're going to win – I've seen that so many times – and you're not going to win if it's not your time. I try not to dwell on that anymore."
He lost to the two championship events (the Bassmaster Classic and Forrest Wood Cup) last year by a combined total of less than a pound, and he said he can recall a fish that got away in each tournament, for no apparent reason, that probably would've given him the victory. But he can also remember other times when the reverse was true.
"When I won the Classic (in 2003) I never should've caught that last fish – I should've left that area by then. And at Guntersville (in '06) I know I caught at least one fish that I shouldn't have.
"You win some that way and you lose some that way, too."
No Sub-Conscious Roadblocks
Iaconelli was coming off his AOY campaign when he had his two lackluster finishes on his previous California visit in '07. He allowed that he might not have been as ready to start that season as he should have been, for a couple of reasons.
Iaconelli said he's doing a better job of reading on-water conditions than ever before.
"It was nothing in a conscious sense, but I think it had a lot to do with the subconscious," he said. "I was doing a lot of extra things after the AOY year and there were more demands on my time due to appearances and sponsor obligations. When I step outside myself and look back, I was telling myself that I was fishing the way I always fished, but my mind was tired and my body was tired and I didn't want to admit that.
"The other part might have been a little bit of a letdown after achieving one of the goals I'd dreamt about since I was a little kid. I read a book by John McEnroe where he talked about some of his performances in tennis, and he said that after he'd won some giant events and achieved some of his goals, that subconsciously he didn't have the same desire he'd had before he won. I'm not an expert on any of that, but some of it may have happened."
He's already cleared what he perceived as the major hurdles on the 2010 schedule and now looks forward to the challenge of qualifying for the postseason for the second straight year, and also chasing that elusive next tour-level victory. The next opportunity comes next week at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake, where his history is mixed (18th in 2007, 42nd last year).
"I've always said I'm not the best sight-fisherman, but I'll go and do it when I have to, and after 2 days of practice there last year I thought that was my best chance," he said. "I had good first and second days, but then I ran out of the kind of fish I needed to make a move and get to the next day.
"But I love smallmouths, which that lake has, and I also like finesse-fishing, which is always a big pattern there. And one of the best parts about it is only having to drive 6 hours to get there – I feel like I've been in the truck for 6 straight weeks."
> Iaconelli said much of his recent success can be attributed to an improved ability to read conditions. "I've always been into historical research of a lake and map study and I'm still doing that, but now I'm using it as a general template," he said. "I don't look at that stuff like it's set-in-stone fact and when I get to a place I'm really letting go and letting the fish point me in the direction I need to go."
> He didn't make a single cast on his 2-day visit to the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. "I had to force myself not to fish and I just rode around and looked at a lot of water. I wanted to know what's where so when I get back, I'll know how to navigate my way around."
> He's excited about the Smith Mountain event, but even more energized about the tournaments that will follow. "I do my best fishing in the post-spawn, when those fish get off the beds and I can do my deal with a jig and a crankbait."