By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Mike Iaconelli has compiled a solid record in Bassmaster Classics – eight Top-10 finishes (plus an 11th-place showing) in 14 appearances, including a win in 2003 at the Louisiana Delta.
He's pre-practiced prior to the off-limits date for every Classic he's competed in, and says those visits have been hit-or-miss in terms of how much they've aided his finishes. He puts more stock in his home-based map study and online research and says the great deal of time he devotes to that endeavor each year always pays off in one form or another.
For instance, when he won the '03 Classic at the Louisiana Delta, he located what became his primary area several weeks beforehand by studying an aerial photograph.
"Even though Lake Guntersville (site of this year's Classic) is off-limits right now and I can't physically go there, I'm still practicing at home," he said. "I'm in front of the computer analyzing the current conditions and the historical info about the lake, all of which is readily available. Then, with my maps in front of me, I add the seasonal pattern (which is usually pre-spawn for a February Classic).
"Doing that, I can come up with sort of a template to use based on the conditions when I get there – if we have a week of bitter cold, then these areas are more likely to be good; or if it's a week of mild weather, then these other places should be better. It's not 100-percent concrete, but it's something to use as a starting point."
A New Era
Pre-tournament research tools have come a long way since Iaconelli made his first Classic in 1999 via the B.A.S.S. Federation route. Most of the digital stuff that's available today had yet to be introduced.
"It was pretty much all paper maps back then," he said. "Now I've got an adaptor plug in my office and I can just go out to the garage and get my Lowrance unit from the boat and bring it in and look at all of its mapping. The difference that modern technology has made is amazing."
He's also a fan of the offerings at Fishidy, the map-based fishing social network.
"The neat thing about that mapping is you can do an overlay," he said. "It's got the topographical lines like a normal map, and then you can overlay satellite imagery onto it. That way you get to see the physical characteristics of the lake on top of the contours.
"What I'm trying to do when I create these templates is gear up my mind to do the right things when I'm there. I'm probably not going to be following them to the letter, but I can say, 'Okay, if this (condition) happens, here's the ideas I have, and if that happens, these are the other ideas I have. Then I can go into my 3 full days of practice and then that last day, which is more like a half-day, already thinking about those things.
"This way, if I get there and something's not working, I don't get too worried because I've got B plans and C plans," he continued. "That's the way I operate and it's been a big help to me. If you don't have some kind of plan, you can become frazzled and almost get into a panic mode."
He follows a similar routine for regular-season derbies, but planning for the Classic is more thorough. For one thing, he has considerably more lead time.
"Starting about now, for these last 4 weeks or so leading up to the Classic, I'll spend at least a couple hours a day on a combination of organizing my tackle and map study," he said.
Iaconelli's winning area in the '03 Classic was in the Delta Duck region near Venice, La. He first discovered it on a map, and then became really excited about it when he saw the aerial photo.
"I knew one thing those fish would need during the heat of the summer (that Classic took place in late July) was clear water and current," he said. "There was one pond I found that looked like a heart – it had all these valves coming into the pond that were tributaries off the main drag, and that meant current.
"The thing I saw on the satellite image of the pond was that it was pitch-black, and that meant clear water. Seeing the way the area was set up on the map and the photo, I thought it should play, and when I got there it was full of life."
He doesn't expect to uncover such a similar isolated treasure trove on this year's venue.
"A lot of the stuff at Guntersville is real subtle, but I feel like I have a handful of places that will be set up right," he said. "But again, it's important not to get totally married to that stuff – I still have to 'fish the moment' when I get there."
> Iaconelli's pre-practice trip to Guntersville consisted of 5 full days on the water during the week prior to Christmas. "I hardly fished at all – I spent 90 percent of my time just graphing," he said. "I'd stop to fish for 20 to 30 minutes each day just to break up the monotony. I feel like I learned a lot, but it's hard to say when (the event) is still that far out. The conditions won't be the same and I don't want to get thrown off course."
> He won an Elite Series event at Guntersville in 2006 en route to claiming the Angler of the Year title in the circuit's debut season. In six other professional outings there, he's logged four Top-20 finishes (including two in February).