Ike: The future of our sport, part 1

This is the first part of a series of articles I’ve wanted to do for a while now. At this point I have no idea how many parts there will actually be before I get all of my thoughts out in the public eye. We’ll just have to see about that.

I’m going to try to identify the positive things I see. I’ll also try to identify some of the negatives, and offer possible solutions to them. The thing is, though, it’ll not be a series that’s critical of anyone or anything. It’s just that I want to put my thoughts on the record.

I won’t run all of the parts in sequence. I know that most of you are fans of the sport and that, more than anything, you want to catch more fish. We’ll do plenty of that as we go along.

If you want to truly understand where I’m coming from you first need to understand where I’ve been. So, here goes…

Way back when, maybe 16 or 17 years ago (I think), I was fishing the Invitationals. We now call them the Opens. At that time my goal was to qualify for the Top 150. That was the very pinnacle of the sport at the time. I suppose you could say they were the early Elites.

When I opened the letter from B.A.S.S. telling me I was in I was overjoyed. It was my life’s goal at the time. But then reality set in. I started looking at finances. My joy was muted by fear. As a professional in a recognized sport I was in the unenviable position of having to pay my own expenses as well as my own entry fees.

My fear notwithstanding, I was in a better position than many of my fellow competitors, especially the rookies.

To begin with, I had a pretty good job. I worked full-time for a sporting goods retailer and my boss was a fisherman. We worked a deal so that I could keep my job but take off enough time to practice and compete. Now, that same deal would be a lot more difficult to work out.

In those days the Top 150 tournaments were spread out over about 11 months. I only had to take off one week at a time to fish them, and the time lapse between tournaments let me save up enough money for the next one.

Another thing was my family. Even though I was living on a shoestring at the time I had their backing and support. If I got into trouble, or something went seriously wrong, I knew I could call my mom, uncle or my grandma and grandpa. I’ll be forever grateful for that.

My sponsors helped, too. Even though I didn’t have any big ones that were paying me money, I did have a number of companies that were providing me with product. I had rods, reels, line, lures and a bunch of other stuff that I needed and didn’t have to pay for.

In part 2 we’ll talk about that first year and why I say I’m one of the luckiest men alive. 

Mike Iaconelli's column appears weekly on Bassmaster.com. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter or visit his website, mikeiaconelli.com.