Michael Iaconelli, 2006 Bassmaster AOY

KIMBERLING CITY, Mo. — On Saturday, CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series pro Michael Iaconelli of New Jersey became the 37th CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year in the history of BASS, the worldwide authority on bass fishing.

Iaconelli, 34, capped off his 2006 Elite Series season — awash in consistency, focus and determination — with the sought-after title and $125,000 cash. He finished the season with more than 2,400 points. "I can go for the rest of my career and never win an event and be really happy," Iaconelli said. "I've achieved one of the biggest goals in my life."

In second place winning $40,000 was 2006 Toyota Rookie of the Year Steve Kennedy. Behind him were Dean Rojas of Arizona; two-time Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam and 2005 Bassmaster Angler of the Year Aaron Martens. (Final standings will be determined upon completion of The Rock presented by TheraSeed.)

This marks Iaconelli's first Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and he said it was won because of his renewed focus on fishing in 2006. "I'm more focused this year on fishing than any of the other years before it," he said. He placed eighth in the 2005 standings and was third in 2004.

Helping fuel his determination was a last-place showing at the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Classic, but just weeks later in March, the 2003 Bassmaster Classic champion debuted in the Angler of the Year standings in 16th place. He shot to fifth place after the Lone Star Shootout presented by Triton Boats in March and an April win at the Southern Challenge presented by Berkley pushed him to third. A month later, Iaconelli snatched the top spot after he finished 12th in the Pride of Augusta presented by Lowrance.

In all, Iaconelli earned four top-10 finishes and checks in 10 of the 11 tournaments.

Though Iaconelli kept the lead throughout the final six tournaments of the season, second-place Steve Kennedy attempted an ambush. "I had no expectation of doing so well my first year out, so this is pretty awesome," said Kennedy, who was awarded his Rookie of the Year title on Saturday.

Many anglers and fans are astonished to see how high VanDam is set to place in the standings. Because the two-time Bassmaster Classic champion was disqualified from one event this season, he received no points. Still, he managed six other top-10 finishes. "The new 11-event season [up from six events in 2005] really changed everything because you can get away with having a terrible event and still come out real well in the end," VanDam said.

The Bassmaster Angler of the Year title awards the most consistent angler in the Elite Series and pays the top 50. The top 37 in the points standings receive invitations to compete in the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Ala., Feb. 23-25.

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