DEL RIO, Texas — The spot that Mike Iaconelli and James Niggemeyer both plumbed in this week's OPTIMA Batteries Battle on the Border attracted them in practice.
Iaconelli noticed a creek mouth that featured a submerged point with a 50-or-so-yard underwater terrace sprinkled with hydrilla, which is rare to find at that depth. "It was a normal break from 10, 20, 30 to 40," Iaconelli said. "Then it leveled out at 40, like a step. Then it went out to the creek channel. That was the key." Iaconelli had it pegged as a staging ground for large, prespawn fish.
Niggemeyer liked that the feeder creek emptied into the main river channel, he liked the deep flat, he liked the trees nearby, he liked the shallow water it led to. "In practice I was driving down the lake," he said. "I saw the spot and marked it on the GPS. I said, 'Man, this is going to be a classic deal.'"
Neither knew at the time that the other had found the spot. As the tournament played on, however, they would pull from that spot some of best fish Lake Amistad produced all week. And as they both returned to it, they'd hit it hard enough that only one would survive to fish Day Four.
Niggemeyer was the first to it on Day One. He had struggled at his first stop, and on his way running up the lake, he decided to give it a try. "I think my first fish was a 5-pounder," he said. "It was automatic."
He stayed until noon, sacking three solid fish, then returned later to find another pro right ... on ... the ... spot.
As Niggemeyer idled up, he saw Iaconelli, and when he recounted this moment three days later, his shoulders slumped even in the telling.
"I didn't know how to handle it right off," he said, "so I ran on and fished another spot."
What happened afterward was history. Iaconelli, it turned out, milked that spot for a 12 pound, 13 ounce fish that was the biggest he'd ever weighed in a tournament. He led the first day with 27-9, anchored also with an 8-pounder he plucked off the deep flat.
Niggemeyer didn't have such a bad day himself, all told. He whacked a 10-5 — also from the same spot — and sat in eighth place with 21-2. But he figured, correctly, that Iaconelli's two jumbo fish came off his spot.
Sharing such a productive spot can be a great problem to have, but it's still a potential problem. So Niggemeyer did the gentlemanly thing: He texted. And the next day, both men arrived ready to fish around one another.
"Over the years, I've been in some situations where things got ugly, because there's just a misunderstanding," Iaconelli said of having to share water. "We communicated. We said, 'Hey, here's what we've got. Let's do this right.' He did a great job."
Said Niggemeyer: "Everything was completely above-board. He handled it really well. I'd share a spot with him tomorrow. We just really shared it. It wasn't one side of it was mine, and the other side of it was his. We were crisscrossing and doing our things, trying to get the most out of that spot we could."
Anglers run into these situations often. Last year on Lake Falcon, for instance, Byron Velvick and Aaron Martens (and their co-anglers, may that program rest in peace) pounded the snot out of an underwater structure that was producing well over 100 pounds of bass per day ... until it ran out. Paul Elias wound up winning that tournament, but it was evident that Velvick and Martens both were on the fish to win it.
Stakes like that make it important for anglers to establish the difference between water-sharing and hole-jumping.
"The general rule of thumb is, if you both show up on Day One, and you're both obviously there, then it's fair game," Iaconelli explained. "Then you should say, 'Hey, we both found it. Let's just fish. Let's respect each other.' That's what we did. On another train of thought, if I'd fished it the whole first day, and he didn't, and he'd come in on the second day, then unofficially, the grey rule is, I have the right to that spot."
"We both found the spot, and we both caught ''em that first day," Niggemeyer said. "So that set a precedent."
Matters might have unfolded differently had Iaconelli not caught the 12-13, or Niggemeyer not caught the 10-5. One angler might have jostled for total rights, if the other had been out of contention.
Instead, both men circled each other day after day, at times close enough to step from one boat to the other. Both would leave to fill their limits, but look for the quality fish on the spot, Iaconelli throwing a jig and a shaky head while Niggemeyer employed a dropshot and a Texas rig. "Classic deep-water techniques," Iaconelli said. Both had to watch the other catching 6- and 8-pound fish that might have owned the tournament, were they all in the same sack.
Day Two: Iaconelli weighed in just 15-15 and falls from first to fourth. Niggemeyer nearly matched his Day One catch with a 19-14, and rose from eighth to sixth.
Day Three: Iaconelli weighs 16-10, still a sight shy of his Day One sack. "I still don't think I'm going to make the cut," he told the weigh-in audience. Niggemeyer, meanwhile, ran into the cold reality of sharing water and changing weather conditions. He caught 12-8, and slid to 15th, just 21 ounces out of the 12-man cut.
Iaconelli, though, to his genuine surprise, hung on to finish the day in fifth place. He's more than 8 pounds out of the lead, but will, for the first time all week, have a honey of a fishing hole all to himself.
Before he knew he'd made the cut, he said, "Had either one of us had it to ourselves? It's a winning spot."