By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
This fall is a bittersweet time for Mike Iaconelli. On one hand, he's just a week away from being inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. On the other, he's still stewing from a miserable conclusion to the Bassmaster Elite Series season.
"It's definitely been a roller-coaster ride for me," he said last week. "Even now, the way the season ended is a little hard to swallow; it still stings. As I've mentioned before, as I've gotten older, I've gotten better at handling failure and disappointment. I reached a point where I was tired of being mad, so I try to take the positives out of things.
"The positive from this is at least I caught 'em for half the season instead of not at all like the year before."
In his second campaign back on the Elite Series after a three-year hiatus when he fished the MLF Bass Pro Tour, Iaconelli ended up 47th in the final Angler of the Year (AOY) points standings. He took a precipitous fall on that list once the calendar turned to summer following a stellar late winter and spring.
After the first five derbies on the nine-event schedule, he was No. 7 in the points. He'd posted a 10th (Lake Seminole) and an 11th (Lake Murray) in back-to-back tournaments and the former Classic champion appeared certain to return to that event for the first time since 2019 (the Top 40 on the season-ending list are guaranteed slots).
Then came the always-tough Sabine River, where he was 68th. And it only got worse from there – 73rd at Lake St. Clair, 86th at Lake Champlain and 79th in the finale at the St. Lawrence River.
"I think what helped me in the first half of the season killed me in the second half," said the New Jersey resident who was 84th out of 94 anglers on the Elite points list in 2022. "I really got back to trying to prepare and put a lot of work in before an event started – doing the research at home coupled with getting 2 to 4 days of advanced scouting before (the venue) went off-limits. Maybe I'd gotten too complacent in the past and I wanted to get back to what had worked before.
"It worked like a charm early – every tournament where I had success, that preparation helped me. I didn't pre-fish for the Sabine, but the last three that were a lot closer to home, I went and did my work and what happened was I got too reliant on that. When I got to the tournament I was so focused on running what I'd found when I was scouting rather than going fishing and seeing what was there. I just wasn't open enough. I had 800 rock piles and I wanted to look at every one, always thinking the next one was going to be the right one.
"For next year I'm going to develop sort of a hybrid model," he continued. "I'll keep doing the research and even scout a day or two, but I'm not going to be counting on hundreds of waypoints every time. When I get to the actual event, I won't be as hard-headed."
On the flip side, he said that everything else about 2023 has pretty much transpired as well as it could. The Hall of Fame election is the highlight and he said his charitable endeavor (The Ike Foundation) is doing better than ever, as are his other business interests.
He's known about the HOF thing for six months now and says it still doesn't seem real to him.
"It just feels like a crazy accolade for me to have because I don't feel like I'm done," he said. "It's super-humbling and it honestly feels like a dream. I still feel like I'm just a kid from Jersey – a club-banger. Where do I go from there?
"It's really weird because I've had this funny impact on people throughout my career where they either love me or hate me. I'm not just talking about fans, but also people in the industry. I thought this was something that would never happen, or if it did it would be years and years after I'm gone, just because of that animosity.
"When I found out it was just mind-blowing," he concluded. "It's defnitely nice to be acknowledged like that. The Fed Nation Championshp, the Classic win, the AOY, the Elite win on the Delaware River – this is right up there with anything that's happened during my career."