Boy, that Iaconelli is something else. I gotta hand it to the guy, he seems to just have an extra level sometimes. The great ones are like that.
Whether you like his persona or not, there’s no question that Mike Iaconelli is one of the best tournament bass fishermen of the modern era. He’s won at nearly every level and has made spectacular comebacks and must-win heroics a regular occurrence. And this time, he did it where he wanted it most.
A you all know by now, Iaconelli was recently crowned the victor in the somewhat maligned Bassmaster Elite Series event on the Delaware River. Fishing was tough, as most thought it would be, but catch rates weren’t catastrophic. We’ve done 10-pound grinders before.
The hushed conversations prior to the event centered on safety and security, as a few competitors reportedly saw a little vehicle vandalism during pre-practice. There were also noted concerns over fan base, or the potential lack of it, in the urban Philadelphia environment.
While I can’t comment on the former issue, the concern over fan base was certainly silenced. I admitted to a distaste over attempting to force pro bass down the throats of unconcerned communities, but Philadelphia proved to be anything but that. One of the highlights throughout the week was the vocal crowd, and rightfully so. I give kudos to B.A.S.S. and its foresight.
Without question, it certainly helped that Philly’s favorite bass fisherman won the title. It’s almost comical, just like Iaconelli’s season-ending Open win last season or Brandon Palanuik’s all-in mega run on the St. Lawrence, it seems as if B.A.S.S. practically scripts these occurrences. I guess it just goes to show you that there is truly a level in these competitors that comes out when everything is on the line. For most, such pressure makes us crumble. For the Iaconellis, VanDams and Christies of the world, it’s another gear.
I also found it interesting that both the river gurus and “hot anglers” of the day performed so well. Kevin Short was a no-brainer pick, as were Scott Rook and Bill Lowen, for their dominant river-rat records. But Christie was there, as he always seems to be, and Chris Lane, who seems to perform at the top everywhere lately (remember, in the past year he’s won flipping green fish in shallow Florida, as well as catching brown ones in Michigan).
You take these guys to a place completely out of their comfort zone and they still seem to catch ‘em. It’s really awesome to behold.
The focus now is the Angler of the Year title. Mark Davis, the dominant figure in the race all season, has fallen more than 30 points back. One point separates Greg Hackney and Aaron Martens at the top. Skeet Reese, surprisingly absent from much media attention lately, holds steady at 3rd, just 10 points or so back.
I think Hackney has the most to “lose." On camera at his recent Pickwick FLW win, Hackney admitted that he sets goals for himself. Although he’s won both the FLW Angler of the Year and Forrest Cup titles, as well as a host of regular-season events, a B.A.S.S. AOY is notably absent from his resume. And Hackney is, truly, a B.A.S.S. Elite guy; I’m guessing he’s thinking about it.
The next two events (the Cayuga regular season tournament and the Escanaba AOY championship) will be a real test. From what I know, Cayuga is typical of New York: able to fish into the hands of whatever style a competitor prefers. Both shallow power-fishing patterns as well as deep finesse approaches are feasible.
Escananba, on Lake Michigan, will not be so easy. Take it from me, Escanaba is unlike most of the other well-known Great Lakes fisheries. It’s no Erie, St. Clair or Thousand Islands. Large populations of fish move offshore and live an almost pelagic lifestyle throughout the summer. The bass that remain shallow are often very limited. And to say Lake Michigan gets rough is one of the greatest understatements in bass fishing. Navigation alone, and ratios of time fishing versus driving, will play a major factor there. Escanaba will truly be the X-factor in the AOY race.
Perhaps this will allow someone farther back in the standings to make a charge. Believe me, it’s entirely possible at this venue for the leaders to flop, while others crank out massive stringers. Possibly more so than anywhere B.A.S.S. visits throughout the year, the outcome of the event will hinge on the weather, as it always does on the big waters.
That alone should make for a nail-biting finish. Just like it was scripted.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)