Mike Iaconelli admittedly had a terrible season on the Bassmaster Elite Series.
He finished 44th in Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points, well outside of qualifying for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
Making it to the Classic is the measure by which all Elite Series pros measure their season; if you’re within that top 32 or so positions and made it, you’ve done your job for the year.
Anything else is subpar.
Going into this third and final Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open on Lake Erie, Iaconelli saw his best shot at a Classic berth given his experience and prowess on Northern fisheries.
He made the most of his last best chance Thursday by sacking a 23-pound, 15-ounce limit of smallmouth to jump out into the lead.
His bag was anchored by a 5-12 brute.
“This tournament is a double whammy for me. I’ve had success at almost every level of the sport, but a win at this level is something I’ve never gotten,” he said on stage.
“It’s special to me because I cut my teeth at this level, and the second part of it is that Classic berth.
"I’ve had a pretty miserable Elite Series season, but you’ve just got to keep your head up and keep fishing and you can usually get yourself out of a bad run, and hopefully this is the end of my bad streak.”
Iaconelli made a big run Thursday into Lake Erie and battled high winds and waves all day.
A potential glitch: There’s a good chance that Friday’s competition day will be cancelled due to weather, shortening the tournament by a day.
If the field fishes in rough weather Friday, Iaconelli will have to alter his plan since his spot is very susceptible to north winds.
“This is a tough position to be in since I’m not currently in the Classic. I’ve had two good Northern Opens already, so it’d be great to come out here and get that berth, but also to win the tournament, that’s just as important,” he said.
“Winning an Open is something I want to do before I’m done with my career.
It’s very important to me, whether it’s a three-day tournament or a shortened one. A win is a win.”
Iaconelli said he had an OK practice, and Thursday’s weight was a welcome surprise.
“I think I figured out a couple key baits and spots and I’m just trying to run that,” he said.
“The hardest thing out here for everyone is the waves and weather. When you get around them, they’ll bite. It’s getting to them and getting back that can be the hardest part.”
Behind Iaconelli is Hunter Shryock, brother of Elite Series pro Fletcher Shryock. Despite being a novice, Hunter has proven a quick study.
Last year he bought Fletcher’s Ranger and began fishing tournaments, meaning he’s got a little over a year’s worth of competition experience.
He caught 22-10 Thursday.
“I got in an area and I thought I had 17 or 18 pounds, so it really surprised me when I put ‘em on the scales,” Shryock said.
“I haven’t seen it this good all week, so I doubt I’ll go back and it be on fire again, but I’ll definitely be there.”
Tactically, Shryock credited standard Lake Erie techniques like a drop shot rig and tube for his catch.
In third place is Kyle Kempkers with 22-8, in fourth is Elite Series pro Derek Remitz with 22-6 and in fifth place is Dave Lefebre with 22-3.
Leading the co-angler division is Jeff Cutler, who amassed an impressive 14-9 in his three-fish limit. His pro partner Joe Sancho is in sixth place with 21-14.
“Basically, it was typical Erie stuff. I was drop shotting a Poor Boys Bait Co. Erie Darter, and I didn’t get a lot of bites, but they were the right ones,” he said.
“You’ve got to land every one that bites, and I managed to fish pretty clean Thursday.”
Behind Cutler is Larry Thomas with 14-2 and in third place is Andre Sokolowski with 14-0. In fourth place is Mike Kiester with 13-12, and rounding out the Top 5 is Paul Marchaza with 13-9.
Leading the Carhartt Big Bass competition is co-angler Cory Krawczyh with a true trophy smallmouth that weighed 6-8.