There were three moments or things in Philadelphia that will forever be etched in my memory. At least two of those show a side of bass fishing that we sometimes forget is an integral part of our sport.
The first was on Day 2 of the event when Jim Sexton and I launched south of Philadelphia with intentions of following anglers in that part of the river.
We were idling away from the ramp when a Coast Guard boat, complete with a .50-caliber gun and turret rolled up to us. The helmeted guy behind the gun politely told us we weren’t heading south any time soon.
“You can go north or you can sit here and wait until that ship clears the area,’’ he said.
You don’t argue with guys behind .50 cals, not ever.
It was an interesting moment. I have no idea what that ship was carrying, and I could care less. We headed north.
With a fishery smack dab in the middle of the industrial district with a U.S. Navy yard and big ships, you learn to deal with things not ordinarily seen in other fisheries.
Can you imagine having a gunboat on Lake Guntersville? I’ve wanted one from time to time. But I hope I never see another roll up on me. One was enough for me.
The second came on Day 1 of this event. We had heard a lot from anglers worried about the tough conditions on the Delaware. Pro anglers are the most notorious sandbagging complainers in the world. It comes with the territory. It’s part of the charm, but it was at a new height in this event.
The fervor of those complaints, though, dropped off considerably when Rick Clunn, being interviewed over the loud speaker by Dave Mercer before take off, said some magic words that gave every angler pause.
“Great anglers win tough tournaments,” Clunn said. “These are the events that show the true character of a competitor.”
Clunn went on with words that without saying it plainly said, “whiners don’t win.”
Even those standing on the bank, rustling around getting the tournament underway, could feel the impact.
And the best part of this event was the crowd, or better put, Iaconelli’s crowd.
Watching the screaming, fanatical (folks up here call themselves phanatical) crowds gave me a new understanding of Ike and who he really is.
I can remember when he burst on the scene in 2003 with his “never give up” wailing and break dancing while many of our old school fans just couldn’t understand what in the world is “that old boy doing?”
Some thought it was showmanship, created and fake. Others, and I include myself in this bunch, believed it to be real emotion and certainly unique. I knew that estimation was correct watching the fans of Philadelphia cheer on their favorite fishing son, the prince of tides on the Delaware River.
Looking at the crowd and their passion I could see Mike Iaconelli in almost every one of their faces, in every ounce of their fervor.
The final day was interesting listening to angler after angler pay homage to that passion, realizing, even if they didn’t realize themselves, they were paying homage to Iaconelli and a passion that some of us home boys of the south would do well to not only pay attention to but try and understand.
I won’t be screaming in my boat any time soon, and I wouldn’t want or expect anyone else to do it unless that was the emotion that was overtaking them at that moment.
Making an emotional point, Iaconelli told the crowd, “I grew up loving to fish and hearing all my life that a kid from the inner city could never make it in this sport. Those of you out there with a dream, don’t give up on it.”
He could have easily said, “never give up” to punctuate that statement.
Instead, he rushed into the crowd with a trophy that he said was as much for them as it was for him. Philly understood that, even if I didn’t at that moment.
For those of us tied deeply into this sport who grew up idolizing the Southern good old boys who would almost never scream and rant, we should have all realized our sport took a giant step forward in the heart of a Yankee city and on the waves of a passion born in the hearts of men and women unafraid to show it on their faces and with their voices.
Getting to see that firsthand was something every bass fan should see. We need more Philly fans from coast to coast, passion like that is contagious. It would be awesome if it became an epidemic.
As a footnote: I’m still in Philadelphia. I just returned from attending the Phillies/Mets baseball game. I took the opportunity to buy a Phillies Jersey and actually had “Bassmaster” stitched across the back. I thought it would be cool to have something like that as a keepsake from my travels in the big city.
I actually wore it during the game and was stopped many times by local fans at a Major League Baseball game asking me about the fishing tournament they had heard so much about. The comments were all positive, and all wanting to learn more about the sport this town was introduced to by some good old southern boys with a wild Yankee in the middle of them.