Attention Philadelphia Residents:
If you’re waiting in line for a cheesesteak this fall or early next spring and the person in front of you is wearing a dye-sublimated jersey instead of a Flyers jersey, do not be surprised.
If you see a guy running the Rocky steps wearing a hat emblazoned with a tackle company name instead of a Phillies cap, don’t be shocked.
And if the guy booing Santa Claus at the Eagles game (as the locals once legendarily did) has an accent that sounds more like sweet home Alabama than hometown grit, it may be par for the course.
We are among you.
When the 2014 Elite Series schedule was recently released, it contained lots of the usual suspects, big bass factories in towns that have experience hosting big tournaments. Most of them are below the Mason-Dixon line, the sport’s historical breadbasket, but even the last tournament of the year, in Ithaca, N.Y., will play to a Finger Lakes region crowd that is well versed in recent B.A.S.S. history.
I’m sure that Seminole, Toledo Bend, Chickamauga and the rest will produce eye-popping catches, but the one that intrigues me most is stop No. 7, in early August on the Delaware River, hosted by the City of Brotherly Love.
You can call it the “Iaconelli Invitational” if you’d like, because I’m guessing that Ike is one of the few who has already fished any portion of the Delaware, let alone the tournament waters. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the only one who’s been there before. If I learned that five or more had been there, I’d be shocked.
Is it Ike’s tournament to lose?
Maybe … but not exclusively because of the hometown advantage. The reason you should bet on Iaconelli is because he’s a threat to win every tournament he fishes, his recent Elite Series dry spell notwithstanding. However, if you think the rest of the field is going to lay down and play dead, and set their eyes on the second place prize, you are sorely mistaken. The odds say that even though Ike has a head start, someone else is going to win. In order to accomplish that feat, they’ll likely have to make some scouting trips this offseason.
I’m pretty certain that the tournament will be a tough one. I live less than three hours away, and I’m pretty wired into the local bass scene, so if the tidal Delaware was producing monster bags all the time I think I’d have heard more about it. While we’ve had some big weight weigh-ins in urban environments like Detroit, D.C. and Buffalo, my assumption is that this one is going to be more like the 2005 Classic in Pittsburgh – tough, with each fish precious and each missed opportunity a costly heartbreaker. That’ll probably result in some griping from some members of the field. I take that with a grain of salt – after all, when is there no griping from the field about some aspect of a given tournament?
But while there will be complaints, someone is going to figure it out just a little bit better than the others and win. Maybe the fans of big catches and 10-pounders will be disappointed, but those who like close tournaments will be rewarded.
Personally, of the 10 Classics I’ve been to (one as a spectator, nine as a member of the media), Pittsburgh was my absolute favorite. KVD won with 12 pounds, 15 ounces. Somewhere in the Three Rivers there’s a bag of fish that far exceeds that three-day weight, which means that everyone fishing on the final day had a chance to win. Not to say that the slugfests haven’t sometimes been nail-biters, but by Sunday usually most of the field is eliminated. In Pittsburgh, everyone was still in the race until the last hour or two.
In addition to my prediction of it being a grind-‘em-out kind of derby, I also like the fact that not only is it a new-to-B.A.S.S. waterway, but it’s a new kind of waterway altogether. Of course, the vast majority of the field has fished tidal rivers, from the St. Johns to the Potomac to the Hudson to the California Delta, but my understanding is that the Delaware fluctuates far more than those others, about 6 or 7 feet. Pros who don’t plan well are going to head to places they caught fish in practice only to find out that they’re high and dry. Pros who plan poorly are going to end up lodged on a mud flat on the edge of the river for the better part of the day. That’s an additional complication that adds to the strategy and, to my way of thinking, to the overall excitement.
It may take more per day to win at Chickamauga than it does to win over four days at the Delaware, but that’s fine by me. If the traffic in the I-95 corridor doesn’t slow me down too much, I’ll be there -- listening to the complainers, cheering on the winners and eating cheesesteak. Of course, that presumes I’ll be able to find a spot at the weigh-in. As we learned this year in locales as far-flung as Orange, Texas, and Waddington, N.Y., there are lots of places hungry for a taste of pro bass fishing, and I’ll bet that Philly is one of them.