Philadelphia — If this week’s Elite Series tournament on the Delaware River a fan popularity contest, there’s no doubt that current leader Mike Iaconelli would be untouchable. He came into this week with more local fans than perhaps all of the other competitors combined, and each day the growing crowds at the Penn’s Landing weigh-in site indicate that his margin has only widened.
But it’s not a popularity contest. It’s a fishing tournament. Fortunately for Ike, he widened the gap in that forum as well, and now leads all comers by at least 6 1/2 pounds.
On many Bassmaster venues, 6 1/2 pounds is a good bite. On the Delaware, it’s not a half bad day. Some of the grousing anglers who failed to make the cut to Saturday didn’t catch 6 1/2 pounds of bass cumulatively in three days of practice and two days of competition.
Bill Lowen, in 2nd place and looking for his first Bassmaster win, is the closest to Iaconelli, and while his distance has increased he is closing the substantial knowledge gap with each passing day.
“I was catching good weight on the incoming tide,” he said. “But I’ve lost that now. I had to relearn and relocate them today. It’s hard to start from scratch. I probably fished too fast today and I skipped over a lot of good water that I think Skeet may have gotten on.” With that newfound knowledge, he realizes it’s an uphill climb, but not an impossible one. “They live where I’m at,” he continued. “When I was here 30 days ago my best five would’ve weighed 18 pounds.”
Scott Rook is just 13 ounces behind Lowen and likewise takes a positive attitude. “You can’t look at it as a glass half-empty situation,” he said. “I have one creek and I have it all to myself. That’s very unusual in an Elite Series tournament. There are a lot of fish in there. Today I caught quantity but not quality.”
Sunday,Rook will get an extra hour of outgoing tide, which he has said is critical to his success. Saturday, he fished cover that he never saw the first two days of his tournament and it proved to be productive. “The tide got right for the first time this week,” he explained. Accordingly, he expects that there are still more fish in more places. He doesn’t plan to leave that creek Sunday.
Jason Christie, currently 4th, staged one of the most memorable comebacks in Elite Series history last year at Bull Shoals, vaulting from 11th place into the lead on the final day, so he knows it can be done, but expects that it’ll take a miracle.
“It’s absolutely (Ike’s) tournament to lose,” Christie said. “There’s a home field advantage and then there’s the Delaware River advantage. Mike’s big advantage is that he understands the tide. Every time I think I have it figured out, it turns out that I don’t. I just want to go out and catch five and hope that a big fish shows up. I don’t have any history here and the biggest fish I’ve caught has been three pounds.
“But as we learned in the past,” he continued. “Anything can happen on Sunday.”
Indeed, in addition to Christie’s monumental final day charge, there have been other tournaments where the leader stumbled and someone else rushed to usurp his throne. At the Harris Chain in 2008, Brian Snowden failed to weigh in a bass on the final day of competition and Mike McClelland came from 10 pounds back to win by 5 pounds.
Kevin Short jokingly suggested that the best way to ensure a Cinderella story and Iaconelli’s demise would be to “flatten his tires, follow him around all day, and put sugar in is gas tank,” not necessarily conceding Ike’s win a day early, but acknowledging the 2003 Classic Champion’s dominance this week. The only person who seems capable of derailing Ike’s hometown victory might be Ike himself, who on occasion has been known to let his deeply felt emotions get the better of him.
John Crews, Iaconelli’s close friend who is staying at the leader’s house this week, has seen that gamut of emotions, and said that this week the tide in Ike’s head is flowing exactly on schedule.
“He’s really calm and enjoying himself,” Crews explained. “If he executes, he’ll be hard to beat. He just seems real confident with how he’s fishing this place.”
Anything can happen on any given Sunday, not that it usually does.