Back in the early 1990s, Michael Iaconelli's boast to fishing buddies that hewould someday win the world championship of bass fishing was met withskepticism.Oh, how the times have changed. On Sunday, Iaconelli triumphed in the 33rd CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer. It wasn't an easy road, but it was marked with an incredible number of victories.Not quite a decade ago, Iaconelli was using a 12-foot plastic boat that he had modified for bass fishing in small lakes around his New Jersey home. It was a far cry from the sleek bass boats used by tournament pros, especially those who compete in the Classic."It wasn't even an aluminum boat," Iaconelli said. "It was a polyurethane joh boat made by Coleman (and) I had added decks and a livewell. It had trollingmotors on the front and back. It was perfect for fishing the electric-motor-only lakes around my home."But Iaconelli had a dream of someday joining fishing icons like Rick Clunn andHank Parker as winners of the Classic and he wasn't going to let the lack of afancy, fully equipped bass boat get in his way.So he concentrated on becoming the best angler in the Top Rod Bassmastersclub of New Jersey, which used small flat-bottomed boats.After rising to the top of club level tournaments, Iaconelli decided to try theBassmaster Top 100 tournaments — now known as the CITGO Bassmaster Tour — and entered his first in 1992 on North Carolina's Lake Norman as an amateur.It was also the first time he had ever ridden in a bass boat that had castingdecks, an outboard motor and a steering wheel."I thought I was good in our club tournaments. I thought I was the man in the clubtournaments," Iaconelli said. "But I found out very quick in that Top 100tournament that I was not the man. I really bombed. But it was a monumentaltournament in my career. After competing in that tournament, I was moredetermined than ever to become a professional angler."Iaconelli finished 43rd in the amateur division of the North Carolina Top 100.His partners during the four-day tournament were legendary anglers TommyBiffle, Cliff Craft, David Fritts and Gary Klein. Although he didn't take home acheck, he did leave with more knowledge about bass fishing. Iaconelli watchedthe pros' every move and made mental notes on their fishing styles He was obviously a fast learner because he returned to Lake Norman in 1994,for his next Top 100 event and won the amateur division.First prize was a new bass boat. But Iaconelli had never driven a boat poweredby an outboard."I had never even had a 9.9 (horsepower) kicker on my boat. So I spent most of1995 familiarizing myself with the new boat and learning how to operate it. I couldhave jumped over to the Bassmaster Invitational Tour, but I did not feel like I was ready until I learned how to drive a bass boat."Iaconelli returned to the tournament trail in 1996, fishing Bassmaster Invitational and BASS Federation events.He scored his first Top 5 finish in a Bassmaster Invitational by finishing fourth at
Virginia's Bugg's Island Reservoir. He followed that up with fifth place finishes atthe Alabama and Virginia invitational tournaments in 1999 and sixth at the 1999Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans, for which he qualified by winning first aBASS Federation Divisional tournament and then the BASS FederationChampionship in 1999. Iaconelli and the late Bryan Kerchal are the only anglersto win a Federation Championship and the Classic, although Kerchal remains to
only angler to win a Classic as a BASS Federation representative.In 2002, Iaconelli scored his first victory on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour atGeorgia's Lake Seminole.Now with his CITGO Bassmaster Classic victory, he is the only angler in BASShistory to win a Federation Divisional tournament, the Federation Championship,the amateur side of a Bassmaster Tour event, the pro side of a Tour event andthe Classic. The only thing left? A victory on the CITGO Bassmaster Open trail.Iaconelli is hopeful his success will give other anglers, even those who do not own a bass boat, inspiration that they can someday sit atop the fishing world.As the first angler from the Northeast to win the Classic, Iaconelli is also hopefulhis victory will make people realize that tournament bass fishing is not just asouthern sport."It's our goal to open up new avenues into the sport and introduce new fans to our sport," he said.He has already been busy promoting bass fishing. His telephone has been ringing almost non-stop since winning the Classic with reporters, radio andtelevision shows all over the country requesting interviews, which suits him fine."The only thing better than fishing is talking about fishing. I love it."BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000tournaments worldwide through its Federation. The CITGO BassmasterTournament Trail is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournamentcircuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and
sportsmanship as it has since 1968.