Mike Iaconelli is one of the more interesting and controversial personalities in our sport. I’ve wanted to write about him for some time. Now is when it seems most appropriate. His win on the Delaware River tells us a lot about what this man is all about.
This is a guy who, weeks before the tournament, talked about Rocky Balboa. He talked about how Rocky stayed at home, trained in Philadelphia and put everything on the line (see Think Rocky Balboa). Ike said he was going to do the same thing. He made no bones about the fact that this tournament meant everything to him, that in some ways it would define his career. And then he wrote another column just before the tournament telling everyone how much he wanted to win it (see I'm Excited to Fish the Delaware).
How many guys are willing to go that far out over their skis?
We all talk about certain tournaments being important. We tell everyone how much it matters to qualify for the Classic. But that’s a given. Everyone knows that. We’re not telling the fans or other competitors anything they don’t already know, and we’re certainly not baring our soul like Ike did in his columns. Nothing was left to our imaginations.
And don’t forget, he brought his whole family to the event. They knew how much the Bassmaster Elite at the Delaware River meant to him. How many people have the nerve to do that and take the chance of failing in front of their kids?
Or, you can think about it from a different point of view. Not everyone likes or admires this man. Suppose he’d gone out there and missed the Friday night cut? How tough would that have been on him and how easy it would have been for his critics to have pointed a finger?
His willingness to show us everything that was inside him is all the more amazing when you think about what a fishing tournament is all about. We all know that catching fish is a skill. We also know that there’s an element of luck or good fortune to it. Equipment breaks down, fish shake loose for no reason. Things happen that are beyond our control. It isn’t always about the angler.
Think about all of that in the context of his first day standing. How do you think he felt Thursday night sitting below a score of anglers and knowing that Boyd Duckett had weighed a sack heavier than anyone thought possible?
Unfazed, he went out the next day and captured the lead. That’s the mark of a true competitor, one who doesn’t let anyone or anything get between him and his goals. People respect that. Check out the photos and video of the crowds at the weigh-ins. That’s respect as much as it’s enthusiasm.
Another thing about the crowds: If you think bass fishing is a bubba sport, think again. These are city folk. In all my years of bass fishing I’ve never seen a more enthusiastic crowd, not even in more traditional bass fishing venues. It was awesome.
Back to Ike: Something else that’s worth a mention is his work ethic. He fished his heart out getting ready for this tournament. He knows the Delaware River and yet he prefished 12 long days getting ready. Maybe more importantly, he told everyone why he was doing that. He wanted to win. There was no other option.
Interestingly, he did pretty much the same thing on Lake Erie last year in the Open. He prefished it to death and then went out and beat us all.
Of course, no discussion of him would be complete without mentioning his temper. He most certainly has one, and it’s often on display. Do I approve of his wild antics when he thinks things aren’t going his way? No. I do not. Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous. I will also say, however, that so far as I know he’s never hurt anyone other than himself when he went out of control.
Besides, every sport needs a character. There’s no rule that says we all have to be boring, milquetoast men. We’re human beings, not cookie-cutter androids.
And let’s not forget some other things about Ike. He’s a very generous man with his money and his time. He’s quiet about it. He doesn’t stand up in front of the cameras and beat on his chest when he’s in charity mode, but he’s frequently in that mode. Never, ever doubt that. I’ve seen it firsthand.
The final thing I want to mention is his reputation for honesty and integrity. Around the dock you’ll hear about some of the crazy stuff he’s done but you don’t hear about him cutting corners or bending the rules. (I assure you that if he was doing that I’d have heard the gossip. I haven’t.) His fishing is straight up and honorable.
Oh, I almost forgot. Let me add one more final thing: He’s one heck of a good angler. He catches a lot of bass.
So, here’s the bottom line on Mike Iaconelli from Charlie Hartley’s point of view: He’s a little wacky, a little crazy, and maybe too emotional in public. He can (does) upset the stuffed shirts in our business who think every angler should be soft-spoken and well-behaved. But nobody has done more to promote bass fishing and to make it interesting than Mike Iaconelli. He’s good for the sport. We’re better off for having him around.