DECATUR, Ill. — It's no secret that Mike Iaconelli is praying he doesn't get a phone call from his wife, Becky, this week. They're expecting a baby that's already past due. Contingency plans have been made; if the phone call comes signaling Becky's in labor, Iaconelli's out of here.
So, of course, Iaconelli's phone rings prior to take off Thursday on the opening day of the Toyota Trucks All-Star Week at Lake Shelbyville. As Iaconelli hastily answers, he glances at Kevin VanDam, who is smiling while holding his cell phone up for Iaconelli to see.
Ike's been pranked over and over and over this week. And he's managed to maintain his sense of humor.
"They're playing with me," Iaconelli said at Thursday's weigh-in. "Everybody is prank-calling me."
The occasional laugh didn't make his day any easier. You don't get to this level of professional bass fishing without being a competitive beast. As the 40-year-old Pittsgrove, N.J., resident has demonstrated often during his career, he is the ultimate competitor. In other words, yeah, Iaconelli has been mad enough to take out his frustration on inanimate objects in the past – notoriously so.
Acknowledging that, Iaconelli took the weigh-in stage with one four-pound bass in his bag Thursday and said, "Normally, when I come off the water with one fish, I'm pretty upset. I have a tendency to break stuff. My mind is not on fishing right now."
Iaconelli was easily the No. 1 vote-getter for the four spots that were determined by the choices of bass angling fans for All Star Week. He didn't become so popular because of his sometimes outlandish antics on the water. Iaconelli will sign autographs until no one else wants one at every Bassmaster Elite Series weigh-in.
And he long ago learned to laugh at himself, otherwise he wouldn't be getting pranked all week. Insanity tends to get left alone.
"It's funny, I get it," Iaconelli said of the phone calls.
But even without those interruptions, he's having a difficult time concentrating.
"In an event like this, one that's this tough, you've got to be mentally focused every minute," Iaconelli said. "And I find myself wandering a little bit. That’s okay; I know why I'm wandering. I'm going to try to do my best (Friday). I've still got a shot."
Iaconelli's single 4-pounder was enough to put him in seventh place after Day One. He's less than two pounds out of fourth place in an event where only the top four advance after Friday.
If Iaconelli could catch a bass Friday anything like the monster muskellunge he landed Thursday, he'd easily advance to the semifinals.
"That was the highlight of the day," he said. "It came on a Rapala DT-6 in a color that I designed. I really didn't design that color for muskie, but apparently they like it too."
When Iaconelli set the hook on this fish, he knew immediately it wasn't a bass.
"Normally in a tournament scenario when you hook one of those big beasts, as soon as you know what it is, you just instantly break it off," he said. "But it was on the crankbait that I had been using since practice. You develop confidence in a bait.
"So I really took my time with this thing. I wanted to get that plug back, and I got it."
Iaconelli, who has caught some big muskies in the past, estimated this one was "easily over 50 inches" long and weighed 30-plus pounds. He was using 12-pound test Triline fluorocarbon line.
Even the muskies were pranking Iaconelli on Thursday, and he never lost his cool.