SYRACUSE, N.Y. — If Michael Iaconelli didn’t believe in magic before the Ramada Championship began, he sure sounded as if he did when the day was done.
“Magic” was the word he used over and over as he described his day of building a 20-pound, 3-ounce weight Thursday to put him in the lead at the Bassmaster Elite Series season finale on Oneida Lake.
“It was one of those magic days, when everything fell into place,” Iaconelli said on stage as he weighed the day’s largest bass, a 5-5 largemouth.
Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., stacked up a decent lead. He was 3 pounds, 7 ounces, ahead of Brent Chapman of Lake Quivira, Kan., in second place with 16-12. Iaconelli had 5 pounds on the pro in 12th place.
Chapman — the top contender for the 2012 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown to be determined at Oneida — inched ahead of J Todd Tucker of Moultrie, Ga., with 16-6. Tied for fourth at 15-15 were Clark Reehm of Shreveport, La., and David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn. Randy Howell of Springville, Ala., was sixth with 15-12.
Iaconelli said his stellar day gave him high hopes about his chances of qualifying for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic.
“I’ve had a lot of things going through my mind over our three days of practice, and even as I launched this morning. At the top of that list is being on the bubble for the Classic,” he said. “I’ve had one of those years that was riddled with mediocre finishes, and I can’t put my finger on why.”
In 31st place in the point standings coming into the season finale on Oneida, Iaconelli was not assured a berth into the 2013 Classic. A strong finish on the upstate New York lake likely will get him in.
He said he didn’t find much encouragement during his practice time on Oneida, but “I found enough clues.”
“I thought, let me go out and catch 12 or 13 pounds a day, and make this Classic. That was what my mind was today — not to win, not to catch 20 pounds, but to make sure I get into the world championship of fishing. Then things just started happening. Everything I did was magic.”
One of his magical moments came as he was unhooking one bass and placing it in the livewell. A short cast away, a school of bass “blew up.” He said he grabbed his rod and caught them at will for five minutes.
Another magic moment: “I flipped on a piece of cover that was probably a foot big," and caught his 5.5.
Added to his magic was the fact that his 20-3 sack topped a previous one-day feat at Oneida, a 20-1 bag weighed in when the Elite field stopped here in 2008.
Iaconelli said he’ll stick to his game plan to target smallmouth until he has about 13 pounds, then move on to largemouth to upgrade his weight.
Chapman also felt relief after getting through the first tough day of a tournament that could change his career. He led the AOY race by 13 points over Ott DeFoe going into the first day. On Thursday, Chapman shored up his lead to a formidable 40 points over Todd Faircloth, now his nearest challenger.
Chapman bagged four smallmouth and one largemouth for his 16-12 total.
“It was an incredible day,” he said. “I had a spot I could start on, and I hoped I could catch a fish or two. I pulled in and a caught a limit in the first hour. I knew then I was doing something right.”
He upgraded, taking bass from other areas.
“I’ve got two good areas, and some I haven’t even been to yet, so I’m really looking forward to tomorrow,” he said.
Tucker started his day with a 4-5 largemouth, which turned out to be the largest of his day. He worked that fast start into 16-6 with repeated culls.
Like most in the field, Tucker had a mixed bag of smallmouth and largemouth.
“Some of my smallmouth were pretty good size, and I even ended up culling one of my largemouth to keep a smallmouth,” he said.
The Ramada Championship continues through Sunday. On Friday, the pros will launch their boats at Oneida Shores Park in Brewerton, N.Y., at 7 a.m., then return to the park to weigh their catches beginning at 4 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday, the pros will launch at the park at 6:30 a.m., then the daytime action will shift to the infield at The Great New York State Fair in Syracuse. The family-friendly Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will open at noon. The weigh-ins will begin at 4 p.m.
Host organizations include the Syracuse Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Onondaga County Parks, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and The Great New York State Fair.