DEL RIO, Texas — Ike's big fish was so sick that Ike, too, got sick.
The weigh-in at the Bassmaster Elite Series' first event of the season, the Optima Batteries Battle on the Border, hit a virtual standstill when Michael Iaconelli lugged a 12 pound, 13 ounce bass across the stage.
The wiry New Jersey pro has made a living whacking big fish and become a bass fishing household name through his demonstrative antics on the water. But he topped himself on both counts Thursday. That finned zeppelin was the biggest bass he'd ever weighed in, and the second-biggest fish he'd ever caught. And when he did land her, the exhaustion of the fight and pressure of the moment moved him to throw up on the side of the boat.
Recounting the moment for the stunned and delighted weigh-in audience, he said, "That's what fishing is all about: puking."
Iaconelli also had an 8-or-so-pounder in the 27-9 bag that put him in the lead on Day One, and highlighted a parade of late big fish. While anglers roundly said the fishing on Lake Amistad just ain't what it has been in recent years, they also repeated that one or two big bites could bail out an otherwise pedestrian bag of 2- and 3-pounders.
And there were some lunkers, no doubt. Ken Cook dropped a 7-15 on the scales, as did Denny Brauer ("He hit it like he'd never seen a bait before," Brauer said of his fish). Big-fish maestro Kelly Jordon scored an 8-14, and Aaron Martens nabbed a 9-0 on the same spot where he'd once found an 8-pounder.
Big fish honors would have gone to James Niggemeyer and his 10-5 were it not for Ike. "I want to say I figured something out," said Niggemeyer, whose 21-2 limit was good for eighth. He caught the fish on "a big Strike King bait" on a spot he'd only eyeballed in practice.
Iaconelli knew he had a money fish. After Niggemeyer's bag was weighed, Iaconelli asked what the big fish weighed. Told it was 10-5, he grinned like a cat with a mouthful of canary feathers. "I got that," he said.
That and more. The former Bassmaster Classic champ and Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year has done well on Lake Amistad in the past, but suffered through what he said was his worst practice in years. (His biggest-ever fish was a 14-1 he caught and weighed in practice on Amistad years ago.) Iaconelli had only two decent bites in three days, and little more than "a gut feeling" of what he might try to do with cold, blustery, wet weather moving in.
Even so, his big concern wasn't catching a behemoth — it was finishing in the top half of the field. Still is, he said. Without his two big bites, he'd likely be nestled uncomfortably around 60th place.
"We all come out here and try to win," he told the crowd. "But a fish like that, we live our whole life to catch one fish like that. That memory, even the throw up, will remain in my mind forever."
He caught the huge female on the end of a long cast, and as it came to the surface, she didn't jump. Too big. Instead, she just breached. As he kept dragging her closer, "it got bigger and bigger," Iaconelli said.
She ran under the boat for a couple of minutes solid. Then — she gave up. Iaconelli cranked and cranked until he could snatch her up, six or seven hard minutes after she first bit.
That's when his breakfast made its surprise reappearance.
"There was so much adrenaline, it was such a long fight, I could feel my heart going," he said. "I was lapping the boat several times, and I was so exhausted when I got that fish, I think it was just exhaustion."
Iaconelli said he had never before bombed in practice and come back to lead a tournament. But he's been on a roll since last summer, able, as he calls it, to "fish the moment." His lead in this tournament comes just weeks after pushing Skeet Reese to within a pound of winning the Classic, in which Iaconelli surged back from 12th on the final day to finish second.
"People tend to want to dwell on, 'It was 11 ounces, oh my God,'" he said of his Classic near-miss. "You know what? I'm fishing good right now. I'm not worried about it. Sometimes you're going to end up on that side of the line, sometimes you're going to end up on the other. That's fishing."